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Brewing business: Londonderry residents working to turn homebrew hobby into new local watering hole

September 10. 2017 11:34PM
Jason Phelps of Ancient Fire Mead & Cider talks about his expansion plans at his fermentation room in the dining room of his Londonderry home. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — Jason Phelps decided to focus on something new — making mead — after a battle with cancer in 2003. More than a decade later, he is working to turn that hobby into a business.

Phelps and his wife, Margot, plan to make and sell hard cider and mead, an alcoholic beverage made from honey and water and often other ingredients, including spices and fruit.

“Making the product is fantastic,” Phelps, 44, said. “It’s easy compared to running the business portion of it.”

The Londonderry couple rented space at 8030 S. Willow Street, south of the Mall of New Hampshire, so they can open Ancient Fire Mead and Cider next year.

Plans call for the production facility and tasting rooms to open by March, serving beverages and a light menu.

“We kind of want to open up a place that had the same feeling, that feeling of community, the local watering hole, the local pub,” Margot Phelps said.

Jason Phelps’ hobby of home brewing made him plenty of friends.

“When it all started, I could not have imagined the adventure it would bring me on and the amazing community I would be welcomed into,” he said.

Over the years, Phelps has won more than 100 medals for his amateur brewing. About two years ago, the couple thought about turning this hobby into cash.

“Enough people ask you, you finally pull the trigger on the dream, and that’s what we’re doing,” said Margot Phelps.

The meadery would join others in New Hampshire, including the Sap House Meadery in Center Ossipee.

“He’s going to bring a solid game to the mead industry. And I think with his passion, I think, he’ll do very, very well,” said Ash Fischbein, Sap House’s co-founder and mead maker.

Fischbein has seen his sales grow by double-digit percentages in recent years and doesn’t believe that the proposed Manchester operation will cut into his business.

“It’s going to help all of us,” Fischbein said. “Mead is in its infancy.”

The Phelps hope to raise $25,000 through crowdfunding starting in mid-September “primarily to create the community space we’re looking for in the tasting space,” said Margot Phelps.

They also plan to use their own money, bank loans and a possible loan from the Manchester Development Corp., a nonprofit development corporation under the direction of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

Michael Fairbrother, founder and head meadmaker of Moonlight Meadery in Londonderry, knows Jason Phelps.

“I think he’s got a real solid technical background on mead and cider,” Fairbrother said. “He’s pretty well versed. I think he’s very experienced.”

Fairbrother said the more people educating the public on what a good mead is, the more knowledgeable customers he will get.

“I think it will grow the pie,” he said.

Fairbrother said the craft beverage movement has “given the consumers the idea there are more choices,” especially among smaller producers.

“Seven years ago, we were happy if we got to sell a thousand cases in a year,” Fairbrother said. “Now, we’re doing that much almost every couple of weeks.”

Moonlight “should top at least 25,000 (cases) if not closer to 30,000 this year,” he said.

Fairbrother said Moonlight’s products are sold in nearly 40 states and exports to Japan, Hong Kong, Australia and Canada.

“It’s all made here in Londonderry,” he said.

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