Jeff and Jennifer Herbert of Prescott started with an unknown home-brewing operation and now, just seven years later, have won the federal Small Business Administration (SBA) “Small Business Persons of the Year in Arizona” award
The Herberts, owners of Superstition Meadery, will travel to Washington, D.C., to attend the award ceremony on May 5-6. They represent Arizona among the 53 businesses from all states and U.S. territories to be honored. The week before, on May 2, the Herberts will be recognized at the state level during the 26th Arizona SBA Enterprise Business Awards luncheon in Scottsdale.
Speaking for both, Jeff Herbert told the Quad Cities Business News, “We were stunned to hear we’d been selected from among all the small businesses in Arizona to receive such a prestigious award. We’re humbled that our business, Superstition Meadery, has achieved such high recognition at the national level.”
SBA Administrator Linda McMahon said she is privileged to honor a man and woman who represent the best among 30 million small businesses across the country.
Superstition Meadery Products Now Distributed Nationally, Internationally
In 2008, when they first made mead at their former home in Apache Junction, the Herberts had no idea that their homebrewing adventure would win them national and international acclaim. Jeff explained, “My first homebrew was a stout recipe. Before that first beer was finished fermenting, I visited a homebrew store and asked for a mead recipe. It turned out that my first meads tasted much better than my first beers.” While Jeff and Jennifer did not know it at the time, many of those early homebrew meads evolved into recipes that they make commercially today.
In 2012, one year after moving to Prescott, they established the first Alternating Proprietorship in Arizona, which is where one separate licensed winery leases space from another. At the former Juniper Well Ranch and Vineyards in Skull Valley, they shared production and packaging equipment. In just four bourbon barrels and one stainless fermenter, they made 300 gallons of mead and cider. Two production facilities later, Superstition Meadery had become the largest winery in Arizona by the end of 2017.
“We think by the end of this year, we’ll have produced 39,000 gallons of product, including mead, hard cider and even hard seltzer and zinfandel wine,” said Jeff.
The Herberts’ initial success with those first mead products led them to move from Skull Valley to Prescott. They opened Superstition Meadery as a retail business in a historic downtown building on Gurley Street. Locals tasted the mead and liked it. Its reputation grew. Before long, out-of-towners and tourists helped spread the word.
In less than a decade, the Herberts have expanded the market for their mead to virtually every community in Arizona. They also ship to 37 other states and to Washington, D.C. Sales do not stop at the U.S. border. Now, their products are available at select European retailers in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Belgium and also in Asia in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand.
Jeff grinned when he said, “Mead is the most delicious beverage you’ve probably never had.” He then explained that the variety of flavors is unlimited. “In our production facility, we have made over 200 unique meads and hard ciders. They range from dry to sweet, and can be sparkling. We’re always developing new flavors.”
As founding members of the American Mead Makers Association (AMMA), Jeff and Jennifer played an important role in defining and growing the modern mead industry. Jeff served as a board member and editor of the AMMA journal, and they helped draft legislation that was introduced to the U.S. Congress. When they started Superstition Meadery, about 150 mead makers existed in the U.S. Today, there are more than 600, with 200 more in the planning phase.
What is Mead?
According to the Herberts, mead is an alcoholic beverage that results from fermenting honey with water or fruit juice with the option to blend in other flavors from spices, fruits, grains or hops. Historically, mead is one of the oldest alcoholic beverages known to man. Evidence of honey being used in fermented drinks dates to 7,000 BC in China.
The defining characteristic of mead is that the beverage’s fermentable sugar comes from honey. The Herberts’ source for pure Arizona honey is Crockett’s Honey in Tempe. When the opportunity arises, they also enjoy working with small local beekeepers to create traditional meads that highlight unique honey varietals like ironwood and catclaw. However, they create many of their dozens of distinctive flavors by identifying and buying the best international ingredients they can find, such as saffron from Morocco, or vanilla beans from Tahiti.
They produce the mead in a production facility they designed and built in 2016 and now are expanding. They have 25 employees, many of whom share round-the-clock duties in supervising the complex production process.
The mead and hard ciders ferment in expensive 1,000-gallon stainless steel tanks. Many of the products are aged in hundreds of toasted and charred oak barrels stacked four high on racks in a carefully monitored, climate-controlled building on the northeast edge of Prescott Regional Airpark. Following the bottling process in the same building, the beverages are boxed and distributed locally, nationally and internationally.
In Prescott, Superstition Meadery has thousands of bottles shelved in a tasting room located at 120. W. Gurley. It is open seven days a week. But soon, the mead will be available in a much larger Arizona market.
“What’s really exciting is that we’re expanding our retail sales to Phoenix. We’ll soon open our new place called Superstition Downtown, which is located between award-winning Chef Chris Bianco’s Pizzeria Bianco and the new Pane Bianco restaurant just east of the downtown core,” Jeff explained. It will be on the northeast corner of 11th and Washington streets. They hope to open in early 2020.
The Herberts are enthusiastic about their business future and are thrilled that six of their brews were recently included in the Ratebeer.com list of the 15 best meads in the world. Jeff added, “We’re proud to share our delicious beverages with everyone.”
For more information, visit Superstitionmeadery.com or call 928-458-4256. QCBN
By Ray Newton, QCBN