As we approach our one-year anniversary in October, we’ve been reflecting on our first year. We are so grateful to all of you, who make up the community that is Honeygirl. We look forward to many more years together!
Please come celebrate with us on Saturday, 10/24/15, at our One-Year Anniversary Party, from 1-6pm. Come sample some test batches we are working on for year two, or try a $5 tasting of our line-up, with two new meads we are releasing that day. Our friends, the musically talented Blue Tailed Skinks, will be playing their toe-tapping old time tunes from 4:30 to 6. We’ll be raffling off some cool Honeygirl swag every hour, starting at 1:30.
So, how did it go for our first year? In a word… fantastic! You found us, you made time to come visit, you tasted the meads, you gave us wonderful feedback, you took the meads home with you, you told your friends. Thanks for all that!
We opened with just three meads, and served over 200 tastings during our opening weekend October 24-25, 2014. Three stores signed on to carry our meads at the beginning, and we are happy to report they are still among our best accounts — Beer Durham, Sam’s Quik Shop, and The Glass Jug. We steadily expanded our reach, adding on two more Durham stores by year’s end — Sam’s Bottle Shop and Kings Red & White — and then going a little farther in early 2015 — to Saxapahaw General Store, Bottle Revolution Raleigh, and City Beverage in Winston Salem. By mid year our meads were in 13 locations, including our newly opened Durham Coop Market, Wine Authorities, and Whole Foods.
We always planned to stay kind of small, with limited retail hours, and so having these 13 stores really helped us get our name out there. The Meadery itself had a much slower growth curve, and there were some Saturdays in January when we weren’t sure anyone knew we existed. But slowly, we got the word out, kept on making mead, hired some super nice people to work in the tasting room, and we worked to be ready for you.
We applied for the Durham Farmers Market in January 2015, and were thrilled to be accepted into this producer-only market with a great reputation for year-round local produce and artisan foods. Not knowing whether anyone would be willing to taste mead in the early market hours, we really weren’t sure what to expect, but we knew it would be a great way to get our name out there. Boy, were we surprised when we sold almost four cases at our first market in April. Hey, it’s early, but no problem, you showed us that you were ready to try (and buy) the meads!
The Durham Farmers Market helped us expand our visibility tremendously. Each week we packed up our little booth and joined the nearly 70 farmers and vendors who arrive in the wee hours to create the Market. It’s a lot of hard work, but seeing the support of our community – that’s YOU – for local farmers and artisans has been truly rewarding in so many ways. Thank you!
The year was not without its stresses and pitfalls. A major piece of equipment failed just weeks before opening, and we weren’t able to get the meads filtered and into the bottle. Thanks to our friends at Starrlight Mead, we were able to borrow equipment and get the meads out in time. We worked with the equipment supplier out in California for months before we had a solution.
We are still learning the craft of mead making at a commercial scale, and it’s not without some trials. During the heat of summer, one of our meads – the Apple Cyser – kicked off a secondary fermentation in the bottle. This meant that there was still yeast in the bottle, and some cider sediment was all it needed to start fermenting again. This resulted in pressure building up in the bottle, and the Cyser became bubbly, which was not our intention. The resulting sparkling Cyser was not unpleasant, in fact it was delicious, like a dry champagne. But we didn’t want any of our customers experiencing “bottle bombs” and so we decided to pull the Cyser off the shelves and brought it back to the Meadery to be re-filtered. The new and improved Cyser was re-released in September.
We have learned a lot in our first year! We thought that eventually we would have all eight of our meads on the tasting at the same time, but we learned that we actually make seasonal, small batch meads that rotate with the seasons. Our small batch “experiments” with Vanilla and Lavender were a big hit, and we should have made more! A lot of our meads this year were small batches, and sold out quickly. Since we are using fresh fruit in many of our meads, we can only make one batch each year, and we are at the mercy of the season. If there are any challenges in the growing season, like the extended drought during this year’s fig season, our batch size will be smaller than we’d like.
We are ramping up production as we move into year two. We have doubled our tank capacity, so that we can keep aging our traditional meads for at least nine months. We expanded our freezer capacity this summer, to help us store hundreds of pounds of fruit as we prepare to make our fruit meads. We are working to source even more local fruit, and looking to develop our line of year-round meads that are less dependent on seasonal ingredients.
Our constant refrain lately has been “don’t worry, we’ll make more next year.” And you’ve been patient and supportive while we work these kinks out, and address our growing pains. As they say, these are all “good problems to have”.
Thanks for giving us good problems, and a great first year!