Being the premiere mead retailer in Portland has its perks, our favorite being that we get to try a lot of different meads. Our ever-expanding mead library inspires a lot of adjectives. You may see a staff member take a sip and follow with, "light citrusy body, mild viscosity, and is that finish reminiscent of cotton candy?"
We decided to catalog these taste observations for some of our favorite meads whose meaderies will be pouring in our new space this weekend in celebration of Tour de Hives. Tour de Hives is a self-guided tour for bee-curious Portlandians of backyard apiaries and bee trees, a Portland tradition celebrating backyard pollinators.
Stop into our new, evolving SE Hawthorne space for a refreshing sip of mead between tour sites or to end your day. You'll be able to enter to win a Mead Market branded growler when you do!
Why we love them:
Former lawyer Brooks Cooper wanted to bring a new take on mead to the people of Portland and beyond. We're grateful he did! Stung's meads are reminiscent of beer, but still showcase the honey base that distinguish them as mead.
Standard (red cap)
Yeasty and hoppy with a pilsner or pale ale aroma. Earthy flavor and high carbonation. Light viscosity. Pairs well with a lamb burger and truffle fries.
Why we love them:
Nectar Creek is a leader in session style meads using Oregon honey. These refreshing session meads are perfect for a warm day’s picnic or a backyard barbeque. Nectar Creek also offers delicious single varietals once a year; each one a special testament to their commitment to craft.
A berry nose, sweet-tart candy flavor, mild cranberry tartness up front and a lingering strawberry finish. Pairs well with roasted turkey, pesto pasta and goat cheese.
Why we love them:
Ethereal’s meads come from a deep love of what the Pacific Northwest has to offer. Drawing on inspiration from the land, Gary Gross, Ethereal’s founder and meadmaker, uses local honey and fruits to make meads that remind him, and us, of what it’s like to stroll in the woods of this beautiful part of the world.
The nose is reminiscent of overripe berries, freezer jam or berry syrup. Carries through to palate with slight acidity and faint honey finish.
Why we love them:
Holding a Masters in Vinology from UC Davis, Nathan comes from many years of experience making wine, transferring his fermentation skills to mead to create complex varietal meads with a dry finish, alongside well-crafted, non-traditional session varieties.
Tart, limey, and oaky undertones on the nose that carry through to the palate. Lots of acidity and very, very dry.
We're fascinated by all pollinators and this week we are focusing on the mighty, mighty mason bee! Read on for what it is, what it does, and how to keep them.
About our Mason Bee House
We designed our mason bee house similarly to our beehives: with the species in mind. The house is constructed of Western Red Cedar and features a shingled roof. The house includes tubes that are the optimal size for nesting. They are made of a breathable cardboard which can be replaced each season. This is much more conducive to bee health than plastic tubes which contain chemicals, cause mold and can cause disease to spread more easily. The clean lines of the house and rich cedar texture make the house a visually pleasing ornament to any garden. Shop it here
What is a mason bee?
Mason bees (and leaf cutter bees) are solitary, tunnel nesting bees. Similarly to honey bees, the female does all of the nesting and foraging to care for the young. Although they are considered solitary because they are not part of a superorganism, mason bees are gregarious! Multiple mason bee "families" will often inhabit the same home without working together.
What does the mason bee lifecycle look like?
Male mason bees emerge from their cells first, only after there have been three consecutive days above 55 degrees. They leave the home to forage for nectar and then return to wait for the females. When the females emerge, mating occurs immediately and the males die. Females then forage for nectar and pollen and bring it back to their tube to groom the pollen off their bodies and into a sticky ball with nectar. She then lays an egg on the food ball, and seals that cavity of the tube off with mud. She does this about 6 times in a tube that is 6 inches long, and a minimum of 5/16" in diameter. After she caps the tube with mud and finishes laying her 6 eggs, she dies.The eggs hatch and larvae eat the food left by mom, and pupate (form cocoons) inside the tube, where they will hibernate until the next spring when the cycle repeats itself.
How do mason bees find these tubes to nest in?
Mason bees do not have drilling mouth parts to make their own holes, so in the nature, they inhabit holes made by carpenter bees, or woodpeckers. Humans can also make their lives easier by providing an already-made home. Many people simply drill holes in a block as mason bee houses. This is less than ideal because they get re-used and spread disease. The better idea is to use paper tubes, or reeds because they can be replaced by fresh ones. The cocoons can be removed from the tube, cleaned, and stored in the refrigerator for the winter.
Why keep a mason bee house?
Keeping a mason bee house in the garden is ideal for those who aren't ready for the commitment of colony beekeeping. Although keeping mason bees is a low maintenance hobby, there is a huge pollination payoff! Since mason bees are native pollinators, they are experts at pollinating native plants. While honeybees have a 5% efficiency rate when it comes to pollination, mason bees are 95% effective at pollination! They are dynamic at pollinating the immediate area surrounding their nests, which make them perfect for your backyard garden and fruit trees. Lastly, they don't sting and they're cute!
Tips for keeping a mason bee house
We take pride in the hives that we build and are dedicated to offering exceptional support for our customers. However, neither of these things would be possible without each and every worker bee in our hive. In this Hive Highlight, meet Emma. Not only is Emma our principal beekeeper in our apiary in Southeast Portland, she also works in our retail space and teaches classes through our education department, spreading bee knowledge and fun wherever she goes. Thank you for all you do, Emma!
Are you a beekeeper or a bee lover?
What kind of hive do you mostly work with?
Warre & Top Bar Hive
How would you describe your beekeeping philosophy?
I lean towards a minimal intervention approach in the apiary. Honeybees have a far greater understanding of the inner workings of their hives than I ever will, and I think that we are currently seeing the consequences of too much human intervention over the past century. I am a proponent of allowing bees the opportunity to find a balance in the world again, and I think that requires us to take a step back and focus on creating an environment that is healthy and safe for our bees.
What initially interested you most about the company?
I was very drawn to the Bee Thinking culture, which is centered around providing the community with the education and resources necessary to support our struggling pollinators and impact the world in a positive way. It takes a lot of work, but everyone here is passionate about what we’re doing, which makes it a lot of fun, too.
Emma spreads the laughter while teaching our Beeswax Beauty and Wellness class
How much honey do you eat every week?
None! I actually don’t enjoy eating honey, which gets me a lot of weird looks... I do use it in skin care and medicinal recipes frequently, though!
Who’s your favorite queen bee?
My favorite queen bee would have to be my mother. She has always been so supportive of my interests and dreams, and I don’t think I would have ended up where I did without that constant encouragement. She also is a fiercely independent and hard-working lady that keeps life exciting - just like any good queen bee should.
What do you enjoy about working in the apiary and the retail space?
They are both so wonderful in very different ways! I adore working in the retail space, because I get to spend my time with people who are excited to learn about the thing that I love the most. It’s fun to share their excitement and help get them established in beekeeping. I obviously love the apiary, because I get to hang out in a gorgeous location full of honeybees, observing their life cycle and participating in it, as well. It is endlessly fascinating to watch them grow through the seasons, tough it out through the winter, and then begin again in the spring.
What fascinates you most about bees?
The idea of a superorganism is amazing to me. There are all of these tiny, individual parts that come together and operate as a single-minded whole. Thousands and thousands of bees have to be in agreement at all times about where to establish a hive, when to swarm, when to raise a new queen, what kind of brood and how much needs to be raised, and on and on and on. It’s pretty cool.
What do you do for fun outside of Bee Thinking?
Explore Oregon with my husband, work in my garden, play my cello, experiment with skin care formulas, binge watch Game of Thrones, binge read sci-fi series, play Neopets, win unofficial beer pong tournaments.
What do you think bees dream about?
Flowers! Those must be the most beautiful dreams ever.
Here at Bee Thinking, we love connecting with local beekeepers and bee lovers right in our own community. We were thrilled when Alexander Howitt, owner of Portland’s One Twenty Apiculture, walked into our shop and introduced himself. We’re excited to carry Alexander’s raw, wildflower honey in our shop.
How long have you been a beekeeper?
I’ve been a beekeeper for a little over eight years. The first four of those years was for two different commercial beekeeping companies in New Zealand, which is where I’m from. I learned hard and fast from them during those years. I remember watching the beekeepers for a whole week before I was allowed to get into a beehive by myself. During that time I learned a lot of respect for beekeeping. I also learned a lot from the commercial beekeepers’ mistakes and shortcuts that they were taking. They were always harsher with the bees than I wanted to be, what with moving them around a lot and feeding them crappy sugar syrup. I learned that, when I started beekeeping myself, I wanted to do it completely differently.
After that, I traveled around Southeast Asia and worked with different small beekeeping organizations. And now I’ve been beekeeping here for two and a half years.
How did you initially get into beekeeping in the first place, with the commercial beekeeping companies?
A family friend asked me to come out and work there one summer when I was 16. The first week I got stung about 100 times, and I worked day and night moving bees around the east cape of the north island in New Zealand. I kind of fell in love with the craziness of it: the bee stings, the challenge, getting stuck in the mud and having to get out before the sun came up and the bees started flying. It was always really challenging and demanding of my body, and I kind of enjoyed that challenge.
And what made you move from New Zealand to Portland?
Well, my partner got relocated for work, so I kind of just got dragged along. *Laughs* It ended up being a good thing for both of us. I really enjoy Portland, it’s quite similar to New Zealand. People here like being outdoors: hiking, camping, barbequing, that sort of thing. I’m into all of that kind of stuff, too.
How many hives do you have now?
I have about 40 hives right now, scattered around Portland and all of Oregon, actually. I have a couple out on the coast in Manzanita, a couple over in North Portland, and then I have some pollinating an organic blueberry farm in Sherwood. Those are pollinating blueberries for Our Table Cooperative, and they sell blueberries to New Seasons Market, which is pretty cool.
All of the hives stay in their spot all year round. If I were to rent a hive for a certain period, I would then leave that hive there all year round so the hives only get moved once per year. Because I’m not capitalizing on pollination like a lot of the bigger guys are, I have to find another angle. I also do consults and sell local honey to get some more revenue.
All of my hives are 10-frame Langstroth, but I also help clients manage Top Bar and Warre hives, as well as some home-built hives.
What’s your favorite part about beekeeping?
My favorite part is the feeling I get every time I go beekeeping. I could be having the worst day or something else could be going on in my life and I can go beekeeping. Yes, it’s hard work and occasionally you get stung, but there’s something sort of meditative about it that just calms you down and resets you. Being around the sound of the bees and just being constantly in awe of their abilities, and what they can do as a collective colony, I think it’s really unique. They keep surprising me year after year and I keep getting more and more involved.
And then for my logo, there are three parts: There’s the zip code bubble from where it’s made, then the bee’s wings, and then the honey droplet. The logo was designed by Kyle Lindon, a local graphic designer. They’re printed locally as well, which is just another way I try to keep everything local. The honey is usually produced, extracted, and bottled on site or within that zip code. I’ll travel with my equipment to process the honey and ideally sell it in the zip code that it was produced in to keep it local and reduce the carbon footprint.
Shop his honey here
With summer quickly approaching, crisp and sparkling beverages seem to be on everyone's mind. Portland's Fringe Meadery is leaving an impact on the tastebuds of local beer and wine enthusiasts alike, and in celebration of the coming summer days we decided to interview their founder and owner, Nathan Mattis.
What initially drew you to mead?
Mead came into my life while I was attending school at UC Davis for winemaking. My roommates and I would brew nonstop in our kitchen, and one day we tried making mead.From that point on I never really stopped making it, although it took me a while to actually start brewing for other people.
How did Fringe happen?
Before college, I had previously worked in the software industry writing stock market code. It just so happened that the stars aligned. My boss was planning to turn a building she owned into a vodka distillery and offered me a job as head distiller. I spent over a year doing this, although mead was always in the back of my mind. My ‘aha’ moment was when I was tasting mead with some friends, and one of them was blown away and told me that I should be selling it. In that moment I was like, “Huh. I really should be”. After the distillery closed, I decided that it was time to make a meadery happen. I partnered with Ken Bonnin, Jr. of Hi-Wheel Wine Co. to open a winery space where we could co-exist together, and Fringe was born. Production started in 2014--it’s hard to believe we’ve been open for a year and a half already!
Where does the name “Fringe” come from?
I’ve always liked the word, and always felt that I was kind of “on the fringe”. The mead industry is definitely on the fringe. Plus it’s a fun word to say everyday (laughs).
What types of mead do you make?
The original goal was to make mead like wine, using the same aging process and alcohol content. A really fun part of making this happen was getting to know all the different honey varietals and flavor notes. I actually have more than thirty types of honey at home now!
The first three meads that we released were created in a wine-strength style, though wine bottle shops don’t usually know what to make of honey wine. When I could get them to try it, they loved it every time. But mead is new to so many people that we decided to start playing with sessions to help bridge the gap.
The goal is to create whimsical, clean session-style meads that will act as a gateway for newcomers to the world of honey wine. New Seasons was blown away, and we’re excited to make this new venture happen!
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned working in the mead industry thus far?
The business skills I’ve learned are invaluable. I really enjoy playing all the different roles that business ownership requires. Besides that, I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that you really have to take a wholesale approach to make a meadery a business that sustains itself. For me, it’s about finding a balance between what the general consumer might want and retaining the quality and soul of my own personal vision. I’ve also been very surprised by how similar honey and grapes are--the flavors vary significantly based on varietal, seasonality, terroir, and yearly changes.
If you were a type of mead, what kind would you be?
My oldest mead is a 5 year old blackberry called Black Frankenstein. I kept trying this one, and now there’s just one bottle left in existence. If I could be any mead, that would definitely be the one.
Besides making mead, what do you like to do for fun?
I really enjoy live music, especially at smaller venues around Portland!