One Saratoga native is betting that his alcohol-laced, honey-touched product, mead, will spark the next major craft-brewing gold rush. And he’s putting his money where his mead-tasting mouth is, opening a brand-new, Philadelphia-area pop-up bottle shop, with plans for a permanent home in 2021. Master mead-maker Adam Crockett, who grew up in Wilton’s Lake Elizabeth neighborhood and graduated from Saratoga Springs High School in 1998 (full disclosure: we graduated together but hadn’t spoken in more than 20 years, before connecting for this story), recently rebranded his multiple-award-winning mead company, Haymaker Meadery, as Upper Reach Meadery, and opened his first pop-up bottle shop in Phoenixville, PA, about 45 minutes northwest of Philly.
Haven’t come across mead in your ABV wanderings? No, it isn’t the company that made your three-ring binders in high school. It’s actually one of the world’s oldest alcoholic beverages, with traces of it dating back to 7,000 B.C.E. (The vikings are, maybe, best known for happily tipping the tipple.) Also known as “honey wine,” mead is made, in its most basic form, from honey, water and yeast, but the “wine” thing is a bit of a misnomer. “It is a wine by federal standards,” explains Crockett, “but it is in its own category. It’s not a beer or wine. [Just like] you wouldn’t say cider is a wine or a beer.”
Speaking of which, Crockett believes that mead, like cider, which has exploded in popularity in the last decade and a half, as sort of the anti–craft beer, will have its moment in the sun, too. And the road to the mead revolution will be paved on education. “Most people believe that mead is a sweet product—that generally has to do with Renaissance fairs or your home-brew neighbor that likes to wear viking horns,” he says, tongue slightly in cheek. “Our slogan is ‘Modern Mead for All,’ and that ‘modern’ is the key part. We are pushing the envelope of what mead can be.” To that end, he’s been able to produce dry, dessert, barrel-aged and even champagne-style varietals of mead, incorporating wine-, beer- and liquor-producing techniques into the basic mead-making process. “I can do anything I want with mead, because all we’re doing is replacing the fermentable sugar source with honey,” says Crockett. Popular Upper Reach products include the meadery’s take on a PB&J sandwich-in-a-bottle, Killer Foam, which has hints of strawberry and peanut flavors; Rockin’ Rye, which has notes of cherry, cinnamon and star anise (an Asian, licorice-flavored spice); and that champagne-esque concoction, which has hints of raspberry and eucalyptus, and is aptly named Bougie.
Crockett left Saratoga at the tail-end of the ’90s to attend Cazenovia College, where he earned a degree in graphic design and visual communications. “When I graduated, it was a few months after 9/11, and everything was in upheaval,” he says. “There was really nothing I could do with my degree at the time.” So, he moved down to Long Island to roll the dice on a career in the primitive craft-brewing industry, landing gigs as a “cellar dweller”—basically, an errand-boy—quickly learning the trade and falling hard for the community. One thing led to another, and he began home-brewing his own wine and beer. His grandmother and late grandfather had lived out on Long Island, and it was his late grandfather who had served as his home-brewing sensei. “He wanted to pass on what he had been doing for 30 years [before he died],” says Crockett. “I fell in love with the craft—the tinkering [aspect] of it,” he says. Crockett didn’t take his new hobby lightly; he fully immersed himself in the craft, reading everything he could get his hands on about the process, and that’s how he stumbled upon the mystery that was mead. “My first batch of mead was in 2004,” Crockett says. “It was good enough, but it wasn’t good enough to wow me.” He’d make two or three batches a year, and that was that. But with each new batch, he got better and better at making it, until he was completely obsessed.
With the mead process well in hand, in 2014, Crockett founded Haymaker Meadery, with his first batch of mead on the streets in 2015. At the time, it was just him and his wife, Erin, distributing product to local bars and restaurants on the weekend in the Philadelphia area. (They both had full-time jobs at the time, too; Crockett is now a full-time mead-maker, while Erin is employed as a social worker.) In the between years, the couple had two daughters, and Haymaker kept gaining in popularity and winning awards. In fact, Crockett’s meadery has won more than 20 awards internationally, with six more coming in just the past three months.
Since 2018, Crockett had been planning on opening a physical location, and though the pandemic put the skids on things this past spring/summer, on November 18, he finally opened a pop-up bottle shop in Phoenixville. (He has his sights set on a permanent location for spring of 2021.) Crockett says his adopted town reminds him a lot of the Spa City, but there are a few distinct differences: For one, all of the action in the up-and-coming Phoenixville boils down to about a two-block radius. But instead of having just a lone brewery nestled among the boutiques and restaurants and apartments downtown as Saratoga does, Phoenixville has five breweries, two distilleries and now, Crockett’s pop-up, all within steps of one another. Just as Saratoga did this past summer, Phoenixville will be closing down its main strip Friday-Sunday this winter, with open-container laws waived, so that the masked and socially distanced can roam around and sip all the mead they want while window-shopping elsewhere (the town also shut down streets in the summer, too, from Thursday-Sunday, by the way).
If you’re worried that COVID is impeding your ability to get across state lines to hit up Phoenixville and Upper Reach, have no fear: Crockett’s meadery has a robust online presence and can ship its product anywhere in New York State, including the Capital Region, plus 39 other states. (“Shipping alcohol is not cheap at all,” he says, “but it’s a way to get our name out there and introduce ourself to people.”) In fact, the business will waive shipping fees for orders over $50 (you can buy all of his products here).
Obviously, no New Yorker in his or her right mind will be jumping in a car and driving 4.5 hours down to Phoenixville anytime in, say, the next several months, due to spiking COVID cases in PA. But if the pandemic takes a turn for the contained at some point, you’ll know where the party’s at.