Pensacola, Florida
Monday November 20th 2017

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Wish You Were Beer—Pensacola’s First Meadery

Before Swan Neck Meadery & Winery set up shop on Nine Mile Road the closest place to get handcrafted mead in Florida was Jacksonville.

Since opening in July, the meadery sells all natural, hand-bottled meads and wines in their retail shop, and serves mead by the flight or glass in a cozy atmosphere with events including game nights, comedy shows and live music happening weekly. They also offer mead-making tours.

John Wilson, President and head brewer at Swan Neck, has only been in the brewing industry for a year but is already perfecting his mead, which is made from fermented honey.

After a few years in the military, Wilson started a job at Navy Federal as a mortgage broker and stayed with the company as it experienced tremendous growth.

“I was a mortgage officer and traveled all over the country and state,” Wilson said. “What got me into wine initially was meeting multi-millionaires and billionaires, going out to eat, drink and travel with them and getting to experience all the different wines. At that point I really started loving wines and other cultural drinks. So I decided that with all the love I had for wine, that I would love to start making it, so I did.”

A friend told Wilson that mead is the fastest-growing sector in the alcohol business, which prompted him to start experimenting with mead as well. Mead is also unique in that it is more versatile with types of flavor profiles it can accommodate compared to other types of alcohol.

“So I bought a bunch of books, continued brewing and eventually started buying the commercial equipment,” he said.

Wilson said that so far the response has been great, especially being that they are almost sold out of three of the six flavors they first brewed.

“The thing I like the most is not just the response, but more the people that have become repeat visitors and regulars,” he said. “I can honestly say that I could not find a better group of people than the ones that visit us regularly. They make me love what I do even more.”

Unlike wine, mead is made from honey as its primary fermentation ingredient. Yeast is then added as well as other ingredients including fruit for flavor.

“Wine is made from fermented fruits and the sugars from that process,” Wilson said. “With mead, I can add fruit for taste purposes, not for fermentation.”

All of Swan Neck’s honey comes from small-localized beekeepers, including East Hill Honey. Wilson said that he gets his spices and cloves from a small farmer located in South Dakota.

Wilson said he values using local and organic ingredients in his wines and meads.

“I think it’s important,” he said. “Everything we use is all natural. I think that in order to have a superior product you need to have superior ingredients. That is why everything is handpicked, handmade and hand bottled. We feel that is the best way.”

The entire fermentation and brewing process is Wilson’s favorite part of owning a meadery.

“I love the whole thing and watching it all come together in the end,” he said.

Knowing that most people in the area are probably not familiar with mead, Wilson said that he’s able to brew hybrids, which have similarities to wine, for an easier transition.

Inside Swan Neck’s brewing space, Wilson currently has three test batches of mead with flavors including pineapple-pear and apple-strawberry, as well as blueberry-elderberry, which is a wine-mead hybrid. The batches bubble and move as carbon dioxide escapes through the top of the containers. These test batches help Wilson to decide which flavor combinations work and taste best.

The entire process of making mead takes anywhere from two to three months, with a month to a month and a half for fermentation.

As for how to enjoy it, Wilson said that meads can be consumed chilled or not, similar to wine. Personally, he enjoys fruity meads at room temperature and spiced lighter meads chilled, but it’s all about preference.

Some of Swan Neck’s upcoming fall meads include “Meadijto,” which is a mojito-inspired mead, apple spice, hops and juniper, hibiscus, vanilla spice, pumpkin spice, chocolate raspberry, salted caramel and peppermint mocha.

Swan Neck will have two spots at Emerald Coast Beer Fest, including one in the VIP area. Wilson said that he will have four to five flavors on hand for fest goers to try including blackberry mango mojito, apple spice and black currant and cherry.

Swan Neck Meadery & Winery
2115 W. Nine Mile Road
swanneckwinery.com