By Tony Forder
Oliver Swanson is a good recruiter for Mysto Mead. He is assistant brewer at Two Way Brewing in Beacon and comes into contact with a lot of craft enthusiasts in the tasting room. That's where I met him and during the course of conversation he told me about his Dad's mead project, Mysto Mead. "I'd like to check it out," I said.
The next day I searched out the address he gave me and after a little hunting in the woods of Duchess County near Carmel, NY, I found it. There was a house and a barn – no one was around. But, looking though a barn window I spied fermenters. Mysto...hmmm?
Eventually I called back to Two Way and obtained a phone number which allowed me to awaken Oliver from his slumber – he'd had a late night. No, he hadn't told his father, Kurt, of the visit, but it was OK, a quick call and "he's on his way." Oliver began with some sampling. Kurt and his wife Lisa showed up and Mysto Mead gradually came into focus. Kurt is an artisan, a glass blower, but lately he's more of a mead maker...a Mazer as they're called. The house where they live belonged to Lisa's father, Ira Schwartz (his summer house), a fairly prominent packaging designer in NYC (Faberge, Brut, Revlon).
The mead connection came from a friend, Bob who dabbled in home brewing and home fermenting. He and Kurt decided to give it a whirl. They knew that Ira was a winemaker, but when they were clearing out the barn they came across mead making relics – labels and woodcuts; Ira was an avid artist and painter. One of the woodcuts was for the new career of Ira's 12-year-old son as Mysto, the magician. Voila Mysto Mead was born.
Kurt and Bob and their wives are just starting on the road of commercial mead making. Kurt said he spent much of 2015 wrangling with federal labeling bureaucracy. Mead can only be made from honey or honey with hops. Any other additions and you're talking about honey wine. "We finally figured out how they want us to fill out the forms," he said.
They're experimenting all the time. "We're learning every day and continually adjusting things," he said. "Learning the process of what mead goes through over a few months." He said it can be a bit nervewracking – "After you dump $1300 of honey into the fermenter, and then it tastes really bad. A month later it can taste really good!"
So far Mysto has four labels approved – a basil mint infusion; Superstar, with star anise, pink peppercorns and ancho chile pepper; and two aged meads, one in rye whisky and one in rum barrels. They have plenty of other experimental flavors in the works — we tried a chipotle cocoa infusion.
They have been well received at a couple of events the Chocolate and Wine Festival in Fishkill, and a tasting at Tuttletown distillery. Their mead is on sale there, and they use Tuttletown whisky barrels for some of their aging. Kurt said the feedback has been 95% positive and he sees a real interest in the 21-30 age group. "They want to learn more about it. The interesting thing is to see people really fall in love with it."
Mysto Mead is available at a few retailers. Tastings are by appointment .