‘I will adore the lord, omnipresent King, he that sustaineth heaven – monarch of all,
he that maketh splendid water for all who are good, he that made and flourished each reward.
May Maelgwn of Mona be drunk with mead and us likewise from frothing horns of finest, purest mead
which bees collect but ne’er enjoy - mead refined, glistening is everywhere praised.’
Song to Mead, Book of Taliesin XIX
by Robert Stewart
Tyngsboro Selectman Turns Hobby Into Thriving Commercial Enterprise.
Mead. The “Nectar of the Gods.” The original aphrodisiac. Steeped in ancient mythology. And, celebrated in song and in both ancient and modern literature. The drink that literally accompanied humans throughout their march in history. It turns soldiers into immortal heroes and ordinary people into scholars.
Alcoholic beverages have been around humans for nearly all their existence on earth giving them comfort, solace and courage. And, it all started with the discovery of Mead.
The world’s oldest alcoholic beverage has been around a long time and is now finding a home locally in the Nashoba Valley area. Tyngsboro Selectman Rick Reault has just opened a distillery to brew and bottle the ancient drink known as Mead. Reault, a professional beekeeper, took his passion for beekeeping and made a giant leap into the world of Meadery – the making, bottling and selling of Mead.
Reault opened his Meadery in April 2019 on Locust Ave. in Tyngsboro (near the Dunstable town line) and the addition of brewing Mead has made his business of beekeeping and honey a complete circle of what honey bees can produce.
Reault is the former President of the Middlesex County Beekeepers Association and the Massachusetts State Beekeepers Association. Reault has kept bees for 25 years as a hobby and was selling honey as a sideline business. His main job, however, was in construction as he owned a construction company. After the events of 9/11, construction business slowed dramatically and Reault took a couple years off to focus on building what he thought at the time would be a nice part- time business in beekeeping and and honey. He worked this idea from his home and was running nearly 100 hives. When the business showed some growth, a friend joined to help and later his wife.
The business grew large enough where Reault could no longer manage it from home. In 2017, he bought the Thompson property on Locust Ave. and built the facility in 2018. Reault added Mead production to his honey and beekeeping equipment business and opened the facility in 2019. In the Mead production part of the building, Reault has two, 200-gallon tanks and two, 300-gallon tanks to ferment the mixture of honey, water and yeast.
For those unfamiliar with Mead, it is an alcoholic drink made from honey, water and yeast. The mixture of honey, water and yeast is fermented for four to six weeks in large vats or tanks. After fermenting the honey and water, the mixture is transferred to oak barrels and aged for one or more years.
Reault said that Mead like wine becomes better the longer it is aged. The alcohol content of Mead is much greater than beer or wine and can range from 3.5 percent ABV to 18 percent ABV. It can be “Dry” or “Sweet” and has its own distinctive taste. The taste does not resemble beer or wine and it is much smoother than bourbon or whiskey. Reault indicated that the brewing of Mead is akin to an art where the selection and balance of honey, water and yeast will make a difference in the taste of the final beverage.
Mead can be made with different fruits and spices and the addition of those ingredients complicates the balance process that Rault said was difficult for him in the beginning. Reault has three different types of Mead – an original Mead made with honey, water and yeast, a Red Bamboo Mead made with spices and a Blueberry Mead made with blueberries. Reault is planning to add a fourth Mead to his inventory by making Mead with apple cider. Reault is still making preparations for this type of Mead and intends to call it “Ciser.”
Mead has been around for a long time and it is considered to be the ancestor of all alcoholic beverages in the world. According to some researchers, Mead is anywhere from 4,000 to 8,000 years old and the drink is referenced in the ancient cultures of China, India, Greece and Egypt.
Some say Mead was discovered before the invention of the wheel. It was also the preferred drink of the Vikings as they crisscrossed the oceans and Aristotle was known to down a horn of Mead.
Mead is also referenced in ancient and contemporary literature such as Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” the epic poem of Beowulf, and more recently in the works of JRR Tolkien. The ancient Greeks referred to Mead as the “Nectar of the Gods” and most researchers claim that Mead is the original aphrodisiac well before oysters became known for that quality.
Mead also took on a mythical identity in Norse culture where it was said that those who drank it would become a scholar and could recite any information and solve any question.
In recent centuries, Mead has waned in popularity as taxation and regulation of alcohol made commercial operations more obscure. However, in the modern era, the production and brewing of Mead on a commercial basis is making a comeback and Rault has tapped into that trend in a most timely manner. It took him 10 years to perfect his Mead and he is now in the process of building an inventory so he can more widely distribute the refreshing beverage.
Because of the multitude of products that Rault makes from beekeeping, he has called his enterprise “The Colony.” The name is cleverly appropriate as it references the work of bees in a colony and encompasses the three products that Reault makes. In the showroom at his Meadery on Locust Ave, Reault sells beekeeping equipment, honey, beeswax candles and Mead. On the grounds of his Meadery, Rault keeps nearly a dozen beehives and sells honey bees to people interested in keeping bee hives. He also rents his bees to different farmers and orchards for pollination purposes.
Of the products sold at The Colony, Reault said the biggest part of the business is honey and the second largest part is the bees themselves and beekeeping equipment. Mead lags behind the other products in sales as aging the beverage has slowed the building of inventory and the availability of it to other outlets. Reault said he sells his honey to more than 200 stores and farmstands. He hopes to expand his Mead business as the inventory continues to build.
Reault’s Mead has won first place ribbons at the Topsfield Fair and he takes pride in his brewing process because of the care taken in balancing the different ingredients. “Our style of Mead is an older Eastern European style. We use more honey and we age it longer and we feel that’s what gives our Mead a lot of favorable reviews,” he says. While his Mead is unique, Reault also believes his business model is unique as it more fully incorporates all the benefits that bees produce. “There’s a lot of companies that are Meaderies and there’s a lot of companies selling beekeeping supplies and selling honeybees. And, then there are a lot of honey companies. But, there is no company in the country that does all three things under one roof,” Reault stated.