Episode #005 – Grab Your Drinking Horns with Helderberg Meadworks
In today’s episode we sit down with Peter Voelker of Helderberg Meadworks. We discuss the art of mead, cider, braggot, and switchel. We also discuss the growth of the mead industry, and how Helderberg Meadworks is creating something unique.
Below we have provided some show notes to follow along with if you would like. Besides hosting our podcast here on the website, we also have it streaming on Apple Podcast, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play, and Tune In.
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4:00 – We are in Esperance, NY at Helderberg Meadworks with owner Peter Voelker.
4:25 – Peter and his wife still work full time while running a meadery.
4:43 – Peter discusses how he got into home brewing. At the time the investment was too high for beer that he defaulted to mead. Heritage is not only their first production mead but was a 15 year evolution in his mead making journey. Cider did not come around until later on.
8:00 – Peter discusses the style of mead we are trying today which was made with Maple.
8:53 – Helderberg Meadworks focuses on using raw local honey. They don’t boild or heat the honey because that kills off the volatile’s that make it unique. They prefer the raw natural flavor the honey has to offer.
10:10 – By making mead this way the honey offers different flavors each time. With the season changes you can expect a different mead based on what is natural in that honey in its raw state.
10:37 – Peter is a descendant of the vikings, just like the two of us coming from a Norwegian heritage and viking family line.
11:20 – Helderberg is a local name and has a nice majestic sound.
Business & Industry Growth
12:00 – Peter decided roughly in 2009 to go from making mead at home to starting a business. It was a small investment and in Peter’s mind the worse that could happen is they lose a couple thousand and move on.
12:42 – Starting with 180 gallons in the first batch Peter brought it too the biggest liquor store in the area. With an awesome response right from the get go, they are now doing 600 gallon batches. Quite the large jump.
13:40 – They hit their 10 year plan within the 2nd year and while it keeps growing fast they are expecting to do around 1000 cases.
14:11 – They also make an old farmers drink called “Switchel.” It’s a unique item many don’t know about but a great option for designated drivers in the fact that it’s about half a percent of alcohol.
15:18 – There is roughly 6 places making mead in NY. So Helderberg Meadworks is unique and offer a lot of education to help people learn about mead.
16:56 – While Peter works at the meadery, his wife works hard raising their two kids. She is the balance that makes this business possible.
18:10 – With the boom happening in the mead industry, it has created more awareness. The more people see mead on the shelves or places making mead, the better opportunity for them to walk into your place of business to try the mead you make. This industry boom is a nice boost to them as they have helped others to grow and learn while making mead.
What to expect with Helderberg Meadworks mead
19:16 – Mead often has a perception of being very sweet. Truth is though, there are sweet meads and very dry meads. Odin’s Tears is one they make that is bone dry and very tasty. Not many meaderies make a bone dry mead and the ones that do, don’t normally distribute one like this.
21:00 – They do a cocktail of the week featuring a mixture of Helderberg Meadworks Mead and spirits.
22:08 – They have also done two collaborations with Brown’s Brewing Company making something called a Braggot. A mixture of beer and mead, this is a unique offering that requires a both a wine and beer license. Unless you have both which many companies do not, it requires a collaboration. The honey can really run the range in changing the flavors of the beer. Peter describes how the mead has changed some of the different beers. You can be very creative with mixing honey and beer.
24:55 – Peter describes serving temps and how they change the flavor based on the mead.
27:00 – If you want to get into home brewing mead, it is an easy hobby to get into. However, perfecting it takes some work. While many books will teach to boil your honey, Peter never saw a reason to do that and decided to try it without boiling and loved it.
29:15 – You can use a wide variety of yeasts and the best thing to do is just play with it. Peter still has an array of carboys to do test batches at Helderberg Meadworks because that is how you discover.
30:25 – Helderberg Meadworks is now growing some grapes. They planted about 240 grape vines to keep that play around mentality.
31:30 – First harvest should be a year from this fall. They will not be making wine but instead be focusing on Pyment’s.
32:06 – Peter does not believe in throwing it anything away. He has been doing this long enough that everything comes out as quality, yet sometimes you need to tweak it. When its not quite right, he then focuses on how to adjust and improve the item like barrel aging or mixing for a new release. There are always ways to tweak mead after its made.
32:40 – They built the tasting room because the growth from wholesale was great. However, they knew that by selling in house they could create a more financially stable business.
34:15 – The tasting room location was chosen as its close to home so Peter is never too far from his two boys. Also, up top of the hill is a beautiful view of the area. The area is very quiet and Helderberg Meadworks is a unique addition.
35:20 – They are a family friendly place and a place where all are welcome to relax and enjoy the day or night.
36:05 – Peter is not a fan of most commercial ciders. They are typically too transparent and lack character. Helderberg Meadworks tries to go opposite of typical cider and bring out its character and flavor. They keep it as a dry to semi-dry to keep it from being too sweet. They have more cider than they keep on tap and make some interesting options.
39:40 – While the tasting room has been in it’s soft open phase for a while, they had the grand opening of the tasting room on May 10th.
40:59 – They offer a selection of horns for drinking. The largest can hold about 5 or 6 bottles of mead while standard ones hold about 500ml. With the grand opening they are actually starting up a drinking club where people can have their designated horn.
45:55 – Helderberg Meadworks actually ships here to Florida via their website.
Thanks for listening
We appreciate you stopping by and checking out the episode. We have many more coming soon and some great previous episodes like or Tidal Brewing or Traveling Cheeseboard. Check them out if you desire.
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