Originating more than 5,000 years ago, mead belongs at the very beginning of the long history of alcoholic libations enjoyed by humans. Mead is mentioned in history and mythology of the ancient cultures of India, China, Greece and Egypt. Simply put, mead is fermented honey, a honey wine made from just water, honey and yeast.
Today, this ancient beverage is being showcased in a Viking-style, yet modern, setting in downtown Flagstaff. The new drinking hall, Drinking Horn Meadery, opened on Friday, June 12, in a historic building on Route 66.
It takes some kind of business bravado to hang an open sign during fragile economic conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic, but co-owners Kelly Czarnecki and her husband, Evan Anderson, share both an optimistic nature and a passion for the fascinations of mead. They were delighted to find the new high-profile location.
“We wanted to provide a fun atmosphere for our patrons and showcase the Drinking Horn culture,” Czarnecki explained. “When I first saw the location downtown, I just knew this was the spot we’d been looking for.”
The mood in the remodeled space is definitely Viking – wood floors, dark beams, helmets and fixtures. “Imagine walking along Route 66 in downtown Flagstaff,” said Anderson. “You open the door to the Mead Hall and step back in time 1,000 years.”
It is somehow appropriate that an ancient libation is being served in one of the oldest stone buildings in town. The couple is renting the space at 108 E. Route 66 from Coast & Mountain Properties.
“They are wonderful people!” said Karen Kinne-Herman, whose husband, Maury Herman, is the principal at the real estate company and comes from a pioneering Flagstaff family. “Maury and I are excited that they’ve chosen to bring their unique business to downtown. Our last tenant in that location, Galaxy Sales, was with us for over 50 years. We hope that Kelly and Evan will succeed for as long!”
The couple’s interest in mead began with their wedding and their honeymoon. “The word honeymoon is derived from mead,” Czarnecki explained. “A bride and groom were supposed to drink honey wine for the whole ‘moon cycle’ after marriage to promote fertility. Evan, being the romantic he is, made mead for our wedding. Everyone really loved it and that is how our journey began.”
Romance and history also are honored in the Drinking Horn traditional mead recipes, but other recipes are wildly creative and new. The main mead maker is Czarnecki’s brother, Charles Felkins, who first worked with his brother-in-law, Evan, to create a version of the traditional mead metheglin using orange peel, black tea and cinnamon. One of the oldest varieties, the name metheglin derives from the Welsh root meddy, which means medicine or healing, and gllyn, meaning liquor.
“We still have bottles of the metheglin left, but they are going fast,” Czarnecki said. “I imagine that he [Charles] will make it again in November, but he is also coming up with some fun new ideas. We will have to see what he decides for the fall.”
Meadery creations feature local honey from Mountain Top Honey Co., water and seasonal fruit to ferment flavors that range from fruity and sweet to dry and herbaceous.
Heather McCleester, owner of Potion Tea and Bakery in Flagstaff, has helped the mead makers come up with interesting herbs and spices for their tasting expedition into the world of mead.
This season’s menu of mead flavors includes Prickly Pear, Elderberry and Blue-Tooth.
“Blue-Tooth is a big fan favorite, juicy flavor without being too sweet, and it is named after the Danish king!” Anderson said.
Since 2017, the meadery has been creating, bottling and selling 15 flavors of honey wine at the production headquarters on Grant Street in Flagstaff. Drinking Horn mead has been featured in dozens of local restaurants and has been shipped to 35 states.
When Food Network celebrity Guy Fieri featured the Drinking Horn in a 2017 segment of “Guy’s Family Road Trip,” he loved the mead and made a batch with Anderson, according to a press release.
The Flagstaff community has been supportive as well. “The response to our business has been great, right from day one when we just had our production location; we have seen a huge amount of community support,” Anderson said. “People want to be able to drink something different, and mead is that thing. It has history on nearly every continent, truly making it the beverage of humankind.”
Mead also is very versatile, Czarnecki noted. “It pairs well with many things,” she said. “Our pomegranate mead pairs well with lamb, the Blue-Tooth goes great with goat cheese and sausages, the coffee pairs with tiramisu and chocolate-covered strawberries, the lemon ginger mead pairs with Thai food, and the lime mead goes great with Mexican food.”
Mead can be used as a marinade for meats and veggies and added to olive oil to make a salad dressing.
Anderson said summers are usually a busy time for the meadery, but this summer may be uncharacteristically quiet, as many local events have been canceled. “We normally do a lot of events during the summer, so not having that this year has been a big change for us, but my two favorite events are the Arizona Mead and Cider Festival, and Medieval Mayhem. We love going to events, dressing up, and teaching people about mead and bees!”
The good news is that “things are changing fast right now,” he added, “and the new Drinking Horn Mead Hall on Route 66 is up and running and doing dine-in reservations and curbside pickup.”
The Mead Hall meets requirements for sanitation and social distancing to create a safe environment for guests.
In addition to local beverages, the unique gathering place offers Viking games, a monthly Sunday brunch and a podcast. Also, mead can be ordered online at drinkinghornmeadery.com.
When was the last time you laughed out loud?
Evan: “Just this morning. I took one look at my hairdo and cackled hilariously.”
Kelly: “This morning when I looked at Evan’s hair.”
What are you looking forward to that you haven’t been able to do in the last several months?
Evan: “I can’t wait to see the smiling faces of our customers as they come in to enjoy the new spot we made for them, and for all of our future customers.”
What advice would you offer young entrepreneurs?
Evan: “Pick something that truly interests you. Starting your own business is difficult and will take up all of your time, energy and money. If you are not passionate about what you are doing, you will never make it through the rough parts to enjoy the good parts. Also, pick a good team; as you grow, find people who can do your job better than you.”
Kelly: “Don’t be afraid to fail and don’t get stuck in over-thinking. It really all comes down to learning, and you won’t start the learning process until you jump in and try something. There are so many things we have done that we could/should have done differently, but we wouldn’t know that until we tried and messed up. You can’t think of every scenario, so you have to trust your gut and go for it. When the explosions or the pandemic happens, you learn to pivot and take it one hour at a time, but you can’t predict them, so don’t let the over-thinking hold you back.
If you could travel anywhere right now, where would you go?
Evan: “I would travel to Sor-Hidle with my wife. It’s a small island off the coast of Norway, most northerly palm trees in the world – just seems like a magical place to visit.”
Kelly: “Sor-Hidle, because that’s where my husband would be.”
What do you see yourself doing five years from now?
Kelly: “I would like to be watching people come into our Mead Hall to share their thoughts, ideas and love with one another, making it a true community space. That’s what mead halls were historically, and I would love to see our space grow into that sort of feel.” FBN