EAST TROY—Inside a small wine-stem glass, the honey-colored liquid was cold, effervescent and translucent gold, like champagne or nectar-tinged rainwater that spills from inside a flower.

It was mead. Alias: honey-wine. Alias: “the nectar of the gods.”

At The Hive Taproom, a mead house in East Troy operated by Tim Guild, a former fluid dynamics engineer, and his spouse, Ayla Guild, a former large-animal veterinarian-turned beekeeper, the mead flows with fizz.

For the last 10 months, the Guilds have cultivated a local following for their special brand of mead at The Hive. They call it “dry, carbonated honey beer.”

It’s a dry, cold-brewed alcoholic beverage with mild carbonation and a cider-like character of a mild sweetness that comes from its foundational ingredient—fresh, fermented honey.

The basic definition of mead is that it is fermented honey. Some cultures and people call the drink honey-wine because, depending on how it’s fermented or brewed, it can be wine-like. It is made from the fermented sugars of watered honey, sometimes augmented with grapes or other fruits commonly used to make wine.

As in the brewing style the Guilds use at The Hive, mead sometimes is spiced with hops similar to those craft brewers use to make beer.

Describing the experience of drinking and tasting mead served from the tap at The Hive is like describing the wind. Each of the dozens of mead varieties Tim Guild brews and carbonates onsite has a different character, color, scent and flavor.

Some have the tangy sharpness or the boldness of a hoppy beer, or the bourbon-like woodiness from quick aging in oaken barrels. Other varieties have a fruitiness that varies from the bite of lemon, cherry and apple to the mellow softness of melon.

The drink tends to split the wickets between lightly sweet, dry wine or slightly bubbly champagne, and cider or beer.

Yet underneath (or on top or in between—it’s hard to pinpoint, really) is the basic characteristic of raw honey—a round, light sweetness that filters its way through and lingers in taste and smell.

Customers who pay to be special members of The Hive get to drink from Guild’s personalized clay jars kept on a shelf behind the honey-colored bar. Quaffed from those little tankards, it’s easier to imagine the Dark Ages spirit of a drink that some scholars believe has been made for at least 9,000 years.

The Guilds’ first major experience with mead came a few years ago in the Santa Barbara, California, area, where Tim and Ayla found a taproom serving mead. Tim, a native of Santa Barbara, said the drink was simply … different.

The couple noted mead was both wine- and beer-like, but with one difference: People who drink it will tell you they don’t feel that heavy, “stumbly-mumbly” feeling—the sort of tired, thick feeling you can get from beer.

“We use the tagline “A Better Buzz,” Tim said.

The Guilds thought they could bring the drink to market on a microbrewery scale to Wisconsinites who for years have embraced locally made craft beers and wines. The Hive’s twist, which is what sets its apart, is that the Guilds cold-brew and hand-carbonate the drink, which imbues it with a light, crisp body that’s as beer-ish as it is wine-like.

The Hive is one of just two mead taprooms in the state that serve mead that is cold and carbonated.

“I think cold, dry and carbonated is something that people here are used to,” Tim Guild said. “The craft beer market already rolled out some carpet for us. There’s a number of people who are used to going to craft tap rooms and places, and they expect to have something they’ve never had before. And so (carbonated, cold, dry) mead just seemed like the next progression of something different.”

Guild taught himself to brew mead, a 2- to 4-week-per batch process of fermentation that is similar to wine or beer but without the typical boiling of ingredients that beer brewing uses. As the mead’s base, The Hive uses raw, unpasteurized local honey—about 7,000 pounds a year—including some Ayla produces from 23 beehives she keeps.

The honey, which is the basis for all sugars used in the Guilds’ fermenting process, is turned to mead through cold-brewing and fermentation with other ingredients including coffee, tea, fruits and hops. Low-heat brewing means naturally-occurring antihistamines, antimicrobial and antibacterial compounds in honey, at least in theory, will stay intact from brewing to the customer.

“I think what we do lends itself more to traditional wineries, where it’s all about touch, taste and smell. I don’t have any automation, and I’ll just put some stuff in and then dump the recommended ingredients and let it go,” Tim said. “There’s just a lot of feeling around in the dark for what’s going to be.”

One of The Hive’s more adventurous varieties is “Vote for Pedro,” a mead brewed with honey and fresh, locally roasted San Pedro Mexican coffee. It’s got a coffee scent and flavor along with light honey sweetness.

The name “Vote for Pedro” references the 2004 film “Napoleon Dynamite,” and it is a cultural nod to the 30-something millennials who fit the same age demographic as the Guilds.

The Hive, a steel-roofed former bakery the Guilds gutted and rehabbed, is set up with a contemporary European pub-style atmosphere: No televisions, very spotty internet connection and an emphasis placed on live jazz and blues, conversation and games such as tavern shuffleboard and music.

The Guilds, who have two young children, have sought to create a space that beckons to families, and they encourage people to bring along their kids and dogs. They have a family room set up with play mats and toys so parents can play with their children.

The Hive, which operates as an afternoon and evening tap room Thursdays through Sundays (some Wednesdays are “members only” days), also is making forays into special events that host food trucks, artists, painting events and even yoga classes.

The couple call The Hive an “analog” environment where families can connect on a personal level, eschewing Snapchat for regular, face-to-face conversation.

Ayla, a Minneapolis-area native who learned beekeeping from scratch from an East Troy-area beekeeper, is fascinated by the almost human social structure of bees.

Ayla said she remembers a game she and Tim played when they lived in Philadelphia: “Wawa smile.” When they’d go into the Wawa chain of convenience stores, they’d try to make the store cashier smile or laugh. Ayla said the idea was to brighten somebody’s day, whether it was the clerk or the customer in line behind them.

“We’re trying to do that on a big scale with The Hive—to bring back what’s missing,” she said. “To talk, to communicate and to make each smile.”


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