With floor-to-ceiling glass-panel walls rising past a second story that overlooks the first, All-Wise Meadery stands tall and transparent in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. From the sidewalk, you can see four tanks the size of Mini Coopers that in total hold almost 4,000 gallons of mead, waiting to be filtered and bottled. And while the label's founders, Doug Brochu, Dylan Sprouse (yes, that Dylan) and Matt Kwan, didn't deliberately search for such an uncomfortably revealing space, as Brochu explains, "When we found it, we were like, 'We can rise to the challenge.'" The end result is a label proud of its distinct mead-making process, something its founders want on full display.
The fermentation tanks at All-Wise.
Neither beer nor wine, mead is, at its base, an alcoholic beverage made of honey, yeast and water. "It's the world's oldest fermented beverage," Brochu tells me when I meet him and Kwan at the meadery. Brochu first met Sprouse in California a decade ago, when the two discovered a mutual love of fermented things. When Sprouse moved to New York in 2011 to attend New York University, the pair's homebrewing passion projects turned bicoastal— with Sprouse brewing in a dorm room. They fermented wine, beer, kombucha, and even sauerkraut before eventually honing in on mead. "It had so much potential," Brochu says. "It's its own thing, and you can do whatever you want with it, which is exciting." So exciting that Brochu moved to New York two years ago to join Sprouse and launch All-Wise, with Kwan, Sprouse's roommate, coming on to manage the financials.
Sprouse is quick to call the relationship "a well-oiled friendship." The three have mastered a formula that takes them from years of experimenting with a single flavor and recipe to tests determining how the mead tastes after monthlong intervals to having others taste it and offer feedback. (In the case of All-Wise's upcoming oolong-flavored mead, the entire development process began three years ago.)
Mead being poured into a beaker.
Sipping from a beaker filled with mead straight from the tank, I watched Brochu watch me expectantly in his plaid sweater, work boots and an All-Wise cap. "What do you think?" he asks. Though mead is traditionally syrupy and thick, All-Wise's is drier, with a light, cool and airy quality—much like the building where it's made.
"People often think of mead as a dessert wine, so we're coming in to counter that style," Brochu says of the team's goals. The label uses all-natural products sourced exclusively from New York, from the area's high-quality water to the produce used for flavoring. Staying local has been the answer even when it comes to the honey: All-Wise sources raw, unprocessed honey from the same Finger Lakes apiary Sprouse commissioned for his home brews back in college.
Doug Brochu (left) and Matt Kwan (right).
Behind the glass walls of the meadery, you'll find the three founders steeping ingredients, moving the fermentation process along and filtering the finished mead for everyone to see. You might even catch a glimpse of Kwan and Brochu lugging 32 empty honey buckets onto the subway to be recycled. "This transparency," Kwan says of the product and the process, is what All-Wise is "proudest of."
While many mead brands aren't shy about embracing the drink's Renaissance fair reputation, at All-Wise, the trio is aiming to take the drink into a more modern, mainstream direction. Both their show and oolong meads are available for preorder today in 750-milliliter bottles, their crisp taste to be taken on in one sitting. Show mead is the drink's purest form, with nothing more than the three core ingredients. All-Wise's version is refreshing and tastes mostly of honey with an oaky finish. It doesn't long for anything, nor is it baggy or bungled by overwhelming texture or aftertaste. The oolong mead layers the show mead with the tea's flavor and a kick of bitterness.
In the end, All-Wise is distinguishing itself for its best practices and founders who aim to make mead more approachable. "We want people to do what they want with it: Squeeze a lime into it or pour it over ice. People should have the freedom to explore it," Brochu says. Sprouse adds that the label is about "getting the word out about what the hell this beverage is" and creating a space where anyone can discover mead. And if you want to experience the versatile, rich and long-established beverage for yourself, all you need to do is tap on All-Wise's window.
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