A new place to taste and buy mead

Matt Falenski has been selling his literally homemade mead -— fermented and often flavored honey and water — since 2011 as the Laurel Highlands Meadery. But now he can pour samples and sell glasses and bottles of the stuff at a commercial tasting room that he and his wife, Mandy, are opening at 106 Fourth St. in downtown Irwin.

The new space — a former pizza shop — opens Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. The rest of its regular hours to start are 5 to 8 p.m. Fridays, noon to 7 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Mr. Falenski is still working day jobs in information technology and day and night as father of two boys, so he’s going to be extra busy.

Before this, you could find Laurel Highlands mead at a few local watering holes, including Piper’s Pub on the South Side and All Saints Brewing Co. near Greensburg. And he’s been selling bottles to Pennsylvania residents via his website, laurelhighlandsmeadery.com.

But to have his own place has been his plan from the start. “We kept on saying, ‘This spring ...’ ‘This spring ...’ ‘This spring ....’ We never gave an exact year, so we’re good.”

He’d considered opening a tasting and sales room in the century-old barn where he now makes the mead in Herminie, Westmoreland County, but Irwin’s business district has a lot more traffic, foot and otherwise, and lots of other businesses to work with, including the soon-to-reopen pizza shop next door.

Laurel Highlands Meadery will not serve any of its own food and, especially while the space is still under construction here at the start, won’t be anything fancy. It has an old hand-built basement bar and some wine barrels for tables.

To start, Mr. Falenski will be offering his traditional mead, bochet (made with roasted honey) as well as maple mead, cinnamon-vanilla mead, a saison mead and hopped mead. Flavors on the way include some spiced ones as well as a mead aged in a Dad’s Hat whiskey barrel.

Customers can try a sample, buy a glass for $6 or take bottles for $17 each. Mr. Falenski will be happy to explain more about what mead is ... and isn’t. For instance, even though it might sound like it to the uninitiated, it has nothing to do with meat.

Nationally, “Mead is really taking off” in popularity, says Mr. Falenski, who’s looking forward to finally opening to the public and seeing how it goes. ”We think we make a really nice mead. And we like to share it.”

Last week, the folks behind Wigle distillery announced plans to open Threadbare Cider in the fall in the city’s Spring Garden neighborhood — at 1254 Voskamp St. — and said the cidery also will make some mead (threadbarecider.com).

Meanwhile, the region’s other meadery plans to expand this year. Apis Mead in Carnegie, which opened in 2014, is “growing out of control,” says owner Dave Cerminara.

He plans to expand into a nearby church, which “will allow us to expand production as well as add food and a lot of much-needed inside space,” including not just a full open kitchen, but also outdoor seating and an upstairs banquet hall. He says it will take a year or so to get it into brewing order and give it “some signature Apis character.”

You can see what he means at his storefront on Carnegie’s Main Street, where on March 6, they’re holding the Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week Homebrew Contest. From noon to 4 p.m., the public can taste and help judge entries from more than 35 of the area’s top homebrewers. The winner — chosen from the public’s top three by professional brewers — gets to brew with Zelienople’s ShuBrew a collaboration beer to be served during Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week, April 15 to 24. Mr. Cerminara, who previously worked at Penn Brewery, is once again vice president of PCBW and in charge of all the collaborations between regional brewers.

On March 11, Apis will hold its monthly release party to issue a jalapeno pineapple mead, with food by Las Chicas and music by J.D.A. Band. Learn more at apismead.com.

Bob Batz Jr.: bbatz@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.


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