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!