- Steven Shomler
It doesn’t look like much now—basically an insane-asylum solitary confinement cell missing one wall and a patient in a straightjacket—but meadmaker Brooks Cooper is the guy crazy enough to turn this space into Stung Fermented. It is Portland’s only dedicated meadery. Amid the current beermania, cideries have already taken root, but for those looking for a different kind of fermented refreshment (just how many of those folks happen to be off the gluten is unknown), it may be honey’s time to join apples in that realm.
Brooks Cooper is the CFO—Chief Fermentation Officer—behind Stung, which just debuted with its premier offering, made at a subleased space until their tanks fill the white-walled lab. But this isn’t Cooper’s first dance with the beehive. He made his first batch of mead, AKA honey wine, 20 years ago. What took so long to go commercial? The beverage’s viability as a marketable product. Thank you, craft beer. Thank you, artisanal cider. Thank you, open-minded drinkers of the Pacific Northwest.
“I couldn’t figure out a marketing angle that’d work in this market,” says Cooper. “Mead is hidebound by its history—vikings, drinking out of horns, Dungeons & Dragons.” What Stung is doing, however, is decidedly contemporary.
Cooper spouts that there are just over 200 commercial meadmakers in the US, each making, by and large, sweet, syrupy wine made from honey that pours like, well, dessert wine. Flat and strong. Stung will offer two lines of meads, the “Worker” and the “Queen,” that, like their apiary equivalents, are for either common drinking occasions or more regal experiences. Worker meads like the first product out now are made from wildflower honeys, are a sessionable 6.25 percent ABV, quaffably carbonated, and retail for around $10 per 22-ounce “bomber” bottle. In Portland it can now be found in bottles at Barrique Barrel in NoPo and the Mead Market just off SE Hawthorne, aa well as on tap at Plews Brews (also in NoPo), Culmination Brewing next to Stung Fermented, and coming soon at Tugboat Brewery next to Bailey’s Taproom (okay, next to Mary’s). Another thing they are is bone dry. “More than 95 percent of the sugar in honey is directly fermentable by the yeast,” explains Cooper. “Therefore the level of attenuation a meadmaker achieves is determined by their process.” To put this into geekier, quantitative terms, the mead’s original gravity (OG) is 1.052 and final gravity (FG) is 0.996. That’s lighter and drier than your average pilsner.
As for the Queen line, expect even more interesting single-varietal honeys (i.e. carrot blossom or meadowfoam) from beekeepers within the region and bottle conditioned in the méthode champenoise style for a bottle of bubbly befitting a wedding or New Year’s toast. These 750-milliliter bottles will retail for at least $30.
“I do think this is the time for mead to grow,” Cooper calculates. “I don’t think we’ll ever overtake beer or cider. But there’s room for these beverages. Stung joins Nectar Creek, which also makes lower-alcohol and carbonated meads in Corvallis, and even brewing behemoth Widmer Brothers has made mead, coupled with Oregon’s two breweries that specialize in beer-mead hybrids called Braggots (Eugene’s Viking Braggot Brewery and White City’s Fire Cirkl). Perhaps this new hive mind will push mead into the fore.