This article comes directly from the American Mead Makers Association’s First Annual Mead Industry Report. The data in this report was compiled and written by Jeff and Jennifer Herbert of Superstition Meadery with data collected from American Mead Makers. You can read the full report here: Mead Industry Report
The world’s most popular beverage throughout most of recorded history nearly died out after the Middle Ages but now counts as the smallest but fastest growing segment of the American alcohol beverage industry.
What Defines Mead?
In order to understand the mead industry singularly we must first find perspective as it is placed into the larger context of the entire US alcohol beverage industry. Nearly all styles of mead are produced in a winery. This is because the federal government classifies honey as an agricultural product which when fermented in the absence of cereal grains, is classified into one of several categories such as an “Agricultural,” “High Fermentation” or “Other than Standard” wine. These categories are often confusing to both professional mead makers and the governing body, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, a division of the US Department of the Treasury. Due to this convoluted system, the American Mead Makers Association is working through our legislative committee to restructure the federal classification of mead styles to reflect commonly accepted terminology among the mead making and mead drinking communities. This results in a meadery first being a winery that has the legal ability to ferment the sugars found in fruits such as the grapes in wine and apple juice in hard cider, and certain agricultural products such as honey and other sugars. Special ingredients can also be added as long as they are approved by the formulation division of the Tax and Trade Bureau.
This brings us to a style of mead rising in popularity, know as a braggot. A braggot can be considered to be both a beer and a mead depending on who is telling the story and the percent of fermentable sugars deriving from either honey or cereal grains such as barley. One of America’s most successful meaderies, Rabbit’s Foot, is able to make award winning braggots as they operate both a winery and a brewery. This newly re-discovered style of craft beverage is present in the line-up of large craft breweries such as Dogfish Head’s “Bitches Brew” and Rogue’s “Big Ass Barrel Braggot.” Eugene, Oregon even has a new brewery called the Viking Braggot Company which only makes braggots. So in tracking the mead industry we have to consider the regulation that a winery can not have cereal grains onsite and a brewery can use fruit juice or honey in brewing but not in the absence of those cereal grains that define the brewing process.
Finally, and worth mentioning is the small but now established role mead plays in distilled spirits. Most large distillers offer a bourbon, whiskey or vodka flavored with honey but small craft distilleries are now making mead and distilling that honey wine as the original fermentable ingredient in never before seen commercial products. In Seneca Falls, New York the Martin Family of bee keepers began the Montezuma Winery focusing on mead and fruit wines in 1999. In 2008 they opened the Hidden Marsh Distillery and now offer a product called BEE Vodka made from local honey. Ed Tiedge owns StilltheOne Distillery in Port Chester, New York and makes the “Comb” product line of vodka, gin, and brandy distilled exclusively from mead. So while these distilled products are not mead once they leave the still, they begin as mead and are contributing to the expanding impact of the mead industry as a whole.
So far, a “Meadery” is defined by the American Mead Makers Association as a licensed winery that primarily focuses on making various styles of mead, or honey wine. A “Mead Producer” can be a winery or brewery that makes at least one style of mead. Using these definitions, in 2014 the American Mead Makers Association has identified 194 total mead producers with 150 of those classified as a “Meadery.”
Alcohol Industry Groups
Wines and Vines Magazine reported that in 2012 there were 7,498 total wineries in the US with 6,439 being bonded and 1,059 being virtual, i.e. engaged in the practice of “Custom Crush” which is where a winery business pays a bonded winery to produce a product for their unique brand. The same report states that the total number of wineries increased from 6,357 in 2009 adding 1141 wineries in just 3 years. Meaderies account for just 2% of all wineries in the US but that statistic has tripled over the same time period.
According to the Brewers Association “There are 2,538 breweries operating in the U.S. as of June 30, 2013, an increase of 446 breweries since June 2012. The BA also lists an additional 1,605 breweries in planning at that year’s midpoint, compared to 1,252 a year prior; showing that 98 percent of U.S. brewers are craft brewers.”
Writing for entrepreneur.com, Jason Daly reported in November 2013 that less than 10 years ago there were 70 distilleries in the US and now there are 623. He also writes that that number is expected by their industry to grow to 750 by the end of this year.
Mead Industry Survey Results
In 2012 US Meaderies reported selling an average of 404 cases of mead per meadery. That number increased to 823 cases in 2013. The US mead industry has grown in case production by 103% in the first year of reported data tracking. This news is promising and gets even more exciting when we consider total sales. American meaderies reported average gross sales of $48,624 in 2012 and $112,000 in 2013. Are you ready for it? Mead sales are up 130% from 2012 to 2013. The alcohol industry went crazy when the American hard cider industry reported an increase in gross sales of 82% from 2011 to 2012, and that is something very exciting. But 130%, that is astounding. The American Mead Makers Association is proud to proclaim that mead is the smallest but fastest growing segment of the entire US alcohol business.
While volume and sales are arguably the most interesting data to emerge from the Mead Industry Surveys, additional quantifiable and qualifiable information is remarkable. The average number of employees has increased from 2.3 to 3.3. The average number of mead products produced by each meadery declined but only slightly from 7.7 to 7.3. The chosen source of honey is most commonly a honey local to the meadery ranging from a single bee keeper to a statewide organization. The most popular products were reported as a mix of traditional meads such as Hidden Legend Winery’s “HLW-Pure Honey Mead” to 1634 Meadery’s “Strawberry Cinnamon” mead.
The American Mead Makers Association is hopeful that this brief insight into the state of the US mead industry has been enjoyable and informative for you. At AMMA we will continue to endeavor diligently to expand and improve the mead industry. We ask that you join us in supporting this pursuit at www.meadmakers.org. Whether you are a home mead maker looking to make better mead or a professional keeping tabs on the industry, American Mead Maker is your source for free quarterly information.