Friday, May 10, 2013

B. Nektar 2013 Spring Mead Fest, Ferndale

Written by  Jeff Priskorn
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B. Nektar 2013 Spring Mead Fest, Ferndale

Renowned meadery B. Nektar held their first Spring Mead Festival on Saturday, April 20, from 12-6 pm in the massive parking lot of their Ferndale headquarters. The weather was typical of Michigan’s mercurial spring: chilly, overcast, with temperatures hovering around 38 degrees. However, this did not stop the mead-loving masses from enjoying a festive afternoon with several blood-warming delights.
B. Nektar has held two previous Summer Mead Festivals, but the owners (Brad and Kerri Dahlhofer and Paul Zimmerman) wanted to hold an event without the heat and hay fever of summer. Well, they certainly avoided that on this day! But they are still planning to continue with the summer event as well. Their summer festivals have averaged around 800-900 attendees, and for this debut spring event there were over 500 confirmed guests on the festival’s Facebook event page. We arrived at 12:15 and despite Michigan displaying its bipolar weather tendencies there were already around 75 people in the lot. When we left around 3:30 there were upwards of 250 “meadies” enjoying the rivers of grog.

There were 14 meads available to sample over the course of the day. Most of the meads came as 10 oz. samples, costing 1 drink ticket ($5), though some of the higher gravity and specialty meads came either as 5 oz. samples, cost more, or both. The available meads included their standard draft meads: Zombie Killer, Evil Genius, and Necromangocon, as well as a special Apricot Cardamom; their standard bottle lineup of still meads: Orange Blossom, Wildberry Pyment, and Wildflower Mead; five taps that rotated throughout the day: Basket of Puppies, Unicorn, Rainbow, Dry-Hopped Zombie Killer, and Lager-Style Mead; and two limited editions: Episode 13, and Miel de Garde.

The headliner and main event of the festival was Episode 13, so limited and desirable that it came only as a 4 oz. sample and cost 2 tickets. Episode 13 is a bourbon barrel-aged orange blossom and buckwheat mead, measuring in at a whopping 17.5% ABV. Though small and expensive, it did not disappoint. Clear bronze in color, it possessed strong vanilla and bourbon barrel notes on the nose, and a very creamy mouthfeel. And it had a gloriously smooth finish, with vanilla and oaky notes, and a little bit of spice. Festival goers could also purchase a limited-edition 375 mL bottle for $24.99.

Now, a quick primer for those not familiar with mead. Not unlike beer, there are many different varieties and names, depending on how it is made, though to be called mead it must be brewed with honey and water. Some of the more common varieties include cyser, made with apple cider; pyment, made with red or white grapes; and braggot, made with hops and/or malt.

Besides the many wonderful meads, the festival also offered several delicious nutritional options from a passel of food trucks. (Yes, food trucks in Michigan! There needs to be more of these!) Green Zebra offered a fairly large and diverse menu, including a grilled cheese sandwich made with spinach, pesto, goat cheese and roasted red pepper (which the wife raved about) and a unique lasagna soup. Next to the not-seen-in-nature Green Zebra abided Detroit BBQ, serving up pulled pork, righteously sweet and tender brisket, and mustard slaw. In addition, there was a hot dog stand and for dessert, Treat Dreams ice cream. One of Treat Dreams’ flavors on this day was made with B. Nektar’s Necromangocon, which is flavored with mango and black pepper. Spicy!

The throng was entertained by a pair of local bands, Lucy’s Brown Seville and Stone Clover. We left just as Stone Clover was setting up around 3:30, but Lucy’s Brown Seville was excellent, playing their funk/soul/blues groove despite their extremities certainly being frozen before the first song was done.

Among all the hoopla I had the chance to speak with Paul Zimmerman, B. Nektar’s co-owner and brewer. Paul has been brewing with Brad since at least 2006, and while mead is their bread and butter, they are both very active in the beer brewing community as well. After two years of work and planning, B. Nektar officially opened on August 2, 2008 (which just happens to be National Mead Day). They began primarily with a still operation but due to the massive success of Zombie Killer, their popular cherry cyser, the draft side of the business is now their focus. To that end, B. Nektar recently opened a new taproom a few blocks away from their headquarters, where their standard drafts can be sampled Friday through Sunday. Samples of their still meads are also available in the taproom.

Now with two buildings, Paul explained that their desire is to refocus on their still operation in the original (festival) location, and continue with the draft side in their new location. The taproom is still a work in progress as they continue to build it out and add new brewing and fermenting equipment, but it’s still friendly and comfy as-is. The plan is to have the taproom updated to “posh Ferndale standards”™ later this year.

Over the course of the chilly afternoon, the wife and I sampled 10 of the 14 meads, missing only a couple of the rotating taps that were not on before we left, and a couple that we had sampled previously. Everything was worth at least a taste, and most were worthy of repeated imbibing, which thankfully is fairly easy now that B. Nektar’s meads are distributed statewide and even throughout the Midwest and the eastern seaboard. The weather could have left the crowd wanting, but fortunately B. Nektar came through with their great meads and tasty food trucks, giving everyone a fun, friendly, and honey-filled festival.

Jeff Priskorn

Jeff Priskorn

Jeff Priskorn is a guy who didn’t even like beer until he was 25, which isn’t all that surprising given that the family fridge was stocked with Goebel and Carling Black Label during his tender years. Now an elderly young man, he can finally say that Bud Light is swill and is a proud proselyte to the microbrew world and a loud (and sometimes annoying) advocate for Michigan-made beer. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 100+ Michigan microbreweries and brewpubs, and he’s at least 60% there. In addition to drinking and writing about beer, Jeff is a software guy, actor, voice artist, and musician. Check him out at JeffPriskorn.com, come see his band Mad Rabbit (Michigan’s Live Jukebox™) at a bar near you, and sample his fledgling beer blog at phruityonbeer.blogspot.com.