Mead in Ohio

Brothers Drake meadery re-energizes man’s oldest alcoholic art

By Kevin J. Gray

Photo: Brothers Drake meadery in Columbus maintains a strong focus on community; photo: Rainer Zeihm

Columbus, Ohio-based Brothers Drake Meadery & Bar makes some of America’s most innovative and flavorful honey wines, from their Apple Pie, which blends honey, cider and spices, to their ginger, vanilla and lavender-infused Ginger Verve. But, despite the critical success of its products, the company’s story isn’t really about mead. Rather, it’s a story about creating something more ancient than the beverage itself. It’s about creating community.

Eric Allen, co-owner of Brothers Drake, has overseen the growth of the meadery since 2011. The business has done well under his watch, transforming a once dodgy corner of Fifth and High into a hip music venue and community taproom while expanding sales of the highly-sought after brand into the statewide market. Yet, it’s the success of others behind the scenes that excites Allen the most. The company’s philanthropic owner lives by a mantra of growth for all; conversations with him are peppered with the phrase “buy, make, and sell local.” This ethos pervades every aspect of the business, from the mead to the taproom.

Making meads

Mead making, unlike beer brewing, is a simple process. Brother Drake’s signature honey, Wild Ohio, is just honey, water and yeast. Other products, such as Hot Shot or Bergamot Blue, are variations on this theme, with fruit and spices added to the mix.

To make mead, Allen could buy honey from anywhere. Yet he pays nearly three times the national rate for small-batch honey made here in Ohio. Why? You guessed it: “Buy, make, and sell local is what’s going to keep us all together,” Allen explains. “It’s really the only answer.”

While the quality of local honey is a factor, much of Allen’s decision-making is based on principles of agricultural and economic sustainability. Industrialized honey is a by-product of monoculture, the practice of growing single crops over a widespread area. When a region grows only one crop, bees must be trucked from place to place to pollinize that crop. This process is extremely detrimental to the bees: “If you’re a bee, you are the size of my thumbnail,” Allen observes. “All of a sudden, you are in Georgia, eating peaches, [when] you’ve spent your whole life eating soybeans. Plus, you had to take I-75 going 70 miles an hour up and down the hills to get there—that will stress anybody out, let alone a bee.” Instead, Allen goes big by going small. His meadery uses about 35,000 pounds of honey annually, all purchased from local farms, most of it from a single Amish beekeeper. The bees live a rural, traditional existence, feasting only on Ohio wildflowers.

And it’s not just the honey that is sustainable. Every batch of mead impacts the local economy positively because Allen shows the same dedication to his mantra when procuring his other ingredients. His bergamot flowers come from a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) run by Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery; his cider is hand-pressed at a farm in Rushville, Ohio. Every ingredient in some way comes from and gives back to the state.

Making meads relevant

Mead is one of the oldest alcoholic beverages, but it is a newcomer to the craft alcohol market. Making mead relevant was an early challenge for Allen. He jokes, “If we are trying to make a living from mead, who are we trying to make a living from? The Vikings who are running around the block?”

Guided by his “buy, make, and sell local” principle, Allen turned to the craft beer industry for guidance. “[Craft beer] was a small investment in your community,” Allen observes. “It taught us that we could drink within our own communities.”

Allen sought to turn the Brothers Drake taproom into a community experience, just as breweries have done: “I set up a very raw space and asked the community, without directly asking them, what do you want?” He tried little experiments, driven by customer feedback. He started with the food, enlisting help from his wife, chef Miki Ashino. Ashino’s food truck, Tokyo GoGo, serves traditional Japanese dishes such as Karaage (a fried chicken entrée with mead-based sauces) or Enoki Fries (made from mushrooms). The food truck never leaves the meadery’s parking lot, yet is consistently one of Columbus’ top picks.

Allen also experimented with live music. The business had little money to pay musicians, but Allen understood the value they brought. True to his guiding principle, he collaborated with them to find ways to pay them their worth. Allen realized that charging a small cover translated into big dividends for all involved.

“When they pay money,” Allen notes of his customer base, “now they are paying attention. They want to see what they invested in. They are buying into the music.” Over time, the community began to trust Brothers Drake to consistently bring in quality music.

Allen credits his guiding principles as having transformed his small meadery into a community hotspot. “My culture is local, taking care of your own. Buy, make, and sell local—music, art—this is our culture,” Allen summarizes. “It’s the arts, and the culture that we brought around the really good meads we make to make this all come full circle.”

Brothers Drake meadery is located at 26 E. Fifth Ave. in Columbus. For more information, please visit

Kevin J. Gray is Dayton City Paper’s Resident Beer Geek. A firm believer in all things balanced, when Kevin isn’t drinking craft beer, he’s hiking or biking to keep his beer belly in optimal shape. Reach Kevin J. Gray at

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