Acoustic Mead has Northern Michigan all abuzz

When Bruce Grossman started making mead as a home brewer, he didn't envision the end result to be a successful mead company spreading out across Michigan. But 17 years later, that's what has happened with his Acoustic Mead brewing and distributing enterprise.

The name comes from Grossman's musical interests, as he's also a musician who plays guitar, among other things. The casual, natural implications of "acoustic" appealed to him when it came to brewing mead, too.

Grossman first got interested in mead when he began experimenting with brewing craft beers at home in 1994. But it didn't go further than his house, at the time.

Then, his journey into the world of professional brewing began, and at first, Grossman says he planned to brew beers, in which he had the most experience and background. But regulations were tight and requirements were strict, and he wanted to start smaller.

"I started looking at the benefits of a small winemaker's license, which allows you to self-distribute," says Grossman. He originally thought he'd make ciders, a nice compromise between wine licensing and his beer background, but the pieces for that didn't come together, either. What happened next is a little unorthodox, but it set him on the right path.

"I had almost given up on the idea of any kind of brewing when I had a few dreams with mead in them," he says. "I woke up, and I thought of mead again."

It turned out to be a perfect fit--he had the equipment to make it, and it could be made under a winemaking license. A few more regulatory steps were taken, and Acoustic Mead was in business, with the first batches out in July of 2009. Grossman makes it in a small converted garage on his home property in Lake Ann.

Mead is a one-of-a-kind drink; it's somewhere between wine and beer, and is fermented from honey rather than grapes or grain.

"I like to tell people it's not really wine, it's not really beer," Grossman says. "Historically, mead is the oldest fermented beverage on the planet."

Acoustic's meads aren't like the ones found on grocery store shelves, typically. Those are stronger in alcohol content, noncarbonated, and have a more wine-like character, Grossman says. His are bottled in longnecks, like beer, or available on tap at area bars and restaurants, and they are lightly carbonated, as well as being lower in alcohol content.

"I suppose you might call them session meads. Because my background is in brewing, I do it a little differently," he says. "It's still a pretty simple drink; it's fairly easy to make as opposed to beer."

Grossman uses honey, fruits, teas, spices and herbs in his various meads, which often draw on classic northern Michigan farm products like cherries, apples and grapes. He has a mead with a more honey-forward flavor, called Honey Bzzz (pronounced Buzz) coming out for traditional mead drinkers, but his fruit-forward brews of Apple Bzzz and Cherry Bzzz are catching on in popularity pretty fast on their own.

The first venue to carry Acoustic's Bzzz meads was the Loading Dock in Traverse City, which now is among dozens across northern Michigan who do, both on tap and in bottles.

"The response has been great, incredible; I didn't expect to really have this amount of success," he says. In fact, two years in, he's expanding already.

A newly rebuilt bottling machine will help increase bottle production, while a brand-new storage space is also underway, to allow him to store and produce more varieties of mead at once.

His license allows the option to establish off-site tasting rooms, which Grossman says may be an option soon, as he tries to reach a less seasonal market further south in Michigan. Distributing farther south and north may be in the cards, as well, as he's had requests for mead both in southern Michigan and in the Upper Peninsula.

It all depends on what makes sense at the time. Grossman says he's in no hurry to rush toward further expansion for now--the latest improvements will bring Acoustic Mead up to full production capability on his current equipment, and that's just fine right now.

"I'm trying to grow the business organically, so to speak," he says. "It's been successful so small, I think it could be very successful big."

Perhaps soon Grossman's meads will be found across the state. Currently, a list of locations carrying the meads can be found on the company's website, and they're easy to keep up with on Facebook as well. Or, stop by music and cultural festivals this summer, as Acoustic Mead is a frequent vendor at such events.

Kim Hoyum is a freelance writer based in Michigan. She is a regular writer for several weekly and monthly publications and recently started her own travel blog. Hoyum is a graduate of Northern Michigan University where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts in writing.

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