When Chris Parles and Justin Feldstein were growing up in Setauket, their dads belonged to a local wine tasting group, which didn't seem totally relatable to them at the time — but would come to have a sort of butterfly effect later on.
"Our parents drank rather good wine, so in general we know a decent amount about it, even if we weren't that enthusiastic at 15," said Parles, who has known Feldstein since they were both barely out of diapers.
As an adult, Parles' interest in beverages segued toward craft beer, and it was through that world he discovered mead, a wine fermented from honey that is one of humanity's earliest alcoholic beverages. "Very few people were coming at it from a wine perspective, using a lot of fruit and high-impact flavors," Parles said. A business idea began to germinate.
In 2018, Parles began doing test batches in the Stony Brook University Incubator at Calverton, fermenting honey and fruit "in at least 36 iterations, until we had a product we were all happy with," said Parles, one that would emulate the balance and finesse of wine. The testing process was informed by Adi Zaltsman, a biologist and plant geneticist. This spring, Beacon Meadery launched their first product, a raspberry mead, following it up this fall with two more: A semi-dry blueberry mead, and a tart-sweet blackberry mead, all three available at wine stores across Long Island (I found them at Post Wines in Syosset) and each falling between 13 and 15.5 percent alcohol.
Since honey-laced water accidentally fermented into alcohol thousands of years ago, mead's fortunes have risen and fallen. Parles and Feldstein, now business partners (as is Feldstein's dad, James) are acutely aware of the challenges in repopularizing the beverage among drinkers; the FAQ on their site is lengthy, addressing particulars such as color, sweetness and aging. "Our biggest challenge is getting people to try something new, " said Parles.
Still a zeitgeist seems underway — W A Meadwerks opened in Lindenhurst last fall — and it seems likely Beacon Meadery will eventually open a brick and mortar spot, Parles said. Until then, Parles uses the stainless steel tanks at Premium Wine Group in Mattituck for fermentation (initially, six to eight weeks) and with Zaltsman now overseeing research and development, more meads are on the horizon.
Beacon Meadery, beaconmead.com. 631-403-6047.