Mead maker showcasing honey wines from sweet to dry at Got to Be NC Festival

If there’s one thing the co-owners of Retro Meadery would like you to know, it’s that mead comes in a variety of flavors, and they’re not all sweet. You’ll have a chance to taste for yourself inside the Food Lion “Local Goodness Marketplace” at the 2024 Got to Be NC Festival.

Michael Fields and Matthew Clemmons

This is the first time Retro Meadery, based in Burgaw (Pender County), will be at the festival. Co-owners Michael Fields and Matthew Clemmons started the business in 2020. During the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, they took some time to start brewing their own beer and mead, mostly as experiments. While their first mead actually didn’t taste great, they enjoyed the process and quickly realized better honey would make better mead.

Mead is three simple ingredients – water, honey and yeast. So it can sometimes be simply called honey wine. The right type of yeast can be important, but the honey is the star of the show and the most important factor in flavor. So, Fields and Clemmons sought out sweeter, thicker and more flavorful honeys – particularly a rare raspberry honey. They made test batches and had tastings with friends who put together some tasting groups.

“What solidified it for us is, one of the tastings we went to, their friend actually came up to us and said, ‘Hey, I’ve tried commercial mead before; I don’t like it. So, I’m just here to support them because they invited me.’ Then at the very end of it they said, ‘Okay, this stuff’s great. How can I invest?’” explained Fields.

They took that as a very positive sign and ended up with 49 investors to launch Retro Meadery later in 2020. Since then, they’ve built a meadery to brew the product, and they’ve built a line-up of flavors and styles of mead with retro vibes. The raspberry honey is still a key ingredient, giving many of the meads the right sweetness and a pure high-quality base. Retro Meadery also uses some wildflower honeys. Fruit, spice or other flavor infusions provide variety for the different flavors.

A variety of Retro Meadery’s meads

For example, the “Bob Rassberry” uses raspberry honey with raspberries, while the “Traditional Mead” uses the raspberry honey without any fruit or other flavoring. “Saved by the Blueberry” – a nod to the “Saved by the Bell” T.V. show – incorporates blueberry flavor. The “Pac-Gria” is a take on white sangria that uses wildflower honey and the flavor of apples, limes, lemons and oranges –fruits that Pac-Man ate in the famous arcade video game.

Another favorite is “Knights of the Elderberry,” which is a reference to Monty Python. It’s a double-infused elderberry mead that is on the dry side.

“A lot of customers think that all mead is going to be really sweet,” Fields said. “Well, just like traditional wine, we can make it where it’s dessert sweet, semi-sweet, all the way down to dry. So our ‘Knights of the Elderberry’ is kind of like a dry red.”

Fields explained that a honey like an avocado honey could lend a molasses flavor for a mead base, and he hopes to use an Oktoberfest honey for a “Pumpkin Spice” flavor in the fall. Clover honey, which many people may be familiar with, is too light and doesn’t provide enough flavor, texture or sweetness. So Retro Meadery doesn’t use any clover honey. They do however, get crafty with their brews.

A blueberry mead during the creation process

“Our most popular flavor we call ‘Cinnapede,’ and it’s a play on the Atari game Centipede. And what’s special about this one is it doesn’t use water. It’s apple juice, cinnamon and wildflower honey. And that’s considered a cyser. Whenever you use mainly juice for your mead batches, that’s considered a cyser. That one is kind of like apple pie in a bottle, and it’s delicious.”

Currently, only about ten percent of Retro Meadery’s honey comes from apiaries in North Carolina, but Fields is working with an apiary in Atkinson (western Pender County) in hopes of getting a direct source of wildflower honey. Some of the fruits come from local farms or local produce suppliers.

The blueberries come from Newberry Blueberries in Pender County, and when a strawberry mead was in season, the strawberries came from Lewis Farms in Pender County. There’s even a coffee mead – “The Viking Breakfast Club” – that uses coffee from Brown Dog Coffee Company in Burgaw. Retro Meadery sources several other fruits, including the citrus, from Eagle Island Produce in Wilmington.

A black cherry mead is in the works. Retro Meadery often invites the public to help create retro names for new mead varieties like this one.

If you’re interested in tasting or buying some Retro Meadery offerings, stop by the booth that will be in the Food Lion “Local Goodness Marketplace” during the Got to Be N.C. Festival, Friday, May 17, to Sunday, May 19, 2024. The marketplace is in the Agri Supply Exposition Center on the State Fair grounds.

You can also order Retro Meadery online at retromeadery.com or find Retro Meadery in about 13 bottle shops from Hickory to Jacksonville and Warrenton to Southport. Find the list here: https://www.retromeadery.com/where-to-find-us

“We’re expanding more, and our hope is to eventually get into places like Total Wine and More and Lowe’s Foods once we increase our production,” Fields said.

The Rewind Retro Bar in Knightdale also serves Retro Meadery. You can also check out the retromeadery.com events calendar to see when Retro Meadery will be at other events selling directly to customers. A tasting room in downtown Burgaw is expected to open in mid-July.

About Tractor Pull

Tractor Pull is the fair-themed alias for Brandon Herring, a public information officer in the Public Affairs Division of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. He's no stranger to the fair or the farm. A North Carolina native, he grew up helping on the family farm just east of Lumberton. After more than 15 years in TV news, he's sharing news of a different kind these days. He loves the rides on the fair's midway, but also loves that the fair has so many other things to see and do that are grounded in agriculture. His favorite fair food is a funnel cake with just powdered sugar - a classic!

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