by Kate Williams
The Berkeley Side
It’s not every day that an upstart company enters its first experimental brew on a whim to an international competition and takes home first place. But that’s just what Forebears Meadery did.
The four man team of John Wirkner, Dave Myers, Michael Halby and Chris Langer entered a curious mead — made primarily with caramelized honey and cooked with hops — into last March’s Mazer Cup International Mead Competition primarily to get feedback said Wirkner. “We didn’t even go,” added Myers. “We just sent it in.”
This mead, which they’re temporarily calling “Paleoale” since it contains no grains or simple sugars, was the result of a few years of tinkering in home kitchens. It looks and tastes nothing like a typical mead. The brew is a deep ruddy brown with a creamy head reminiscent of Guinness. At first, it tastes bittersweet — the caramelized honey flavor is strong. But as you continue to drink, its malty notes come through, and the mead finishes with a definitive piney hop note. If blindfolded, this reporter would guess the “Paleoale” was actually a beer. In fact, its alcohol content, around 8-9%, is similar to a craft beer and much lower than typical meads.
The members of the Forebears team, who all met as kids in the city of Grass Valley, started making mead simply because they weren’t able to find much mead that they actually liked to drink. “Too many meads are too high in alcohol or very sweet,” said Myers. “We’re beer and whiskey drinkers, and we wondered why there wasn’t a mead made for people like us.”
The win was the final push they needed to get serious about making their mead-making official. The Forebears team is currently working its way through the various legal paperwork needed to sell its product and is looking for a local winery in which to produce commercial mead.
When it launches, Forebears will join a growing cohort of Bay Area meaderies: The Mead Kitchen (Berkeley), ENAT Winery (Oakland), San Francisco Mead Company (Bayview), Rabbit’s Foot Meadery (Sunnyvale) and Chaucer’s (Soquel) are all currently producing the honey-based alcohol.