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Making mead isn’t quite like nuclear engineering

But that’s OK with Arktos owner, who found experimentation is vital.

January 15, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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Maciej Halaczkiewicz
Maciej Halaczkiewicz taught himself how to make mead, a potent alcoholic drink with a honey base. Photo by Johnny Quirin

Maciej Halaczkiewicz has a one-man operation at Arktos Meadery.

He makes the mead, sits behind the bar and pours mead for customers, and delivers his mead across the state.

But it wasn’t planned that way.

In 2012, Halaczkiewicz asked his brother Marcin to start the company with him. The day after that conversation, Marcin died in freeway accident.

“It pushed me to do it faster,” Halaczkiewicz said. “I might as well go on.”

Experimenting with making mead wasn’t something he saw himself doing when he got out of the Navy in 2011. For four years, he was a nuclear reactor operator — “basically, Homer Simpson,” he joked — and was waiting to start work on a geography degree at Grand Valley State University.

He had some free time and decided to experiment with making alcohol, boiling some apples and using the water to ferment the resulting sugars.

“I just wanted to see how it works,” he said. “I didn’t study the principles at all. I just wanted to see if I could do it.”

A few months later, he was ready to experiment some more but couldn’t decide whether to pursue making beer, wine or mead. He had never tasted mead prior to his brother bringing traditional Polish mead back from a trip that year. The Polish method uses a nearly 1:1 ratio of honey and water, the two crucial ingredients for mead.

“It was so rich but so good,” he said. “It’s one of those things you drink a little glass for dessert.”

He made a batch and liked the resulting product, but he thought it was missing something. So he bought some small oak barrels in which to age his mead.

For traditional mead, citric acid is suggested to help balance the flavors, but instead of learning about formal pH levels, he just tried out varying amounts. He stayed away from books and how-to articles to keep his mind independent and create a more original product.

“Until about 2013, I kept making batches,” he said. “A little less honey, a little more honey, a little more lemon, a little less lemon.”

Once Halaczkiewicz had the basic recipe for his flagship mead, Queen Bee, he began experimenting with fruits and spices.

In 2014, he began distributing his mead to retailers, before opening a tasting room last year in the building where he also makes the mead, 1251 Century Ave. SW.

He earned his degree in geography in April 2015 and has completed some schooling for nuclear engineering technologies, but he likes running a meadery. He had toyed with the idea of using geography and his geographic information systems’ knowledge as a career, but by then he had already started Arktos.

Now he’s looking to move from the building he rents to a building he owns. He’d like to be closer to downtown with better retail frontage and a larger footprint. His production space currently limits him to what he can produce — about 2,000 gallons last year. He hopes a new space will allow him to increase that by at least five to six times.

Halaczkiewicz believes there’s a growing market for mead, especially crossover products such as braggots, which have a base of honey and malted barley, and cysers, with an apple and honey base.

While he is experimenting with hybrid meads, he still enjoys making traditional meads, which is where most of his products currently line up. Meads are higher in alcohol content than beer, often between 12 percent and 20 percent alcohol by volume, and are more expensive.

“People who enjoy lighter beverages will dabble,” he said. “But it’s people who like wines and ports and spirits that will like it. It’s more of a sipping beverage than a get-drunk beverage.”

It’s also slowly becoming a better-known beverage, outside of those who study medieval and Greek history, Halaczkiewicz said, partially because of the television show “Game of Thrones.”

The Arktos tasting room depicts what one might expect a drinking hall from a thousand years ago to look like, which is the style Halaczkiewicz was shooting for.

“I started making mead for me – that hasn’t changed,” he said. “I’m out to create a really good product and I don’t want that to change. I had this dream of living in Viking times and walking into a dimly lit room where people are just having fun drinking and talking. I don’t want technology in here. I want people to talk.”

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