On Maine Open Winery Day, held each September, vintners statewide hold celebrations, usually with a band, food or demonstrations. Sean Bailey does things a little differently, however, and not just because he makes mead, not wine, at his Fat Friar Meadery headquarters in Newcastle. Instead of the usual party trappings, Bailey has Society for Creative Anachronism members demonstrate archery, fencing and bardic songs and, of course, he supplies plenty of his mead, a medieval-style beverage if there ever was one.
“Mead is the oldest fermented beverage in history. People have been drinking it for thousands of years,” said Bailey, himself a fan of SCA-style activities and known among friends as the “Fat Friar,” hence the name. “And yet, a lot of people don’t know a thing about it.”
Bailey began experimenting first with beer making in the early ’90s, borrowing his father’s old beer-making kit. He didn’t particularly care for it, and neither did he care for wine making. But when he visited Germany with his wife, Dorothe — whom he met years before while in the Air Force and stationed in Germany — he tried the local honey wine and honey schnapps.
“I loved it,” said Bailey. “It may be old, but it’s still very unique. There’s nothing else that tastes like it.”
When he got back, he began experimenting with mead making, and by the mid-2000s had gotten pretty good at it. Very good, in fact. So good that he dreamed that someday he might be able to actually sell his mead to the general public.
“I remember the day that I thought, ‘You know, I wish I could do this professionally,’” said Bailey. “And then I thought, ‘Well, why not? Why can’t I?’”
Bailey jumped through the many hoops needed to become a fully licensed winery — though mead is made with honey, the state of Maine classifies it as a wine — and in the fall of 2011, began making and selling Fat Friar Mead. He makes it at his home, located on several rolling, wooded acres just off Jones Woods Road, the same road on which Oxbow Brewing is located. The meadery tasting room is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, beginning May 4, so a Saturday jaunt to Newcastle is a great day trip for any Maine beverage enthusiast.
Fat Friar currently makes four varieties of mead. There’s a traditional mead, made only with honey, that’s semidry and easy to drink just slightly below room temperature. There’s Minstral Richard’s Cherry Mellomel, made with the flavor of dark cherries. There’s the Capsumel, infused with chili peppers, made in a fashion that Bailey devised in which he infuses half the mead with a very strong amount of chili, and then blends it with the traditional mead for a smooth drink with a kick. And finally, there’s the Maid Maya, named for his daughter, a holiday mead spiced with clove, nutmeg and other wintry spices. He’s currently working on a raspberry mead, debut date to be announced.
“Mead is just as versatile as wine, in a lot of ways,” said Bailey. “There’s so much you can add to it to make it different. It can be dry, it can be sweet. It’s a lot of fun to experiment.”
Fat Friar Mead is available at a number of stores and restaurants statewide, including State Street Wine Cellar, Bangor Wine & Cheese Co. and Nocturnem Drafthaus in Bangor, Burby & Bates in Orono, Uncorked Wine & Cheese in Augusta, Good Tern Natural Food in Rockland, the Newcastle Publick House, Rising Tide Market in Damariscotta, Byrne’s Irish Pub in both Brunswick and Bath, and RSVP in Portland. For a full list of where you can purchase Fat Friar’s Mead, visit their website at thefatfriarsmead.com.