EVERETT — Erik Newquist’s first attempt to make mead was disastrous.
Delicious, but disastrous.
The owner of Aesir Meadery in Everett was an Oregon State University student at the time studying microbiology and chemistry while minoring in philosophy.
When he and a friend came across a recipe for mead, their curiosity kicked in. They asked a local beekeeper for some honeycombs. They carefully cooled the mixture in a dark basement. They put yeast in the mixture twice after figuring the first batch died.
One day, Newquist came home and tapped on the side of the glass. A bubble appeared, followed by five, and then a volcanic chain reaction.
“It forced the cork and airlock out and shot mead up into the 9-foot ceiling, raining all over me,” Newquist said. “We lost about half. It tasted really good, though.”
Now, Newquist has spent more than 15 years refining his mead recipes, first as a hobbyist and now for three years as the owner of Aesir at 2625 Colby Ave, Everett. (The shop is hard to find — it’s tucked behind a building.)
Newquist is the chief research and development specialist, a tour guide and mead evangelist. Around 2006, he moved from Portland to Everett, where his wife, Rachel Newquist, took a job as an engineer. He had originally planned to use his degrees for a medical career, but he loves the controlled chaos of his meadery.
“I don’t brew or distill, I create from raw components,” Newquist said. “I make mead.”
This year, Aesir participated in the Mazer Cup International Mead competition in Boulder, Colorado. Winners were announced in early March, and Aesir took gold in the Metheglin (sweet) category for commercial buisnesses with Skald’s Song, a blackberry honey and sasparilla root mead. Metheglin is a type of spiced honey wine.
“It can be dry, semi-sweet, sparkling, served warm or cold,” said the Mazer Cup’s committee president Pete Bakulic, a mead enthusiast since the ’70s who was one of the judges
Aesir’s entry was one of 400 in the commercial mead competition this year.
Newquist was overjoyed: “A gold medal at Mazer Cup is amazing.”
Last year, Newquist’s traditional mead, Fehu, took best in show at the West Coast Invitational competition out in Sacramento, California, as well as first place in the mead category. His golden plum took second.
It’s hard to pin down the taste of mead. Aesir’s mead is biting or light, with lots of playful notes and flavors in each sample.
He has plans for dandelion mead (blooms only), and possibly other flavors like licorice root, which he described as a maple/vanilla flavor. His Cacao Nib mead is unique — when chilled, it has a soft cocoa flavor to it, when served warm it teases a mild nut and vanilla taste.
An age-old drink, the basic recipe for mead is honey, water, yeast and know-how. The honey, itself, is essential. It’s the backbone of the mead.
For Skald’s Song and Cacao Nib, Newquist uses blackberry honey. Fehu, his traditional mead, uses fireweed honey with a sharp edge to the sweetness. Newquist is deliberate about his honey choices, and described how his current supplier allowed him to visit hives in person.
Aesir is considered a small-batch meadery; it only produced 1,000 wine-sized bottles last year. Cost is about $25 or more for a wine-sized bottle. It’s open from noon to 6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays for visitors although hours are dependent on stock on hand. Just check the Facebook page before visiting.
Recently, a customer came by and took everything on hand — three cases of mead with 12 bottles each — for a wedding.
“I wish I had more to sell him,” Newquist lamented.
When looking at his total sales between 2014 and 2016, he’s found that they doubled on average each year. His annual revenue for 2016 came out to $26,000.
“Everything goes back into the business,” he said.
Mead is considered a non-standard wine agricultural product. “Which is just as much of a headache as it sounds,” Newquist said.
There is support for legislation to regulate mead at both the state and federal levels. State House Rep. Richard Muri, R-Steilacoom, has introduced legislation to define mead as its own alcoholic drink and allow meaderies to sell popular growlers. Muri was recently introduced to mead. He’s a fan of having it warm as a bit of a nightcap. He described the flavor as “almost like a tea.”
“We have about 17 mead producers in the state now up from 10 about two years ago,” Muri said.
Right now, if one of Newquist’s customers swings by with a growler, he can only sell them one of his bottles of mead — no pints, snifters, rock glasses or any personal container.
Aesir Meadery is a 12-foot high space with a massive mural on the back wall with Aesir’s logo — a helmet, Thor’s hammer and the tree of life and other iconic images — painted on the back wall in orange. Newquist is worried that he can’t grow the business without moving and that he can’t move without more revenue.
There are perks that would come with moving to the right space. He could ramp production, add more storage and stop hand-labeling his bottles.
And he could switch to new bottles, giving potential vendors more choice in deciding where to stock mead: sometimes it ends up by the liquors, “sometimes it’s with the wines, sometimes it’s with craft beer, sometimes with the cider, nobody knows where to put it.”
As a mead enthusiast, Newquist teaches a three-hour seminar with Seattle’s Nordic Heritage Museum annually about mead.
“You walk out with your first batch of mead and I send an email with clarification and my contact information and additional resources.”
He tries his best, but he can’t guarantee that sharing his liquid alchemy knowledge with others won’t result in a volcanic explosion.