Dan Watkins is his name and mead is his game. If you’re not familiar with the millennia-old alcoholic beverage brewed from honey, then you just might be in for a treat when Ozark Viking Meadery finally has product on shelves in local stores and bars, including Wells Package & Gun, The Saucy Chook Pub and Screen, JB Malone’S, and Whispering Pines.
Watkins said he believes the first batch will be complete around Christmas of this year, but there’s really no way to know for sure.
“Making mead is more of an art than a science,” said Watkins. “Each batch is a little different. It’ll be done when it’s done,” he said. “Sometimes it takes six months and sometimes eight,” he said.
“If I could put a shotgun to it and force the mead to be done on a certain date, I would,” he said. “But that’s not how it works.” For the time being, Watkins and the rest of us will just have to be patient.
“I’m making mead the old-fashioned way,” said Dan Watkins, the owner of Ozark Viking Meadery, now in business at 407 E. Fourth Street (in the basement below Grace Harbor). “The way the Vikings or Friar Tuck made it.”
Before turning professional, Watkins was a hobbyist meadmaker for over 20 years. During that time, he became more and more popular among his friends as he perfected his craft.
“I make good hooch,” said Watkins with a shrug and glee in his eye.
“I made it for family, friends, and neighbors to have at barbeques and float trips,” Watkins said. And his brew was always popular when he shared it at American Legion barbeques. However, Watkins didn’t originally intend to make mead for a living, but once he started winning brewing competitions with his mead he realized that there might just be something to this mead making business.
“I found out I was a little better at it than I thought,” Watkins said. “My blackberry mead won a brewing competition at the St. James winery.”
“Mead is the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man,” said Watkins.
Watkins explained that people most likely discovered the fermentation process on accident when wind or rain damaged a beehive in the wild, letting rain in. The necessary yeast must have been in the air, causing the natural fermentation process and the beehive was later harvested. Eventually people began making it intentionally.
“People have been making mead for thousands of years,” said Watkins. In fact, he has one recipe that dates back to Viking times.
“It had a lot herbs in it that I had never even heard of,” Watkins said, but that didn’t stop him from acquiring them in order to make the mead. Watkins said that a Christian monk who traveled and lived among Vikings for several years recorded the recipe. That recipe was passed down and now it will be one of the products Watkins will be offering. It’s also part of the inspiration for the name of the meadery.
“It’s always going to have a bit of a Viking theme,” said Watkins.
Along with the Viking brew and his award-winning blackberry meads, Watkins is known to make orange blossom, wildflower, strawberry, apple as well as a more traditional vanilla and cinnamon.
Mead is its own category of alcoholic beverage. Similar to other categories of alcohol like wines, beers, and liquors mead offers a broad variety of flavor profile options. “Everyone is going to have their favorite because everyone likes different things,” Watkins said. “I’ve got some people who would practically kill for some of my orange blossom mead, but others prefer cinnamon and honey.” Watkins said that Queen Elizabeth I liked her mead cut with whiskey. “She liked that grain alcohol taste in hers,” said Watkins. Watkins’ mead will between 13 and 18 percent alcohol. That’s for a couple reasons. That’s what his liquor licenses will allow and, that way, he will be able to ship using Fed-Ex because his mead will be nonflammable.
You have to have good ingredients to start with," said Watkins. "You have to wait a few months for it to really become mead and then it just keeps getting better," Watkins said.
Watkins said that his method is simple. “I put my heart and soul in every bottle,” Watkins said.
“I like making mead and I like seeing the look on peoples faces when they really like it.”
Watkins is cautiously optimistic about having mead ready by Christmas time, but he can’t promise the exact date it will be finished.
“I’ll know when I stir it and taste it,” said Watkins. “I won’t sell it until it’s ready.”