Meet the Maker--Manhattan Meadery's Nathaniel Martin

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Today we debut Meet the Maker, a recurring feature in which we meet a local food or drink producer, farmer or monger of some sort. Because everyone loves a monger.

This week, we meet Nathaniel Martin, co-founder of Manhattan Meadery.

Nathaniel (pictured left with a tank of his mead) and his brother, Thatcher, came up for the idea for their artisanal mead in their bric-à-brac-filled backyard. Their first product, Brooklyn Buzz, is available at such wine shops as Astor Wine and Spirits, Chelsea Wine Vault and Chambers Street Wine and Liquors, as well as at Perilla Restaurant, Abigail Café and Wine Bar and Spuyten Duyvil.

What is mead and why have most people never tasted it?
Mead is wine made from honey. A lot of historians and anthropologists believe that mead was probably one of the first fermented beverages. Imagine honey falling out of a beehive into a pool of water, spontaneously fermenting, man drinks the water and gets drunk. That could have been how alcohol got invented.

There's been a long tradition of mead being more aristocratic than grape wine. It was expensive because there's only a fixed supply of honey in the world. These days, most mead is made at Renaissance fairs and by Middle Ages enthusiasts and not by real winemakers. So, most of what's out there isn't that good.

How did you start making it?
My brother and I are both really into DIY. My parents always made jams and pickles, and our house is like a horticulturist's dream. I've always been interested in tinkering and building stuff. In college, I was building bars and tap systems for all the fraternity houses, and started brewing beer and making wine in my backyard. From there, I just started to experiment with different flavors and eventually started doing beer with honey, then started making meads. And it tasted good.

But still have a day job?
Making mead in small batches is really expensive. As a day job, I work as an environmental insurance underwriter. So, part of the motivation for starting [Manhattan Meadery] was to create a local, sustainable product.

If it's like wine, are the bees important to the final product in the same way grapes are?
Yes. Most honeymakers make their money from shipping their bees all over the country for breeding contracts and the honey is actually just a byproduct of their business. We chose a beekeeper from the Finger Lakes, who only makes a living making artisanal honey and sells his products in the Greenmarket in Union Square. He doesn't ship his bees all over the place and hasn't lost any hives to colony collapse disorder, which is a sickness that arises from the bees being stressed. He has pretty happy, healthy bees.

How is your first product, Brooklyn Buzz, best enjoyed?
I think it drinks more like a wine. We wanted to give people something new and different that they haven't tried before. In terms of residual sugar, flavor and body characteristics, it's very wine-like. It's sold in a wine bottle and should be served in a white wine glass. It has a lot of acidity, flavor and is very aromatic.

It's very good with pastas and chicken and other lighter fare. Some people enjoy it as a dessert wine even though it's not super sweet. It pairs well with sweeter and saltier foods, like hard cheeses. Perilla is actually cooking with it. I hear they cook bacon with it and do a quail in a mead jus. It's pretty great to enjoy outside on a warm day.

What's next for Manhattan Meadery?
I'd love to make cyster. Whenever you mix mead with something else, it has a different name. Cyster is apples and mead. I want to make a sparkling cyster and put it in champagne bottles. The first product was Brooklyn Buzz--maybe we'd do a whole tour of the city and call it something like Queen's Bee.

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