By Tara Bozick
The Daily Press
May 14, 2015
Move over craft beer and wine, a Newport News beekeeper plans to bring craft mead to the Peninsula.
Zeb Johnston, 40, plans to start small in his friend’s 650-square-foot Seaford garage with plans to distribute mead to local wine shops and restaurants. York County approved a special-use permit for limited production April 21 and now his startup, called Artisan Meads LLC, is applying for the other necessary permits, which could be a six-month process.
“You can’t find mead anywhere,” wife Sarah Johnston said.
Johnston began making homemade mead as a hobby two years ago after folks buying his Zeb’s Bees honey at Yorktown Market Days kept asking if he made what is often called “honeywine.” He participates in mead competitions and recently won a first place for a dry mead at the “Mead Free or Die” contest in New Hampshire.
Johnston, who earned a master’s degree in business administration from the College of William and Mary in 2013, kept toying with the idea of a mead business. When he found it would take less money to start a meadery than a winery or brewery, the Newport News Shipbuilding worker decided to give it a try.
“I got super excited,” Sarah Johnston said, particularly as the ancient “nectar of the gods” is referenced in medieval poetry and classical literature.
While most people today may know it through renaissance festivals, like craft beer and cider, mead is growing in popularity, said Michael Fairbrother, president of the three-year-old American Mead Makers Association.