So THICK and so SWEET
“The years have passed like swift draughts of sweet mead in lofty halls beyond the West.” — J.R.R. Tolkien
by MARC WISDOM
Folio Weekly Magazine
It doesn’t take a genius to see that John Harris of Harris Meadery in Orange Park is passionate about mead. In fact, Harris is more than happy to share his voluminous knowledge on the subject at the drop of a hat. And, one Sunday afternoon that’s exactly what he did as we sat down and talked all things mead.
“If your culture came in contact with bees,” he said. “You probably have your own [mead] origin story. The oldest known record is more than 8,000 years old from ancient China on pottery shards. That is the oldest known written recipe of mead.”
Harris started as a homebrewer in 1991 while a college student, double-majoring in psychology and biology, because he wasn’t a fan of the tasteless “foam water” produced by major breweries. He and his roommate brewed in their dorm room and fermented in the closet. Unfortunately, while he was away on spring break with his then-girlfriend, Harris’ roommate drank the entire batch.
“So I never even got to taste my own first beer,” he said. “Mead was just a natural offshoot of homebrewing. I started messing around with it in 2001. My first mead tasted like rocket fuel and I thought I had screwed it up. Little did I know, before I poured it all down the drain, that that was how it was supposed to taste, because a traditional mead has to age nine months to a year before it starts to taste like it should.”
Harris stepped away from brewing meads until he met his wife Melissa and again began experimenting. He entered a few in competitions, regularly earning Best of Show honors. His signature Key Lime Pie Mead was a standout that led to his getting distribution for the brew and starting Harris Meadery (slogan: “Get Your Buzz On!”).
“We talked to the director of economic development in Town of Orange Park and just decided to go for it,” Harris said. “They said, ‘As long as you’re not selling it on premises, we don’t have a problem with it.’”
So Harris, with his wife’s blessing, built a 900-square-foot workshop in the backyard of their home and began tinkering with recipes, while starting several beehives to supply some of the honey. Russian bees are his preference, because they’re highly productive and have a natural tendency toward cleanliness.
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