DUANESBURG — Helderberg Meadworks will cut the ribbon on its tasting room Friday, creating a place for the public in its growing business.
Peter and Kirsten Voelker’s new mead hall at 6144 Route 30 sits in a rural area not far from their production facility and their home. While it has been serving mead and other craft beverages in a soft opening phase, it officially opens at 4 p.m. Friday and holds its grand opening celebration from noon to 9 p.m. on Saturday.
While Voelker began making his version of the ancient beverage as a young man a quarter century ago, he didn’t try to go commercial as Helderberg Meadworks until 2010.
The meadery landed its first retail client in 2011. “We’ve expanded quite a bit with our wholesale business,” he said.
As they were expanding their shelf presence to 150 retailers statewide, the Voelkers decided they wanted the direct consumer contact that was lacking in wholesale trade.They first acquired the site for the tasting room in 2015 and set about designing it in a modern rustic fashion, using reclaimed barn wood and their distinctive black and white color scheme.
The Voelkers balance the business with family life as parents of two young boys. Peter, who holds a nuclear engineering degree from RPI, retains his day job as a compliance manager at a power plant. He is also the mead-maker, product developer, paperwork shuffler and business manager. Kirsten has taken an active role in running the tasting room.
In all, the meadery and tasting room have five employees.
“There really was very little risk in investing” in the mead hall, Voelker believes, given the interest shown in Helderberg Meadworks product line, which is nearing 20 varieties.
More than 3,000 gallons of mead is fermenting in the tanks and 300 cases of bottles are ready for shipment.
Visitors to the tasting room will find mead, of course, but there’s also braggot (a beer-mead hybrid produced by Brown’s Brewing of Troy), hard cider (an outgrowth from experimentation with apple-flavored mead) and switchel (a farm-style ginger-honey-vineger concoction that’s less than 1% alcohol), plus mead cocktails.
Mead has been made and consumed for thousands of years, from Viking communities to ancient India. The number of U.S. meaderies has grown rapidly in recent years as the industry rides the craft beverage boom in America, but mead is still not the best-known beverage on the shelf.
Voelker says his customers come from many different demographics but have one common trait: they are “someone who’s open to trying something new.”
The basic ingredients of the various meads — fermented honey and water — are the same but the details vary widely. They are aged anywhere from two to 36 months and range from a mild mead with cherry and vanilla to an assertive mead named Feral.
“We have mead that is completely dry and we have everything from there to a dessert mead,” Voelker said.
A new mead will be debuted at the grand opening of the tasting room.