At Hierophant Meadery in Freeland, Jeremy Kyncl and Michelle Scandalis are as busy as bees.
Since the opening of their tasting room in 2021 on South Whidbey, the couple has been working hard to produce good brews and change people’s perceptions about mead, an ancient fermented beverage made from honey.
Kyncl is planning to lead a series of talks and even a tour of the meadery, which are highlights of events hosted as part of the 2023 Whidbey Reads program at Sno-Isle Libraries.
Since 2003, Whidbey Reads has brought Whidbey Island residents together annually to read and talk about a book that often has a thought-provoking concept. The program is funded by donations from the Whidbey Community Foundation and the Friends of the Clinton, Coupeville, Freeland, Langley, and Oak Harbor libraries and is supported by the Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation.
This year’s book selection is the national bestseller “The Music of Bees” by Eileen Garvin, an author and beekeeper who grew up in Eastern Washington but now lives in Hood River, Oregon, where her novel is set.
Accompanying the book are a series of bee- and honey-related events all around Whidbey Island sponsored by the Sno-Isle Libraries.
Lisa Phillips, a beekeeper from Oak Harbor, will discuss beginning beekeeping, plants that extend the bee-feeding season and how to tell the difference between wasps and bees during her event “The Buzz About Bees,” which takes place 3-4:30 p.m. on March 16 at the Freeland Library.
Cooks yearning to experiment with honey can attend Karen Achabal’s class at 3-4:30 p.m. on March 18 in Clinton Community Hall. Registration must be completed online.
Using the kitchen in the building, Achabal will demonstrate a few of her favorite recipes, which call for different types of honey from around the world that vary in taste and viscosity.
“Honey has such a long history with humans,” Achabal said. “It was the original sweetener.”
She has found that the best recipes come from regions where honey has a strong tradition, from Poland to Ukraine to the Middle East to Greece, among others.
“I like to learn about different cultures through food,” she said.
Achabal has been passionate about food her whole life. At one point she even owned her own restaurant. She is currently an associate at the Langley Library.
Kyncl will cover bees and brews in his upcoming library talks. He plans to share the many ways bees are ingrained in cultural experiences, particularly via mead, the fermented alcoholic beverage he has brewed for over a decade.
When he and Scandalis first started making mead, they were concerned about colony collapse – the phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a honey bee colony disappear – and sought ways to prevent it by supporting local beekeepers.
They currently source honey exclusively from Washington and Oregon beekeepers. Last year, the couple used about 22,000 pounds of honey in their meads, which are fermented right in Freeland.
Yet with climate change’s effects, those working in the beekeeping industry have been faced with some tough years. One of Hierophant Meadery’s suppliers in Eastern Washington, for example, only made a fraction of its usual supply of honey two years ago due to the heat dome event that happened in the Pacific Northwest in the summer of 2021.
“Obviously we’re expecting to have less and less predictability every year going forward,” Kyncl said. “We’re not expecting it to get easier, we’re expecting these things to be more chaotic and harder to deal with, long-term.”
Retail honey from Whidbey beekeepers is available for sale at the meadery, including products from Eckholm Farm in Coupeville and Maya Farm in Oak Harbor.
Another goal of the meadery owners is to reacquaint people’s palettes with plants that humans have historically consumed. Meads are infused with a variety of botanicals, from tree resin to nettles to dandelion root. Some things are even found nearby, such as turkey tail mushrooms and fir and red cedar from the woods. A recently started herbal garden contains rosemary, peppermint and chamomile.
The business has experienced immense growth in the past few years. Production has doubled, from 3,600 cases during the pandemic years to 7,200 cases last year. For reference, each case contains 12 bottles.
About half of the types of meads available have taken home awards from the Seattle Wine Awards and the Seattle International Cider and Perry Awards.
Kyncl believes his meads can be paired with a variety of cuisines.
“There are ways that we can pull on flavors, because mead was made across five continents historically,” he said.
Hierophant Meadery products are currently available in bottles, but Kyncl is hoping to start canning in single-serving sizes soon, which will be offered at lower price points.
“I want it to be accessible … it’s not just gods and kings that can afford it like it used to be,” he said. “This is for everybody.”
Kyncl will present at 3-4:30 p.m. on March 21 at the Coupeville Library and 4-5:30 p.m. on April 6 at the Oak Harbor Library. In addition, a tour of Hierophant Meadery will be offered 4-5:30 p.m. on April 8. Registration is not required.
“Hopefully, it helps stimulate people’s minds a little bit in some different ways,” Kyncl said.
The events culminate in the visit of this year’s Whidbey Reads author to the island. Garvin will talk about her book and her 120,000 bees at 7 p.m. on April 19 at Best Western Plus in Oak Harbor and 7 p.m. on April 20 at Freeland Hall.
For more information about Whidbey Reads, visit sno-isle.org.