Atheling Meadworks Founder Inspired by BeowulfApril 23, 2019
Roanoke Meadery To Introduce First Product in June 2019
As a child, Stephen C. Ausband listened as his father, a longtime professor of English at Averett University, read aloud the Old English literary classic Beowulf. After reading the poem himself when he was 14, he became enthralled by the hero who saves a Danish king’s mead hall from the monster Grendel. “I was fascinated by the biology and chemistry involved in fermenting honey into mead, as well as the history behind it, so I started experimenting in the kitchen of our house,” he said.
Fortunately, Steve’s parents realized that, unlike most teenagers, their son was fascinated by the science of mead rather than its ability to make him inebriated. Ausband eventually channeled his hobby into a career in medicine. But over the years he continued creating different varieties of mead as a hobby, even winning a few competitions.
Now an emergency medicine physician for Carilion Health Systems and a U.S. Air Force Reserve flight surgeon, Ausband is about to realize a longtime dream with the introduction of Lyre’s Song. This traditional mead made with raspberry blossom honey will be available for purchase in June online at www.athelingmead.com. Ausband describes Lyres Song as delivering “a complex floral flavor with citrus and balsam undertones.” He is developing more varieties and plans to introduce them later this year.
History of Mead
Historians and archaeologists believe that mead first appeared 8,000 years ago, pre-dating wine and beer by a few thousand years. Popular in ancient Greece and Rome, it flourished in Medieval times, the era that most people associate with the drink. In fact, Ausband’s family lore includes a semi-mythological ancestor who supposedly drowned in a vat of mead. “Fjolnir Yngvi Freysson, who lived ca. 256-312 A.D., would be my 56th great-grandfather on my mother’s side,” Ausband says.
As wine and beer rose to the forefront, mead faded in popularity, but is now having a comeback of sorts much like the craft brewery movement, according to Wine Enthusiast. While mead was traditionally sweet, many of the new varieties are complex and dry. With endless varieties and possible combinations of honey and yeast, the drink is ripe for experimentation.
Housed in a former Dr. Pepper bottling plant in Roanoke, Ausband’s meadery, Atheling Meadworks, is modern and sleek. Buckets of honey are brought in on pallets through a loading dock. To allow it to de-crystalize, the honey is stored in a pallet heater at about 98 degrees, a temperature similar to what it would be inside a bee hive.
From Honey to Mead
The honey is then pumped into two stainless steel tanks. After being run through a softener and three-stage purifier, water is added. (The end product will be about 75 percent water.) Over several days, Ausband adds a specific yeast that will produce the flavor he desires. The yeast for Lyres Song was specifically selected to allow the natural flavors of the honey to come through.
The mixture sits for about four weeks, during which Ausband can read the sugar content and temperature remotely, thanks to sensors in the tanks. The temperature is then dropped to around the freezing point, causing the yeast to drop to the bottom of the tank. After the addition of several other minerals, the mead is ready to be run through a filtering system that removes bacteria or remaining yeast as well as any sediment. It’s then bottled in distinctive 750 ml. glass bottles. Atheling Meadworks will focus on small-batch, premium quality mead and expects to keep production limited to around 2,000 cases the first year.
“I have always enjoyed sharing what I made and introducing people to mead,” Ausband said. “The ability to do that on a professional basis has been a dream of mine for a long time, and I’m truly excited to be able introduce mead to a wider audience.”