Silver Hand Meadery – Farm to Table Feature
Today I’m interviewing Glenn Lavender, the owner of Silver Hand Meadery! Many thanks to Glenn and Sarah, the manager, for allowing me to talk with them about their business. I must confess – I have been to Silver Hand’s honey tastings twice. The first time was for their Grand Opening and it is still one of my top suggestions for foodies looking for new things to try in the Williamsburg area. I was very excited to get a chance to speak with him!
How long have you been running SIlver Hand Meadery?
Silver Hand Meadery has been open since Nov 2015, when we first opened, but we didn’t have any of our meads available because we had to wait for our licensing to be approved. We were serving another Virginia meadery’s products until ours were ready. Once we were all approved and able to produce our own product, we had a Grand Opening that took place in March 2016!
What does a typical day look like for you?
At the meadery it is generally, there are a lot of different things going on – honey jars being filled, being labeled, meads being taken care of. Everything from starting a new batch, to filtering, to adding fruit and other flavors. We have a lot of production and we’ve got the filling of honey jars and making our whipped honeys. That’s kind of all on one side. Then there’s our guests. Their experience is in two areas – we have a store they can buy the mead, honey, and a few other things. Then we have this experience where they get to taste 8-10 different honeys and then a tasting of our bottled meads. And then if they want they can stick around and have a flight or a glass from our on tap menu, which is a totally different. The meadery is a hive that is always busy with lots of different things going on.
I attended a honey tasting way back when you first opened, and it was an awesome experience! Where did the idea for a honey tasting come from?
I went a couple of times for some mead training classes to University of California-Davis. Part of the class was a honey tasting. I was just blown away by it, thinking how cool those different flavors were. So when we first opened, we thought well, adding a honey tasting would be a cool thing, especially since we weren’t allowed to charge for mead tastings. We were concerned about our bottom line and how that was going to work out. But we thought, if we’re allowed to charge for honey tastings, then we can offer free mead tastings. So we did that and it worked. That was for our first two years. Eventually the laws did change and now I can operate like a typical winery where you actually pay for the product you’re tasting. We do offer free samples, of course, but now we have a nice tasting experience with the honey and the mead, and then flights or glass can be purchased if someone is interested.
I know that with the pandemic, an instore honey tasting is probably difficult. But I see that you have At Home Tastings listed on the website. Can you describe how those work? (also, I love that you have this!!!)
We do honey tasting plates for customers to sample during an in-store tasting. We give samples of about 8 honeys and a staff member leads guests through a socially distant tasting while describing the tasting notes and where the honey is sourced from. As far as the At Home Honey Tastings go, we send out a honey package to you (2 package options listed online) and you watch a YouTube link to follow along with us! We include tasting sticks, logo pens, and tasting sheets in your package.
Mead is usually something associated with Vikings or medieval halls – not necessarily something to go sip and taste like a wine, beer, or liquor. What made you decide to go into mead making?
I think a couple of things. I was interested in the honeybee and got into beekeeping and found mead along the way. I was also reading books where they talked about mead a lot. Historical fiction novels, mostly by Stephen Lawhead. Actually one of his books is called THE SILVER HAND, which is where we got the name. His characters are often drinking mead and it sounds delicious in his books, soI thought I’d try some. I looked everywhere and couldn’t find mead to purchase. This was back when I was living in Canada, where I’m from. I eventually tracked some down at a winery in the Niagara Falls area, about an hour and a half from my house. I did a tasting, it was delicious and I thought “This is crazy – why isn’t this more available in stores?” I think that’s probably when the seed was planted that maybe a meadery would be a fun thing one day. I didn’t know how to make it, but not long after, I started trying my hand at making it to see how difficult it was. I had some pretty early successes (and some failures), and that gave us the idea to start this one day. I always wanted to start a business, and when my music touring career took a break, I thought this was a good time to try it.
What is one thing you’ve learned so far that you never thought you’d learn?
I think that’s like, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Its an endless question. I think when we started the business, we were really naïve in a lot of ways as far as being a business owner goes. You need so much money and capital to start a business and start it well. We didn’t really have enough, but in some ways we made it work. I think maybe it has put us a little ahead of the curve as far as profitability and that kind of thing. I also pictured it as just my wife and I at work in the meadery, and I didn’t think about staffing. That’s a pretty big deal! Human resources is a big part of the equation. When running a business, they actually become the most important part of the business. I think that was one thing I think I knew, but I didn’t KNOW. I didn’t think about it when we started.
What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it (or are working to overcome it) outside of COVID?
Biggest obstacle – I touched on it earlier. The fact that we’re a business that, until mid 2020, could sell alcohol if people bought it bottled, but if they wanted to try it, they weren’t allowed to pay for it. It was a weird thing where they can’t buy it to try it, they can’t buy glasses, they could only buy it to take home. It was a very confusing thing for all our customers. That’s why we created the whole honey tasting experience that allowed us still give them a good experience, allow them to try the meads, but also allowed us to get creative following that rule. You want to stay above board with all the rules and laws. That was challenging, but ended up working out well for us.
What is your favorite part of running the meadery?
I think I love the creative side of it. The new flavors, the new labels, those are all fun. I like dreaming – dreaming about what the next thing could be for the business, how we might grow, what it might look like in one year, five years, ten year… I find that stuff all very fun. And then we get to meet some really cool people that you maybe wouldn’t run into otherwise. That’s also quite enjoyable.
What is one thing you want us to know or remember about your business?
You’re going to learn something if you come to Silver Hand Meadery. Its a new experience for so many people. I think you’ll be surprised about the different flavors of honey, and the diversity of the flavors of mead as well. Its a drink people have a preconceived idea about sometimes, and they are usually very surprised when they come in. I think I ‘d say come on in, and make sure your expectations aren’t really set because its going to be surprising.
Do you have a favorite cuisine (American, Chinese, Greek, etc) or course (breakfast, sweets, etc)?
That’s a tricky question. I always like my Thai food and Italian, but honestly I love mead with my pizza. A traditional mead and pizza goes well together. Any kind of cheese dish, actually. I like to make homemade mac and cheese. Also if you have some salty Virginia ham, that works well too.
If you had to pick just one of the meads you make, which would it be?
I’m going to say Raspberry Passion, I’m a big fan of Raspberries and our raspberry passionfruit mead has a very good balance of tart/acidity and sweetness. And then its got the grapefruity-ness of the raspberries. I love that one.
Also, do you ever ship any of your products?
Yes! We can ship our mead to 38 states, and our honey and other merchandise can be sent anywhere in the U.S.
Where can we find your products?
Our mead is sold in our shop here in Williamsburg, VA and several other locations in Virginia and a few other states. Check out the Mead Locator tab on our website. You can purchase our products on our website (www.silverhandmeadery.com).
If you had a visitor who could only try one thing you produce before leaving, what would you want them to try? Why would you choose that?
Our bestselling mead is our Strawberry Swing, but the whole thing with mead is it is so different. So offering just one is so hard to do! You really don’t get a picture of what mead is by only tasting one… but if I had to pick, I’d porbly say the Strawberry swing. Based on our sales and customer reactions, that’s the one that suprrises the most and the one they buy the most. Its not my favorite because of the swetness. Its delicious, but a little too sweet for me generally.
What do you want a customer to get out of experiencing and tasting and using your product?
One of our slogans is “savor what is good” and every time we send meads to our club I’m hoping that our meads are procvinding an opportunity for them to savor what is good together. And that’s what the family and the loved ones we want them I mean I hope our mead facilitates that opporuntiy for them to get together to enjoy some laughs and some good times with the meads. That’s what I hope they get. I hope that it brings joy and opporuntiy for more joyful situations.
Running the meadery is a lot of work, but there has to be some fun sometimes, right? What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened while making mead?
Oh boy we’ve had a few things that are funny maybe… not funny but can I go with scary. THe lid to our new stainless steel tank, which we had never used before, and we had a meadmaker who was kind of new… and the lid blrw off and sprayed mead all over the ceiling. It was pressurized and he wasn’t ready for it. I was kind of scary, but scary sometimes can be funny. So we’ll say that is at the top of that list. Its generally accidents and spills that end up being thefunniest.
Recipe courtesy of Silver Hand Meadery and former employee Chelsea Huber.
- 1/2 cup coconut oil
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1/4 cup avocado blossom honey
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
- pinch salt
- 1/2 cup almond flour
- 2 ripe bananas (smashed)
- 1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit., bake 15-20 mins
Mix ingredients together until combined
Spoon batter into mini muffin pan or regular brownie pan.
Bake 15-20 minutes. Yields 36 MINI brownies (in mini muffin pan) or 10 in Pampered Chef brownie pan.