Photos by Ellen Judge and Buzzed Bee Meadery
Mead is an alcoholic wine-like beverage made out of fermented honey and water. It has been around for centuries and in the past couple of years has made a major comeback. Wayne says, “One of the oldest meads goes back to Ethiopian times, they would even use the bark from trees, ferment it, and drink it.” In the fifth century, newlyweds would drink mead for the first moon cycle, or month, after their wedding, creating the phrase “honeymoon”. It even predates wine and beer by thousands of years, so you could say it’s a classic.
Wayne and Michelle Spohnheimer are the owners of Buzzed Bee Meadery, located in Melbourne, Iowa. They have been making award-winning mead since 2016. Wayne started dabbling in beekeeping a few years ago and after he saw how much honey he was producing, he decided to try fermenting it into mead. Wayne says, “I’m kind of a professional hobbyist.” He has brewed beer in the past and wanted to try making mead. For the past 200 years, mead has somewhat gone out of style after the development and rising popularity of wine and wineries. However, lately, it has been making a resurgence. Wayne thinks it is because people are wanting to try something new, exciting, and different. Mead is sweet without being syrupy. With all the assorted flavors available, it’s perfect for any occasion and the 12-14 percent alcohol content will surely get a party started.
Wayne is the master mixer of the mead and has created almost 50 different flavors. Wayne says, “We add a lot of different fruits, different spices, to get different flavors.” Some of their personal favorites are the Cocoa Coffee mead and the Sweet Bee Lemon mead. Even though mead is made from honey, it’s not always sweet. Depending on what flavors and ingredients used, changes the flavor and even the smell. Michelle is the brain behind the operation. She handles all of the business side from licensing to designing the labels on the bottles and the marketing.
Buzzed Bee Meadery might be the only meadery in Iowa, but they are not the only ones jumping on the mead wagon. All over the Midwest, meaderies are popping up. In the past 15 years, the amount of meaderies increased from 30 to over 300.
“We add a lot of different fruits, different spices, to get different flavors.” –Wayne Spohnheimer
Wayne says, “Most commercial mead makers are relying on either old recipes or experimenting on their own.” Wayne uses 80 gallon stainless steel tanks where he mixes honey, water, yeast, and assorted fruits and flavors to create his mead. As each batch ferments, he is creating new recipes and starting the process over. Each tank can create 160-300 bottles of mead, depending on the ingredients he includes. He makes the mead right in their basement using 12 tanks.
Part of what makes this meadery so unique is the fact that they operate out of their own home. The only thing separating the sampling room and store from their living room is some double doors. The meadery itself feels like you are walking into the coziest room in your house. It’s warm and inviting and makes your feel right at home. In one section, you can buy t-shirts and trinkets and in the other section are tables and a bar for tasting all the different featured meads.
“What Wayne is doing for mead is like what Bill Gates did for computers. They have only been open for a year and a half and have already won 2 gold medals.” –Marc Bailey
The family business doesn’t just stop at Michelle and Wayne–their seven-year-old son also contributes. Michelle says, “He’s always ready to sell his flowers, so I think he is learning [from the business].” Wayne calls him a little entrepreneur.
Wayne and Michelle are extremely humble, but others are ready to sing their praises. Marc Bailey, a customer at the meadery and friend of the Spohnheimers says, “What Wayne is doing for mead is like what Bill Gates did for computers. They have only been open for a year and a half and have already won 2 gold medals.” He tells me that these medals are no small deal. They won these medals at the Super Bowl of mead competitions. These competitions include the Mazer Cup International Mead Competition and the Mid-American Wine Competition.
“We like to get to know the people that are coming in. They become much more than a customer, they become friends.” –Michelle Spohnheimer
As the only meadery currently in Iowa, Wayne and Michelle definitely have their hands full. In the next five years they are hoping to expand operation and be able to meet all of the demand that is coming to them. For now, they are happy with making mead and selling it at their meadery. While it is not available online for delivery, Buzzed Bee Meadery is open Thursdays from 4-7 and Saturdays from noon-5 or by appointment. Michelle says, “We like to get to know the people that are coming in. They become much more than a customer, they become friends.”
With mead making a comeback and the Spohnheimers creating new flavors every day, it’s becoming more and more popular. It may not be the easiest thing to find in your local liquor store, but it’s worth the search.