Years ago, friends and I drank liters of full-bodied beer on a hillside known as La Collina D’Oro (The Hill of Gold) in the Swiss province of Ticino above the city of Lugano.
Today, one of those drinking partners – Mick Coker – is reinventing himself and family business by producing award-winning beers and wines in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This includes mead, or honey wine.
Inside his Sandia Chile Grill hangs a road sign, taken from La Collina D’Oro. Below this hang recently won state medals for brewing prowess.
The wines that are winning state awards include a 14.5 % alcohol Ruby Red mead, which won not only the 2013 Gold Medal but also the Best in Show Medal for two years. With a taste that includes blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries, Mick says the mead is “well balanced – a citrus punch.”
His 27-year old son Clint works with Mick to produce these winners.
Almost two years ago, Mick bought some beer making kits, then checked out the financials for production. “It’s a screaming deal,” he said. “Whereas in food production the food costs 25 to 30 percent of sales cost, beer costs are only 9 to 16 percent of sales cost.
“I just started making beers and ciders in 2011, and a year later in the New Mexico State Fair won a Gold Medal for cider, and the Best of Show Overall Medal for beers, ciders, and meads.
“We just kept working on recipes. I’m still hearing about the awards from people who’ve been working at making beer for ten years. It’s a thorn in their sides. Even though we’d only been brewing for one year, we were doing two batches a week. So just because you’re a ten-year brewer doesn’t mean you’re brewing that much. We put in the hours. We don’t look at it as years, we look at it as brewing time.”
One result of their rapid success is that, “A few people within the brewery scene shunned us. I told them that I drank in Switzerland when growing up, and learned to taste good beer.
“Five years from now, we want a big brewery. We’d like to have a place with a big dance hall with a saloon western environment – because, don’t people like to drink and dance?”
For dinner Clint cooked us sirloin steak with mushrooms and bacon, smothered in green chile and cheese.
Mick and Clint cultivate their own yeast. They showed me photographs of their yeast cells. They take pride in their ‘hands on’ approach – and provided a quick tour showing valves, barrels, pressure gauges, spigots, hemosectometers, pipettetes, and hydrometers. This is quite a sophisticated operation, though Mick summarizes, “Some shit works, some shit don’t work.”
“I hated chemistry. I hated biology. If they told me I could make beer using chemistry, then I’d have been there at class fifteen minutes early, penciling notes.
“It’s all math,” he said. “God gave us the art form, the rest is math and science.”
Clint likes the challenge of making mead, because the technique is not widespread.
“The challenge is finding things I can compare my meads to.”
“It’s a lost art,” Mick added.
“It’s like a samurai sword,” Clint agreed. He talked about the history of mead-making in the Middle Ages and its prevalent role in the worlds of Vikings, Romans, monks, and nobility.
Earlier in the day, I had given Mick a hard copy of a book I wrote almost a decade ago, titled Rivers of Change – Trailing the Waterways of Lewis and Clark. Serendipitously, I recalled that the book included a passage about mead. I flipped pages to the chapter about Weston, Missouri, and read aloud:
“Inside, I sidled up to a wood counter beneath stained glass windows. A grinning lass with a hairdo in the shape of a bucket poured samples of honey wine, apple wine, and raspberry mead into three glasses. I downed each with ease. She told me how the owners of the forty-acre vineyard produced up to ten thousand gallons a year. While swirling more wine in a glass, I picked up a book marker titled A Little Bit of Romantic History. It told how Vikings and Norsemen first introduced honey wine (mead) to England. Savoring its crude bouquet, the English deemed the concoction a love potion, then forged a tradition that bride and groom sip the mead for a full moon cycle after marriage – thus the word honeymoon.“
“The ultimate goal,” Mick said, “is to make a living for the rest of our lives on good alcohol, and giving other people the opportunity to enjoy the finer things in life.”
That sounds like a worthy ambition.
This Post Has 12 Comments
Alex Putman22 Oct 2013
I have a bottle of Ruby Red Mead here in NY, lovingly sent my Mick and I am thoroughly enjoying it. Looking forward to trying their beer. Wishing Mick and Clint all the success in the world!
vinoexpressions22 Oct 2013
I’m sure they’ll appreciate that Alex…they have some great beers also, and are completely tuned into the details of brewing, and the lack of quality on the part of some competitors.
Rick Mullen22 Oct 2013
Sent from my iPhone
vinoexpressions22 Oct 2013
He apparently lugged that Collina D’Oro road sign around for an entire Skip Day….and many times thought of tossing it – but decided it was too valuable. What a priceless souvenir.
Malachi Rempen22 Oct 2013
Excellent! Although I always heard mead was pretty difficult to drink. How is it different from beer?
vinoexpressions22 Oct 2013
Bit sweet and heavy…like a honeymoon, as you will apparently soon find out!
Mick Coker22 Oct 2013
Thanks Tom for a great article!! I couldn’t be more proud of my son Clint. Mead is really his passion!! He has change my opinion about Meads forever. As you stated we drank full bodied beers. That’s what I like. Now Clint is changing my passion about Mead. The problems with Mead is no one is making them like Clint and when you get to those Higher Alcohols (12 to 18% abv) they tend to get a rough taste and not drinkable!!
Clint tells a story about the Kings of the land wanting to drink Mead (Friar Tuck in Robin Hood drank mead). Centuries ago the Meads were made for the King against the Pope’s wishes. The Kings only drank the nicest drinks, so it had to be great to be a King’s drink. Clint believes by todays standards that it is a lost art and he wants to bring Mead back to the glory it had then. I now love Mead, however once you drink Clint’s meads it is hard to drink anyone else’s. He has made me a believer and ruined me at the same time.
What is the difference in Mead and Beer is the question people ask all the time. Meads main ingredient is Honey. It is the first alcoholic drink known to man. Clint says it was God gift to man. It is over 9000 years old and was made from Europe to China and it’s beginnings are lost in history. It is not beer, wine or hard liquor! It is it’s own beverage and flavor and it is somewhere between Wine and Hard liquor. Clint’s meads have a big nose of honey aromas while they finish semi-sweet to dry!! I love them.
Thanks again Tom for getting the word out for Clint. He said to tell you hello and he loves you as I do too!!
vinoexpressions23 Oct 2013
Thanks Mick for the history of the importance of this honey based drink, fit for kings. Sounds like you and Clinton may be setting a modern trend. It would be interesting to find out how many people actually make mead out west…or at all. Thanks for the hospitality (apparently you have another crew about to visit you and taste your wares), and keep up the good, tasty work!
Chrissie24 Oct 2013
Tom, I’m very much a wine girl but reading this makes me want to sample mead 🙂 especially with such fruity flavours! Thanks for the insight, Chrissie
vinoexpressions24 Oct 2013
Nice to hear, Chrissie. Perfecting mead was apparently a focus of monks in the Middle Ages….which sounds like a decent way to spend free time. Meanwhile, your posts make me hungry to visit the Riviera region…and sample the rivers of good wine you have there. Keep your blogs coming, I find them fresh and entertaining!
jlcollinsnh24 Oct 2013
Seems I recall trying Mead eons ago. Was to my taste as I recall. Unlike my honeymoon. 😉
Regardless, I now have another cool place to check out next visit to NM!
vinoexpressions24 Oct 2013
You’ll enjoy Jim. They also have a selection of tasty beers…so don’t dodge that encounter when in New Mexico. I am wondering what foods go well with mead…suppose it’s time to wander down that avenue of exploration. Ah, such much to taste…