Mead Maker: Interview with Glenn Lavender of Silver Hand Meadery
In our second installment of our #meadmonth series we’re looking at Silver Hand Meadery of Williamsburg, Virginia.
We first found out about this meadery in November 2015, when it first opened its doors to the public. At that time they weren’t pouring their own mead, but mead from other Virginia meaderies. We did a honey and mead tasting that day, which was led by Silver Hand owner, Glenn Lavender. We enjoyed our tasting and said we’d be back when they started pouring their own product.
We’ve been several times in the past couple years – always bringing home a bottle or two to add to our collection. When we decided to release a blog on mead back on Aug. 4 for Mead Day, it was a no brainer to reach out to Lavender for some information on honey wine.
We didn’t talk to Glenn face-to-face, but he did send us a Youtube link of him answering all our questions. And so we decided to share all his insightful information with you. Be sure to visit Silver Hand the next time you find yourself in colonial Williamsburg.
How did you get your start in the whole mead making business?
There were a couple things. One was reading historical fiction novels. A lot of them were from the same author, Stephen Lawhead. He wrote a book called The Silver Hand, and in a lot of his books he’d have these Celtic warriors returning home from battle and celebrate by drinking mead. And his descriptions of mead just sounded awesome. I wanted to try it and find some.
At the same time, I was getting into bee keeping, and my bee keeping catalogs would arrive and they always had a page or two devoted to mead making equipment. So, I started to see these two things together and realized this was something I wanted to check out.
It took a while to find some – I was living in southern Ontario at the time – that’s where I’m from. I had to drive about an-hour-and-a-half to the Niagara-area to find some mead. I found a great winery that was making mead. I liked it and loved it. And thought, ‘This should be a business opportunity for someone, someday.’ I didn’t think it would be me. But that’s how things got started.
Fast forward around a decade or more, and I moved from Canada to Williamsburg. I worked at a church for two-and-a-half years, and decided I wanted to open my own business. I didn't know what kind of business I wanted to run. I had a few different ideas, but it was the mead making business that rose to the top. Being in historic Williamsburg, we thought it was appropriate to have it here.
You can see that our logo is inspired by the Celtic knot, which ties into Silver Hand and those old historical novels.
I think we’ve been coming to your meadery since it opened … can you tell us a little more about your opening date?
We’ve been open since November 2015. We had our first meads available to sell in February, 2016. We actually sold mead from Black Heath Meadery in Richmond at our place for the first few months. That gave us a chance to see what people liked. We’re in our third year, and have doubled our space after being open a year. We have 8 employees right now. We have one head mead maker, besides myself.
Silver Hand is a great example of a small business. With around 8 employees, I’m sure most of them are involved in a lot of the process from start to finish.
We try to have everyone involved in the process. Everyone will be involved on production day at some level. Everyone bottles – because that requires more hands. And then there’s our de-gassing and nutrient additions and that kind of stuff. We’re teaching the staff that, so when people come in and do a tasting, I want our staff to be able to say, ‘We did this!’.
What’s behind the scenes? What’s your production like at Silver Hand?
We have 8 tanks and they’re all 115-gallons a piece. We have 4 French oak barrels, that we’re actually aging a cyser in. We also have another 4 bourbon barrels that we’re aging a traditional mead in. When we’re running full-bore we’ll start 2 new batches every three weeks – so that’s around 1,600 bottles. We had to do that in our first year-and-a-half, but we’re now caught up.
There are so many different styles of mead out there. How many different styles does Silver Hand produce?
We actually do a little bit of every style. We do traditional, metheglin, we always have a cyser. We have a pyment right now, which is exciting. It is the first time we had one (which was made in collaboration with Williamsburg Winery). We have a couple of melomels. We’ve done a bochet in the past.
In the mead world, honey is like grapes. There are so many different types of honey. What are some of the different types of honey used in making your meads?
I like to try to use a different honey varietal for every mead. We offer honey tastings as well, so people can taste an orange blossom honey. Then they’ll taste an avocado blossom honey. They’ll go through all the different varietals, and then they can taste the mead. We try to tie them to the meads. We’ll choose the honey for the recipe to the mead – so that’s how we connect those things together.
Here in North Carolina our mead scene is growing at a great pace. I know the U.S. is over 400 meaderies but here in NC we’re up to around 12. How is the Virginia mead scene?
It’s growing. We have new meaderies popping up here very quickly. I don’t even know how many we have right now. As far as tastes – I’d say they swing towards the sweet side. When we opened, our meads were a little semi-sweet to dry, but we had a couple of sweet meads and they sold like crazy. So, we decided to do a little more sweet meads. We’re a business, so we’re going to make meads that people like. We kind a skewed that way a little more than I originally planned.
Going back to North Carolina, a lot of our beer people love mead. We see the beer drinkers brag about landing meads such as Schramm’s Mead in Michigan. Do you find that the people who enjoy mead in Virginia are primarily beer drinkers as well?
We have aligned ourselves more in the wine world. We sell our meads in wine bottles, they’re not sparkling and our gravity is like wine … and again, we kind of treat it like wine. I don’t see the same thing here, from my experience. I find that it’s the folks who go to wine festivals love mead. It’s a big hit for them. Especially if it’s sweet wines – they’ll come here and buy things up.