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Acquiring a Taste for Mead

The winner of the 2nd Annual Pioneer Pitch contest is betting that the next big thing in premium adult beverages will not be made from grapes or grains, but honey.

Drinking Horn Meadery emerged as the victor in the Shark Tank-style competition that pitted close to 20 entrepreneurs against each other for $15,000 in cash prices, scholarships and Amazon Web Service (AWS) credits, plus business mentorship as an affiliate of the Moonshot at NACET program.

The meadery’s presentation during the two-day event demonstrated that founder Evan Anderson and his team understood the marketplace for his product and showed great potential for growth and local job creation, said Moonshot at NACET President/CEO Scott Hathcock. “They have shown great instincts creating their startup, and our judges felt they are highly coachable as they look to expand.”

Anderson, formerly a contract biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey, began brewing mead as a hobby, looking to create a traditional mead that was less cloyingly sweet than commercially available brews. The long fermentation time for the drink (approximately six months) dovetailed nicely with his job, which required him to travel for months at a time.

When he made several batches to serve at his wedding in 2015, he discovered a big demand for the drink.

“The people who attended absolutely loved the mead we made for the celebration,” he said. “They kept calling and asking for more.”

He and his wife launched Drinking Horn Meadery in 2017 through bootstrapping and poured any profits right back into the business. They quickly secured a wholesale distribution deal and saw their product grace the shelves of Whole Foods and numerous liquor stores in Arizona. They also sell their one-liter bottles of traditional and fruit-flavored meads online in 39 states.

Unlike many craft brewers, Anderson had no desire to open a bar featuring his mead. But a visit from Food Network star Guy Fieri changed his mind.

“He heard about us and decided to feature us on Guy’s Family Road Trip for the last five minutes of the first episode,” Anderson said. “When he was here, he started dropping advice bombs and one was to have a taproom and get it up and running before the episode aired.”

It was sage advice; the taproom on Grant Street is open four days a week and is often standing room only.

Between distribution deals, online sales, events and the taproom, the meadery sells about 1,500 to 2,000 bottles a month, Anderson said. Their Grant Street location was selected for potential growth, however, and Anderson estimates that with additional equipment and employees, they could quickly scale their production to 10,000 bottles a month in that facility. Drinking Horn Meadery currently has three full-time employees and a host of friends and relatives who help out during events and festivals.

Although the cash prize from the contest was appreciated, he says it was the networking he was able to do at the event and the prospect of mentorship as he scales his business that was most exciting.

“Yes, the check means I can pay off some bills,” he said, “but I don’t have any business experience and neither does my wife. I’ve heard that a lot of entrepreneurs know how to start a business but not how to sustain it or grow it. Having experienced people to talk to is fantastic.”

That applies to his former competitors as well, he added.

“It was awesome seeing their pitches and learning from them,” he said. “I want to see them do well. Small businesses have to support each other; it’s the only way we are going to make this work.”

You can learn more about Drinking Horn Meadery at its website, drinkinghornmeadery.com.

Pioneer Pitch was presented by the City of Flagstaff and Choose Flagstaff. Sunwest Bank was the title sponsor and supporting sponsors included: AWD Law, AWS, Canyon Diablo Distillery, Lowell Observatory, Nackard Beverages, W.L. Gore and Associates, Woz-U, Wunderlust Brewing Company and Zoho. The statewide Pioneer Pitch sponsor is APS. FBN

By Cindy May, FBN

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