CENTER OSSIPEE -- Sap House Meadery was founded in 2009 by cousins Ash Fischbein and Matt Trahan with the goal of helping to revitalize their hometown.
Both avid home brewers, with backgrounds in the food service industry, the pair set about reimagining what mead — the ancient fermented honey beverage — could be, while renovating a more than a 100-year-old building to serve as their headquarters at 6 Folsom Road.
“I wasn’t old enough to buy it, but I could brew it,” Fischbein said of his early interest in home brewing. The useful information he gleaned from a high school reading assignment of “Beowulf” was that honey could be fermented into alcohol.
He credits the Mount Washington Valley Economic Development Council and the Wentworth Economic Development Council for their willingness to provide financing for the venture. The partners have since bought an abutting building that once served as the town’s Chevy dealership, adding 2,500 more square feet to their production facility.
“The terms were very fair. All they really wanted was jobs,” Fishchbein said. The company now has six employees and is continuing to grow. In January, Sap House was able to provide health insurance and retirement benefits to their workers.
The partners have a twofold mission: to help spur economic development in Center Ossipee and to expand public awareness of what mead can be. Toward that goal, they have built their business on what they have dubbed a “triple bottom line,” centered on community, sustainability and profit.
“The hardest thing in starting a business is the branding. It’s like naming a child — you don’t want a bad nickname,” Fischbein said. Sap House is “fitting to our environment,” he said. All of the ingredients used in making their mead are sustainably sourced, fair-trade and organic, he said.
As mead’s main ingredient is honey, some mistakenly believe that all varieties of mead are sweet. Not so, says Fischbein, who crafts some meads he describes as “dry as a bone.” They recommend people enjoy their style of mead as a wine or aperitif. While their tastings are offered at room temperature, mead can be served chilled, or over ice, warmed with spices or mixed into cocktails.
Their tasting room transformed into a 30-seat pub when the pair realized that after sampling their mead guests tended to want to remain and socialize, so they created some tapas-style food offerings just right for sharing. For those with a sweet tooth and fond memories of camping, you can order graham crackers, chocolate and a hibachi to toast marshmallows to make your own ‘smores.
During a tour of the production facility, Fischbein pointed to a spirited oak barrel that holds a special batch. He used a varietal honey called Meadowfoam from the Pacific Northwest that tastes like Marshmallow Fluff, and decided to age the mead in a rum barrel to impart a hint of molasses.
A neighboring barrel holds a mead crafted with honey made by bees who collected pollen from bamboo. It was made in honor of the birth of his son, Ethan, who just turned 2, and will age on oak until its namesake is old enough to legally taste it.
Because of the expense of the ingredients, Sap House sells its products in split-sized bottles that hold 375 milliliters that range in price from $15 to $48. The company also offers some varieties in a four-pack of cans for $10. A subscription service called Club Mead provides members quarterly deliveries of four different varieties for $75 with free shipping. The products are now available in 800 stores nationwide and are sold online to 38 states.
Sap House Meadery will be participating in the Barrel Tasting Weekend May 3-5, when wineries, breweries and distilleries in the Lakes Region and White Mountains will open their doors for tours of their production facilities and offer samples directly from the barrels.
Sap House offers tastings and tours every weekend; tickets can be purchased online at saphousemeadery.com
More information about the barrel tasting can be found at www.barreltastingweekend.com.