Mead is a delicious alcoholic beverage made by mixing honey, water and yeast and allowing them to ferment and transform into a brew that is greater than the ingredients. Purportedly, mead was the preferred drink of the Vikings in old-world Norway. With Vernon County’s rich Norwegian culture, it is a wonder that mead doesn’t have a more regular place on our table.
For those of you that are interested in adding mead to your table this holiday season and into the future, look no further than our local mead producer – Kickapoo Meadery. This bee-to-bottle mead company is owned and run by married partners, Tim McDonald and Diane Roy in Blue River, Wisconsin.
Tim and Diane have been keeping bees since the 1980s and have a deep love and respect for them. For around 16 years they owned and operated Kickapoo Honey – VFC’s long-time supplier of local honey. In 2014, they decided to take a break from commercial beekeeping. They sold the business and took a couple years off restoring two houses.
At that same time, a new idea for a business began to take hold. Over the years of keeping bees, Tim had also dabbled in the world of mead making. He shared his homemade mead with friends and they told him that he should consider making mead and selling it.
After spending so much time around bees, it was hard not to want to go back to beekeeping. “Mead was a way for us to still be around bees,” Tim shared. In October of 2018, Kickapoo Meadery received its winery license in time to sell to the VFC and sample the mead at our Grand Reopening Celebration last November.
Kickapoo Meadery is one of very few mead producers that both produce all their honey and make mead. Today, they have 40-60 colonies of bees which supply all the honey they need for mead making.
Tim and Diane go the extra mile to treat their bees right. Eight years ago, they seeded an 8-acre pollinator planting at their farm that has a diverse species of plants that flower and provide ample food for the bees from spring through the fall. This past October they planted an additional 8-acre monarch habitat. “With these plantings… they really are a reliable source of nectar and pollen for the bees,” which Tim thinks is already having a positive impact on bee health and the honey they produce.
Once the bees make their liquid gold, Tim and Diane collect it and bring it back to their meadery. Tim converted their old honey bottling building into a mead making facility where they extract the honey and make small batches of mead each week. Once the mead is fermented and aged, they bottle and distribute it to a variety of retail locations from La Crosse to Madison.
Kickapoo Meadery offers a diverse selection of meads that can please anyone from the new-to-mead drinker to the mead connoisseur. They make traditional meads (high alcohol, 14-16% ABV) in a variety of styles including dry, semi-sweet and sweet. Tim and Diane also go the extra mile and offer barrel finished versions of their traditional meads. These meads are aged in charred American oak rye whiskey barrels for a few months prior to bottling. Beyond their traditional mead line up, they also offer unique flavored meads. Their ginger root mead is made with organic ginger and is a perfect balance of sweet and spicy, while their Wild Bergamot Mead is floral, herbal and striking.
Tim’s favorite mead is their wild bergamot mead. “As far as we know, no one else in the country makes a bergamot mead.” They source bergamot flowers for the mead from their pollinator plantings and have made many batches to get the flavor just right. “Bergamot is a very potent flavor and it took some time and trial and error to perfect.”
“When we started, our goal was to do our own thing. We wanted to make very good mead and self-distribute it without spending an astronomical amount of money, and have the mead make its own way,” said Tim. They have certainly accomplished this making some of the most unique and local bee-to-bottle meads in the Midwest.
For delicious food pairing suggestions, check out “Sarah’s Top Four Kickapoo Meadery Pairings”
Big thanks to Tim McDonald for these bee and flower photos. To see more photos of their meadery, follow Tim and Diane on Instagram here: @kickapoomeadery