Mead Crafters Competition Gold Medalist Shares Secrets to Success

Zee Bee BOS

What does it take to be Best of Show at the National Honey Board Mead Crafters Competition? Dan DeMura, owner of Columbus, Ohio-based Zen Bee Meadery shared with us the surreal feeling of success, the endless fruit and flavor combinations sparked from honey varietals and a scoop on what’s next at his meadery.

We hear a lot of stories of successful people in the industry starting out at home. You did too. What sparked the transition from home mead making into making it your profession?

I discovered mead back in 2010 and fell in love with it. My son and I started home brewing because we had a hard time finding mead in the marketplace. I very much enjoy the brewing process, and our friends seemed to like what we were making. It was around Christmas time 2016 that my son suggested we should get a license to sell our mead. My first response was, ‘That's just crazy,’ but as I researched the idea of getting a liquor license, I think it sparked the entrepreneurial spirit inside of me and I thought to myself, ‘I can do this.’

The first step was finding a location. We're completely self-funded so it took about three or four months driving all over Columbus to find something we could afford to pay rent on while we applied for the license. We picked our name Zen Bee because we wanted something personal to us. My wife is Japanese, and I practice Zen so we try to stay focused on what's in front of us each day. We're still a very small operation, but we're slowly growing and expanding.

You’re an award-winning meadery, dating back to your home brewing days. To what do you attribute to all of the success?

It's still a bit surreal to say that we're an ‘award-winning meadery.’ I won awards at the Ohio State Fair as a homebrewer, and in a way winning these types of awards builds confidence in me that I kind of know what I'm doing. But really the basic question I ask myself in every batch is: ‘Does it taste good.?’ Making mead is pretty simple: You just mix honey, water and yeast. Making it taste good is the hard part, and I don't think I'd be where I am today without the many excellent mead makers in the online mead community who so willingly share their tips and secrets with others like myself. There is a wealth of information out there for homebrewers, and I'm extremely grateful for that.

What is your favorite aspect of working with honey?

The thing I love about honey and making mead is that there are so many different varieties of honey out there that the flavor profiles seem almost endless.

What is your main inspiration when working with honey, mainly how do you decide which flavor combination (fruits, spices, etc.) will be in the next mead?

When we first started brewing on a commercial level, I had a friend of mine suggest that we pick two or three of our favorite flavors and establish ourselves with just those products; I couldn't do it. I really love experimenting with different fruits and flavor combinations, and we've got about 12 different flavors in bottles right now. Whenever I think of a new flavor, I put it on a list, and we have a release calendar where I try to limit my creative side to one new mead per month. Sometimes I'm successful at limiting myself, but sometimes happy accidents do happen. For example, our Best of Show winning flavor Mara Ume wasn't originally on our calendar. I made it because I wanted to experiment with a Japanese plum wine style mead. I'm glad I did.

Can you give us a scoop on what meads are coming up next?

I just acquired a bourbon barrel and a rum barrel, so we have some barrel-aged meads that we'll be working on this coming year. I'm really excited about the rum barrel; I'll be doing a Bochet style mead with caramelized honey aged on the rum barrel and then flavored as a tiramisu inspired mead on the back end. We will definitely still keep doing all our session or lower ABV meads, but this year I'm going to be expanding into producing more standard wine strength meads as well. Our flavor release calendar is on our website