WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Illinois' first meadery will open a tasting room Friday at 9030 S. Hermitage Ave. in Washington Heights.
Wild Blossom Meadery and Winery has produced the ancient alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey since 2001. The first round of tastings at the new production facility is sold out.
Additional samplings of Wild Blossom's "honey wine" are available from 2-9 p.m. Saturday. It's free to attend the tastings, which include a brief discussion of mead and a tour of the 9,000-square-foot meadery.
"A lot of people don't know what mead even is," said owner Greg Fischer, a Beverly resident.
Greg Fischer owns Wild Blossom Meadery in Washington Heights. Illinois' first meadery will have a sold out tasting on Friday. [DNAinfo/Howard A. Ludwig]
Fischer will give thirsty visitors an opportunity to try a flight of six different Wild Blossom meads for $8.99. Meade will also be sold by the glass for $6-$15. Online reservations are recommended for all tours.
Going forward, Wild Blossom will host tastings by appointment from noon-9 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays. The new facility also operates as a classroom, teaching would-be makers of mead, wine and beer the basics of the craft.
The meadery with 24 taps for its assortment of homemade beverages is available for rent too. Fischer envisions the large, open venue hosting birthday parties, small weddings and other such gatherings. A kitchen designed to be used by caterers is also part of the building, and Fischer is working with a pair of food trucks for his opening weekend.
In the spring, Wild Blossom will complete the landscaping of the northwest side of the building, which looks out into the Dan Ryan Woods. That's also where the Major Taylor Trail passes between the woods and the meadery. So Fischer is hoping to attract customers on bicycles as well.
Wild Blossom Meadery in Washington Heights will host wine-, beer- and mead-making classes. It will also be used for private events such as parties and small wedding receptions. [DNAinfo/Howard A. Ludwig]
The plants in Wild Blossom's gardens and patio will be used by Fischer's bees. The hives will be kept on the roof when the landscaping is complete, but Wild Blossom has actually kept bees on the property since 2011.
Fischer said the honey made on-site is delicious — as is most of the honey from the Midwest. So he believes Chicago and neighboring states could become a the "Napa Valley of mead."
Besides at his production facility, Fischer also has hives on the rooftop of the Marriott Downtown Chicago Magnificent Mile Hotel, The Morton Arboretum in suburban Lisle, along Chicago's lakefront where the U.S. Steel South Works site once stood and elsewhere.
Mead is among the fastest growing segments of the U.S. alcohol industry, according to industry watchers. And Fischer pointed to a recent article saying seven meaderies are expected to open in the San Diego area alone this year.
Wild Blossom's new production facility opened about two months ago and is making about 1,000 gallons of mead every 6-10 weeks. But it has the capacity to make upward of 10,000 gallons of mead in this same cycle.
Wild Blossom mead is sold at Binny's Beverage Depot, a downstate liquor chain called Friar Tuck and other independent and chain stores. He said mead was once relegated to the far corners of these stores but surging sales have since demanded a more prominent placement.
Fischer traces the boom of his honey wine business and the projections for future growth to the surge in craft breweries and ciders. These custom beverages often serve as a "gateway to mead," Fisher said.
"I really think [mead] will be the drink of the future — though it's really a drink from the past," said Fischer, adding that he's working with an exporter to bring his mead to China.
The seed for Wild Blossom was actually planted in 1995 at 10033 S. Western Ave. in Beverly. This unassuming storefront operates as Bev Art Brewer & Winemaker Supply, which sells wine- and beer-making supplies.
Fischer always envisioned opening a winery or meadery as well. But he couldn't sell direct to customers in Beverly because of its location on the east side of Western Avenue — where alcohol sales are prohibited. The new location does not have the same restrictions.
Wild Blossom Meadery took over a vacant building at 9030 S. Hermitage Ave. in Washington Heights. After several years of renovations, the new facility will open its much-anticipated tasting room Friday. [DNAinfo/Howard A. Ludwig]
Fischer said customers will decide whether he keep his original store open when the new headquarters gets up and running. That said, he's only planning to sell a handful of supplies from his new meadery at the onset.
As for the new facility, Fischer sees his whole operation as sustainable and the location is meant to connect customers with nature. Surely, the bees are doing their part, pollinating roughly 2 million flowers for every bottle of mead.
"Just the production of honey is providing more green on earth," he said.