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CEA Retail & Hospitality Winner: Marketing Mead To The Masses

By Emma Dill, posted May 3, 2024
RETAIL & HOSPITALITY | Retro Meadery | Michael Fields, Co-Founder | Year Founded: 2020 | Employees: 5 (Photo By Madeline Gray)
As Southeastern North Carolina’s only commercial mead maker, Retro Meadery has given many local customers their first taste of mead – a fermented mixture of honey, water and yeast.

Many first-time customers have never heard of mead before, said Michael Fields, who co-founded Retro Meadery in 2020 with friend Matthew Clemmons. Others come with assumptions about how the mead will taste.

Many people think of mead as really sweet, Fields said.

“In reality, it’s just like wine – you can make it really dry, you can make it semi-dry, semi-sweet to sweet to dessert wine,” he said. “We kind of have a range of that for every flavor palate.”

The Burgaw-based company started to form in 2020 when Fields, Clemmons, and a few other friends made a beer kit and mead kit.

“The beer kit came out fantastic,” Fields said. “The mead kit did not.”

They decided to give mead another try, using a higher-quality honey. They continued to experiment with mead-making, giving samples to their family and friends. Eventually, they started hosting larger tasting events and began fundraising to support a mead-making company.

Although they hoped to establish a tasting room early on, those plans didn’t pan out. But that gave them time to introduce the area to the mead they make, Fields said.

Retro Meadery produces its mead in a facility retrofitted with five 79-gallon tanks. The process of making mead is simple, according to Fields, who serves as the company’s head meadmaker.

“Depending on how you make your mead, you can change it up a little bit,” he said, “but it’s still pretty much honey, water and yeast.”

Retro Meadery adds fresh ingredients, ranging from elderberries and apples to limes, lemons and oranges, to the mead to create its signature flavors. The mead typically ferments for about two weeks and then ages for one to four months before it’s ready to be bottled.

The aging process helps remove carbon dioxide from the mead, which can improve its taste, Fields said.

“The longer you let the mead age, that alcohol bite tapers off and makes it really a smooth mead to have,” he said.

Retro Meadery currently has nine different mead flavors in production, including Cinnapede, its most popular apple and cinnamon-flavored mead. The name and branding for each flavor taps into retro themes and nostalgia from the ’80s and ’90s, Fields said.

Cinnapede, for instance, references the classic Atari game Centipede, while other flavors include references to Monty Python and Saved by the Bell.

Fields said Retro Meadery is in the process of outfitting its own tasting room across from the Burgaw Train Depot in downtown Burgaw, with plans to open the space in June. The company is also in talks with a distributor to expand its reach within North Carolina and hopes to begin distributing outside of the state in the future.

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