It doesn’t take a genius to see that John Harris of Harris Meadery in Orange Park is passionate about mead. In fact, Harris is more than happy to share his voluminous knowledge on the subject at the drop of a hat. And, one Sunday afternoon that’s exactly what he did as we sat down and talked all things mead.
“If your culture came in contact with bees,” he said. “You probably have your own [mead] origin story. The oldest known record is more than 8,000 years old from ancient China on pottery shards. That is the oldest known written recipe of mead.”
Harris started as a homebrewer in 1991 while a college student, double-majoring in psychology and biology, because he wasn’t a fan of the tasteless “foam water” produced by major breweries. He and his roommate brewed in their dorm room and fermented in the closet. Unfortunately, while he was away on spring break with his then-girlfriend, Harris’ roommate drank the entire batch.
“So I never even got to taste my own first beer,” he said. “Mead was just a natural offshoot of homebrewing. I started messing around with it in 2001. My first mead tasted like rocket fuel and I thought I had screwed it up. Little did I know, before I poured it all down the drain, that that was how it was supposed to taste, because a traditional mead has to age nine months to a year before it starts to taste like it should.”
Harris stepped away from brewing meads until he met his wife Melissa and again began experimenting. He entered a few in competitions, regularly earning Best of Show honors. His signature Key Lime Pie Mead was a standout that led to his getting distribution for the brew and starting Harris Meadery (slogan: “Get Your Buzz On!”).
“We talked to the director of economic development in Town of Orange Park and just decided to go for it,” Harris said. “They said, ‘As long as you’re not selling it on premises, we don’t have a problem with it.’”
So Harris, with his wife’s blessing, built a 900-square-foot workshop in the backyard of their home and began tinkering with recipes, while starting several beehives to supply some of the honey. Russian bees are his preference, because they’re highly productive and have a natural tendency toward cleanliness.
Mead is experiencing somewhat of an upswing in popularity as younger drinkers discover its complex flavors. Many drinkers have the misconception that because mead is made from honey, it must be cloyingly sweet. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just like wine, there are sweet, semi-sweet and dry varietals. And mead, like beer, is very much a craft-made product.
“Craft to me–and really any artisan movement–is based on doing things by hand,” Harris said. “We like to make all of our meads by hand and to use local products in them. Our focus is on doing things by hand rather than pushing a button. We want to bring the artistry back.”
Given the craft craze that has been raging across the nation in recent years, it’s only natural that more drinkers will turn to the ancient brew.
Harris concluded, “We really want people to get into meads like they get into craft beers, by trying the different ones we have out there. We are hopeful it will represent the next evolution in the craft beer movement.”
FIND MEAD LOCALLY
35 N. Ponce de Leon Blvd., St. Augustine, 829-6909
516 W. Geoffrey St., St. Augustine, 417-2090
138 S.R. 13, Julington Creek, 482-0955
353 Marsh Landing Pkwy., Jax Beach, 273-6119
5000 U.S. 17, Ste. 1, Orange Park, 269-7029, broudys.com
DAHLIA’S POUR HOUSE
2695 Post St., Riverside, 738-7132, dahliaspourhouse.com
HARRIS MEADERY (pictured above)
[email protected], Orange Park
HOURGLASS PUB & COFFEE SHOP
345 E. Bay St., Downtown, 469-1719, hourglasspub.com
1251 King St., Riverside, 356-4517, riversideliquors.biz
931 Edgewood Ave. S., Murray Hill, 513-8621, silvercowjax.com
TOTAL WINE & MORE
4413 Town Center Pkwy., Ste. 300, St. Johns Town Center, 998-1740, totalwine.com
DRINK 2017 STORIES
BEER: SAND, SALT & SUDS
story by Marc Wisdom
WINE: BOTTLED POETRY
story by Claire Goforth
COCKTAILS: THE SWEETER THE SPIRITS
story by Claire Goforth
KOMBUCHA: BOOCH, PLEASE
story by Brentley Stead
Photography by Madison Gross