The Colony Meadery opened its tasting room on Harrison Street in Allentown, PA on December 29, 2013. Their mission is “to create the boldest and most innovative meads in the world.”
So what exactly is mead? Considered one of the oldest beverages in human history, mead is made from fermenting honey and water. It was accidentally discovered when old tree stumps where honey bees were living flooded and fermentation took place naturally. Mead has been found in Egyptian tombs, Viking societies, and was the preferred drink in the Mediterranean during the Age of Gold. It was also considered an appropriate post-marriage drink, hence “honeymoon.”
At least 60 pounds of honey is used for a 30-gallon batch of mead. An average hive produces about 80 pounds of honey in one year. The Colony Meadery gets its wildflower honey from Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Greg Heller-Labelle, co-founder and CEO, was a beer writer for 5 or 6 years at The Pour Curator. He was also a “mediocre homebrewer” (his words, not mine!). He made his first batch of mead while pursuing his undergraduate degree at the University of Pittsburgh. Currently living in Bethlehem, he has helped many small businesses grow as both an employee and consultant.
Michael Manning, co-founder and meadmaker, has been an accomplished homebrewer since 2001. He starting making mead in 2009, winning several awards at various competitions, including the 2011 Valhalla mead competition best-of-show honor, which led to a collaboration batch with Moonlight Meadery in New Hampshire.
Greg saw the booming craft beer industry, but noticed an imbalance during the “IPA phase” similar to California wines during the 1970’s. He saw a need for new flavors. After meeting Mike, a “gifted meadmaker,” he noticed the beginning of a meadery trend. Mead was starting to get recognized.
The Colony Meadery currently offers five flagship meads.
- Straight, No Chaser – 13% ABV – made with orange blossom honey, named after the famous jazz tune.
- Woofiedog – 9.5% ABV – dry-hopped with copious amounts of Cascade and other Pale Ale hops offering citrusy, resiny notes.
- Pikwant Field – 9.5% ABV – made with 40 pounds of strawberries and 20 pounds of kiwis. “Pikwant” is a combination of the word “piquant,” which means spicy, and a friend’s name, Kwan.
- Mo-Me-Doh – 13% ABV – made with fresh mint and lime.
- Fred and Ginger – 7.5% ABV – made with fresh ginger.
There were also three seasonal meads.
- Tupelo Concession Stand Brawl – 9.5% ABV – made from Tupelo honey, this dry hydromel resembles a white wine in character. Named for an event that gave birth to American hardcore professional wrestling in 1979.
- The Earle – 9.5% ABV – made with Earl Grey Tea, herbs, and spices.
- Towbeedog – 9.5% ABV – dry-hopped with Amarillo and Citra hops, offering a grapefruit punch.
The four imperial meads were my favorite.
- Frozen Digits – 15% ABV – a blueberry melomel made with 110 pounds of blueberries, named when Greg discovered there was no heat in the suite were the meadery is located.
- Beso Exotico – 16% ABV – made with cinnamon, chocolate and cayenne.
- Rainbow Bridge – 16.5% ABV – made with chocolate and raspberry. This mead was released for Valentine’s Day. A dollar from every bottle sold is donated to a local animal charity.
- Favorite Child – 16.5% ABV – made with raspberry and chipotle. Mike would never be able to choose his favorite mead, just like a parent could never choose their favorite child.
During our visit, we were lucky enough to try two small batch meads: Mar-guh-me-duh, a margarita mead and a yet-to-be-named coffee mead.
Greg also gave us a taste of their Wildflower Whiskey Mead. While they can’t sell this one right now because the recipe has not been approved yet, this bourbon barrel aged mead will definitely be a hit.
Greg was a great host. It is evident that he is passionate about his business and very knowledgeable about the product. He even has a connection to the Reading area (he used to live right behind Canal Street Pub) and knows several members of the Berks Homebrew Club. He also invited us to stick around for a double IPA blind tasting after closing, but unfortunately we had to get going.
My favorite mead by far was the Beso Exotico. It brought me back to Christmas Eve in Santa Fe, New Mexico while enjoying sipping chocolate with chilies. I also enjoyed Favorite Child. The smokiness from the chipotles paired perfectly with the raspberries.
Most meads from The Colony Meadery are sold in 12-ounce bottles. The Small Batch meads can be purchased to-go in mason jars. You can also find the meads on tap and in bottles at pubs across the Lehigh Valley, including Strange Brew Tavern, the Allentown and Bethlehem Brew Works, The Broadway Social, and Corked Wine Bar.
You can sample the complete line-up of meads at the tasting room for $8 and keep the souvenir glass. Bottles cost $10 to $18. Swag can also be purchased including glasses, shirts, wine tote bags, corkscrews and coasters. Tours of the meadery are also available. You can reserve a spot online.
The Colony Meadery also offers Mead Brewing and Tasting classes at the Wyck Historic Housein Philadelphia. The 3-part mead making and tasting costs $15 for Wyck and Beekeepers Guild Members and $20 for non-members. Another event to look forward to is the 5th Annual Philadelphia Honey Festival on September 5, 6, and 7, 2014.
When asked about the future of the meadery, Greg shared with us that they will be expanding into the suite next door and hope to start making sodas in the future. HiJinx Brewing will be opening in the suite next door on the other side in the near future as well.
For our local friends, The Colony Meadery will be doing a tasting on June 14 at The Liberty Taproom in Reading, PA!
The Colony Meadery
905 Harrison Street, Suite 115
Fridays: 4 to 8 PM
Saturdays and Sundays: Noon to 5 PM