When Homebrew Con 2017 rolls into Minneapolis next week, beer will not be the only home-fermented beverage taking the spotlight. For years now, Minnesota has been well-known (and highly awarded) for its amazing meads and amateur meadmakers.
Often referred to as “honey wine,” mead is a strong, fermented beverage—usually between 10–17% ABV—made from a solution of honey and water. Among these skilled local meadmakers is Steve Fletty, a member of the St. Paul Homebrewers Club who lives of Falcon Heights. He is a two-time Meadmaker of the Year at the American Homebrewers Association’s National Homebrew Competition. Fletty has also won two Minnesota State Fair Best of Show awards (for a Russian Imperial Stout and Saison), as well as 2009 Midwest Homebrewer of the Year. While he enjoys brewing beer and making cider, mead is his serious passion.
Fletty has been making mead since 2002, when he was introduced to it at a Beer Judge Certification Program study class. “Even though mead wasn’t yet a part of the exam, we did a mead tasting night with 60 meads, not kidding,” he said. “Most sucked, but two of them blew my mind. I thought, ‘I need to make that!’”
One was a mesquite chipotle mead—Fletty convinced the guy who made it to divulge his secrets, and he went on to win medals with his own version. The other was a commercial pyment (fermented with a blend of honey and grapes/grape juice). Fletty’s research and hard work to replicate it won him his first Meadmaker of the Year award in 2007. In 2016, he won his second honor as Meadmaker of the Year, in large part because of his Best of Show mead called Holy Cacao, a specialty mead made with cacao nibs, Dutch cocoa, and vanilla bean.
When asked how meadmaking got so big in Minnesota, Fletty admits that he doesn’t know exactly why it happened, but says it’s fantastic that it did. He explains that there was a community of Minnesotans in the late 1990s/early 2000s—folks like Curt and Kathy Stock, and Steve Piatz—that took the old-school ideas of meadmaking promoted by trailblazers like Ken Schramm and kicked them up a notch. They perfected new methods that made not only drinkable but high-quality meads in just weeks or months (versus the then-canonized idea that mead took years to ferment, condition and age before you could enjoy it). These techniques were embraced by a new generation of meadmakers and continue to be practiced today.
Fletty says the joy of competition brewing (and meadmaking) is in setting a stylistic goal and achieving it. “Early on, when I started brewing, there was no good local IPA; this was the late 1990s. You had to make one because you couldn’t buy one aside from Summit True Brit IPA, which is great, but not the West Coast IPA I wanted.” Brewing to stylistic perfection, he says, lets you hone your skills and brewing processes. He says to win medals in a specific style repeatedly is validation of your skills, knowledge, and technique—and makes you part of the brewing heritage of the Upper Midwest.
Homebrew Con is taking place June 15–17 with official conference seminars and events at Minneapolis Convention Center. Related beer parties and events are happening throughout the Twin Cities. To learn more about the conference and to register, visit the Homebrew Con website.