By Erica Thompson
Posted On: Sep 15, 2020
Shortly after Paul and Cindy Freedman began purchasing farmland in Athens County, they started keeping bees. The married couple created a variety of honey-based goodies, but they wanted to make something with a longer shelf life.
"If you make it into bread, you’ve got to eat the bread now," Paul explained. "If you make ice cream —"
"You want to eat it now," Cindy added, laughing.
Owner Paul Freedman pours a glass of Peach Blush
They brewed their first batch of mead, or honey wine, in 2009. It was the precursor to American Mead, the flagship of Dutch Creek Winery, which they launched in 2016. Three years later, they opened the tasting room with a flair of "rustic sophistication" at the top of a hill. The small, red-and-gray building resembles a quaint farmhouse. Inside, there is a long, wood-paneled bar and limited seating in the front room, and a production area in the back.
But the best place to be is outdoors. There is a row of wood picnic tables on the covered patio, which overlooks a massive lawn. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the Freedmans envisioned families venturing down the hill to throw a frisbee or engage in other activities.
But customers can still enjoy the Southeastern Ohio countryside by checking into the couple’s vintage, Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) caboose a half mile down the road.
The fully renovated, wood interior has a kitchenette and small bathroom with a shower. There's also outdoor seating. The unique stop, officially branded "The Caboose at Dutch Creek Retreat," has proven to be a smart business decision amid the pandemic.
"We’re slowly gaining traction," Paul said. "Diversification has helped us."
Of course, the real draw is the mead. The selections at Dutch Creek Winery are drier than traditional meads, which makes them easier to pair with food, the couple said. They’ve also created unique flavors, incorporating fruit and spices; customers can order everything from Peach Blush and Blueberry Lemon, to Cherry Lime and Black Diamond Sangria. And tea drinkers will appreciate the Royal Affair.
"Instead of having water, we make a large batch of Earl Grey tea," Paul said. "It’s a great way to drink your English breakfast tea."
Whether it’s the layering of sweet and tart flavors, or experimenting with the aging process, the products benefit from the mead makers’ creativity.
"There’s a little bit of hope and a little bit of science and a lot of artistry," Paul said.
Not everyone agrees on the definition of mead, especially when additional flavors are added.
"Some people say mead traditionally is only honey, yeast and water," Paul said. "Others say the entire spectrum is mead. This is the debate we’re having internally (in the industry)."
Dutch Creek Winery is part of a growing mead market. In recent years, multiple meaderies have opened in the state, which prompted the founding of the Ohio Mead Festival in Cleveland in 2019.
"I liken where we are in the mead industry right now to where craft brewing was 30 or 40 years ago," Paul said. "Everyone can find a niche and there’s room to grow."
Sometimes, the comparison trickles down to customers, who have a misconception that mead should be classified as beer, which, unlike mead, is derived from grain. So, a visit to the winery can also be an educational experience.
"Most people are surprised that you can make wine from honey," Paul said. "Wine can be made from various things. You can make sugar wine."
The Freedmans are in the process developing an apple, peach and pear orchard. They also hope to expand their distribution; their meads are currently sold in select cities in Ohio and West Virginia.
"I think we have a unique product, even inside the mead community," Paul said. "I would want to be the go-to for dry, dinner mead."