From Firefighting To Opening a Meadery With Jeff Herbert of Superstition Meadery

by Drew Hendricks
Last updated Mar 10, 2023

Legends Behind the Craft Podcast

From Firefighting To Opening a Meadery With Jeff Herbert of Superstition Meadery

Last Updated on March 10, 2023 by

Jeff Herbert
From Firefighting To Opening a Meadery With Jeff Herbert of Superstition Meadery 11

Jeff Herbert is the Co-founder of Superstition Meadery in Prescott, Arizona. He and his wife, Jennifer, built the meadery from scratch into one of the highest-rated beverage producers in the country.

Jeff earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Arizona State University and spent most of his career as a firefighter for the Phoenix Fire Department. When he was still years from retirement and his wife also had a full-time job, the pair went headfirst into the world of mead. In 2019, the Small Business Administration recognized Jeff and his wife as the Small Business Persons of the Year.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Jeff Herbert talks about the beginnings of Superstition Meadery
  • How Jeff got into homebrewing
  • The challenges Jeff faced launching his business
  • Superstition’s major accomplishment: Arizona’s first alternating proprietorship
  • How did Jeff and his wife build their brand and product?
  • Jeff discusses the main ingredient of mead
  • Why extraordinary people are crucial to a successful business
  • Opening the world’s first mead and food pairing restaurant  
  • What keeps Jeff motivated?

In this episode with Jeff Herbert

How can a retired firefighter shift his career and open a meadery? For today’s guest, it started by homebrewing for friends — which eventually led to something greater.

Alongside his wife, Jeff Herbert leads the world’s first mead and food pairing restaurant in downtown Phoenix. Their mission is to reintroduce the world’s oldest fermented beverage to humankind. How did they grow the brand, and how do they continue innovating?

In today’s episode of the Legends Behind the Craft podcast, Drew Thomas Hendricks and Bianca Harmon are joined by Jeff Herbert, Co-founder of Superstition Meadery, as he talks about his career redirection after serving as a firefighter for 20 years. Jeff also proudly shares what it was like opening the world’s first mead and food pairing restaurant, the challenges he faced, and how he continues to build the brand.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Barrels Ahead.

Barrels Ahead is a wine and craft marketing agency that propels organic growth by using a powerful combination of content development, Search Engine Optimization, and paid search.

At Barrels Ahead, we know that your business is unique. That’s why we work with you to create a one-of-a-kind marketing strategy that highlights your authenticity, tells your story, and makes your business stand out from your competitors.

Our team at Barrels Ahead helps you leverage your knowledge so you can enjoy the results and revenue your business deserves.

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:03

Welcome to the Legends Behind the Craft podcast where we feature top leaders in the wine and craft beverage industry with your host Drew Hendricks. Now let’s get started with the show.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 0:19

Hi everyone, Drew Thomas Hendricks here, I’m the host of the Legends Behind the Craft podcast. On the show I talk with leaders in the wine and craft beverage industry. Today’s show is sponsored by Barrels Ahead. At Barrels Ahead, we work with you to implement a one of a kind marketing strategy, one that highlights your authenticity, tells your story, and connects you with your ideal customers. In short, we help wineries and craft beverage producers unlock their story to unleash the revenue. Go to today to learn more. Bianca Harmon our DTC strategist is joining us today. How’s it going, Bianca?

Bianca Harmon 0:53

It’s going great. Drew, I’m looking forward to talking to Jeff today.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 0:57

Yes, I am super excited to talk with Jeff Herbert. Jeff is the founder of Superstition Meadery in Prescott, Arizona. They recently opened up a new wine and food pairing facility in Phoenix. And I’m excited to hear all about it. Welcome to the show, Jeff.

Jeff Herbert 1:12

Hey guys, thanks for having me.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 1:13

Thanks for being on. So Jeff. I got it. We got to just jump in. Why mead?

Jeff Herbert 1:18

So mead is the most delicious thing that most people have never tried.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 1:23

It’s true. It’s true. I’ve had I’ve had a fair amount of mead in my day. But it’s it is a product category in the alcohol category. Let’s take us back to when he started Superstition Meadery, why? Talk to us about that. Sounds good.

Jeff Herbert 1:39

So my undergraduate degree was in anthropology. So I’ve always been interested in history, religion, mythology, and trying to understand a lot of things about the world. And so I think the best way to kind of understand the world is to travel and meet people and to get some different perspectives and challenge the things that you’ve always be, you know, the way things are or true or whatnot, because chances are you’re, you’re probably only half right at best, right? So I’ve always really loved traveling and learning about other cultures. And, you know, at least attempting to speak other languages and whatnot. So I was taking a trip a long time ago to Borneo. And I was in this hostel where everyone that was a traveler kind of hung out in this town called Mary that was going to either dive in that area or where to head into the jungle. And there was a, there was a bar down below this, you know, this hotel, where you’d hang out. And so I was down there with some other travelers and I started talking to some folks. And it turned out this one guy was a wildlife biologist, and I grew up 10 minutes away from where I was living at the time in the Phoenix area. And so we, you know, stayed in touch and, and became friends and my buddy mark would come visit for when he’d seen us folks for the holidays and stuff. And one time, he brought some homebrew beer over. And I, I couldn’t stop talking about it. And so about six months later was Father’s Day, I got home from the fire station. So I retired from from Phoenix fire with 20 years in the fire service. And I got home from the thanks, I got home from the fire station, my wife had a Father’s Day present, it was a homebrew kit, a refrigerator and shelving unit. And I just got totally into homebrew. And it was kind of good timing because I had my sons were really young at the time my wife was getting into this horse racing that she’s excelled at. And so a lot of times I’d hang out with the kids, you know, and we’d spend, you know, six hours on a brew day, you know, we just be out in the front yard. And we were in a part of town that ironically, people probably just thought we were cooking meth on a turkey burner and tubes and all this stuff. And I was like, No, we’re just making beer. But no one actually ever asked that. But I’m sure people look at those guys. So just doing it in the front yard, not even in the trailer. So anyways, we, you know, I just got way into that. And you know, my wife would help out and the kids would help out. And of course, your friends come over and encourage you when you’re home. Because they get to drink all your beer for you homebrew a lot. I mean, typically you’re making five gallons of beer, wine, mead, cider, whatever, at a time. And eventually, I was doing 10 gallon batches that were all grain. 

But anyways, I was going through the whole beer thing and learning about you know, some of the signs and the art by by brewing. And I started making the the first week that I started making beer, and my first meads turned out to be much better than my first beers. And I eventually learned how to make beer. Okay, I think and we still I love doing collaborations with our brewery friends and, you know, oftentimes we’ll make, you know, a beer with a little honey in it to represent what we’re all about. But anyways, that’s kind of how I started just getting interested in in this and I always I always liked craft beer, you know, that was the kind of person that would, you know, generally have a new castle which would just say an import or a microbrew back in the day right versus craft beer. or you know Double IPA or whatever no even knew what that was almost 10 years ago even so, you know, things have changed a lot in exciting ways in the in the craft beer world. And I keep referring to craft beer because that’s really where the customer base for me comes into play. So we can talk about the business setup like sort of regulations and the legalities about what we do. Because everyone that makes we’ll meet in America is a winery. Yes. Like most of our customers come from the craft beer world because I think that the most open minded drinkers in crossover drinkers is a term that we use their craft beer fans, because they want to try the next new thing, the next IPA with the next hop. So oh, sorry, go ahead.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 5:44

No, that’s that’s very insightful, though it is. And a few people realize like they associate me with kind of beer and craft beer movement, but it you’re technically a winery. And there’s a pretty solid line between what a winery can do and what a brewery can do.

Jeff Herbert 5:57

And that line with one exception, I’m not well versed in when it comes to seltzers. The line The line starts and stops with cereal grains. So brewery is going to use a cereal grain, which if you’re unfamiliar, we all know what cereal is right? But like rice, corn, wheat, malted, barley, rye, I mean, those are cereal grains that you can use to make beer in interviews, commonly, we’re technically not allowed to have a packet of oatmeal in our winery, which is kind of funny.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 6:26

It’s amazing. Wow, amazing. So you could make See you can make cider, you can make fruit wines, you can really do anything a winery can do.

Jeff Herbert 6:34

And we and we do we do all those things, or have done all those things? For sure.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 6:38

So that there’ll be plenty bakwin Sirhan era at the Homebrew, what in you. Your initial success was in Mead, so there’s that what causes you to go down that road? Or did you see an untapped product category?

Jeff Herbert 6:50

So so both right, every home brewer, homemade maker home cider maker, I think at least dreams a little about? What would it look like if I had a brewery meadery winery one day, you come up with, you know, some guys and gals will name their, you know, right on their bottle caps the day with a beer and make labels even and, and so, you know, I started thinking about all of this stuff and taking notes. And of course, along this path of learning how to make beer and make mead at home. You know, I continue traveling and going to craft breweries and talking to brewers and business owners and and then like many firemen, I was asking myself the question for years, what can I do for a sidekick like you can always, especially these days, work overtime, right? And make a little extra money, and a lot of firemen at the time that I was looking into doing this as a business were getting into real estate before the last recession, and you know, doing construction and stuff and I’m interested in those things. I love the process of a project and managing it. And that’s ultimately what business is, right? You’re, you’re establishing a project, you’re managing it, you’re building a system, that’s going to make something right. And so I love that process. And so, I also felt that, you know, having your own businesses that you know, maybe one day way of you know, achieving other dreams, right. So there’s, there’s that whole American Dream tied into that. And so me is definitely something that is to this day, still very young, very unfamiliar to people, our two biggest challenges are that no one knows what mead is. And it’s really expensive to make it. So trying to get a customer to, you know, become a mead fan. It really just requires them playing really good mead, and then, you know, finding what they like for their style. But

Drew Thomas Hendricks 8:32

the other challenge is a lot of us who have had mead have had it like at a renaissance fair. And it was really not a memorable experience.

Jeff Herbert 8:40

That was my first time I was I drank Chaucer’s at the Arizona renaissance fair. And it’s like the most trite thing you can say and how you got introduced to me, but it’s true. It’s true. For me, it’s true for a lot of people. I think it’s less true these days now that there’s about 600 meaderies in the country. And it’s in every state you can you can find a mead producer, which is really cool. But when I started, there were three or four commercial examples of me that I could get in Arizona, there was no no meadery, no one making me and so I did to answer your question. Absolutely. I saw that. And considered, hey, there’s a there’s a lot of room here. And when it comes to taking risk in business, you know, the greatest risks, maybe comes the greatest reward, it all depends on a lot of factors, right. But I thought that that that would be kind of cool. But I was planning on this, you know, and working towards taking notes and traveling and interviewing him like, like having a brewery and my wife and I decided that we were going to sell our home and move to Prescott in this small cool mountain town where I’m talking to you from right now where we established our company to raise

Bianca Harmon 9:46

retired buy it from the fire department at this point, right? Oh,

Jeff Herbert 9:50

I only retired like two and a half years ago. So I work to no one would believe the hours so the fire department gig is 56 hours a week. And my schedule was was we had an ABC shifts. So I would work for 24 hours on and I would have 48 hours off. So I worked one out every three days. And so that that schedule though, allowed me to live, you know, outside of town and commute 100 Miles door to door. So I was commuting 10 hours a week on average working 56 hours a week at the part of our and then starting a business which no one will believe those hours. So yeah, it was insane. Like, on the ground work. What’s that?

Bianca Harmon 10:28

I said, about boots on the ground?

Jeff Herbert 10:30

Yeah, totally. And a lot of farmers that the guys that do you know, construction, for example, I had friends that, you know, basically work all night, when you’re up and then go like pour concrete for eight hours. Like the amount of stamina and like, trying to like to balance out your work life, your family life, your mental health, your physical, all that. Yeah, it’s it’s a challenge. But you know what, that’s part of the that’s kind of like an analogy on how do you get ahead, right, the American dream isn’t something that that you just are handed, it’s something you have to you have to decide to go and make a reality. And it requires I think, working just ridiculous hours, super hard, making good choices, and all of those things that are common denominators to being successful. So I started I realized that early on and apply those lessons, but be moved to Prescott and we went to the closest winery with within like four weeks of being here. And I brought some homebrew made with me to the winery. And we got to know the couple that owns it ran this winery called Juniper wall ranch. And before we left, they said, Hey, you guys should make your mead here. And I said, That’s funny, because I was just about to start looking for like a very small space in town to, you know, go through the motions. And and at that point, I had figured out a lot of the basics of what you had to do to legally establish a business, a winery, the bank accounts, and then there’s all the creative side, right, the social media and stuff. So I had something in mind. And a lot of that something was really defined because I took a class at the Siebel Institute in Chicago, which was called How to Start a brewery. And if you don’t know, your listeners don’t know, Siebel and, and a couple other universities around around the US are, are the best places to become a master brewer. And so that program is months long, you go to Germany and England and stuff. But they have this three day class that was taught by each section, you know, it’s like every two hours or three days was taught by the leading experts in their field of whether it was graphic design for for beer labels, or, you know, they had a TTB you know, like a federal agent come in and talk about the legality and compliance stuff to us. They had these guys that had established like Ray Daniels, the Cicerone program, the best brewery engineer in the world. And so the first question they asked at Siebel, was, there were 40 people in the class and they said, raise your hand if you’re an award winning homebrewer. And everyone put me raise their hand, because I’ve been doing this for a couple years. But I’d like I didn’t have friends that did it. You know, it was just me and the Internet and books and magazines. And, and I looked at the guy next to me, I said, they have a word for the show. And he goes, he goes, Well, yeah, that’s how you, you get feedback from judges and everything. And, and so as soon as I got home, I had learned how to write a business plan to start a brewery from people that had just done it how to how to, you know, either, you know, self fund or get financing, like all of this stuff that, you know, it just makes sense now, in hindsight, but at the time was brand new information to me. And so I wrote a business plan, I started entering competitions with my already made beers and meads and stuff, and I was winning medals right away. So I’m like, Cool, I’m on to something, at least from your judges, right? They’re saying good beyond my friends getting drunk in my kitchen. So that all was inspirational, right? It was a lot of a lot of inspiration in the beginning. And we set up the first alternating proprietorship in the state of Arizona, and that’s where one separate license winery or brewery or distillery rent space from another so there’s the host and the guest or the tech a sublet type thing. Exactly. So our first winery was legally 20 square feet was enough room for all four barrels that too high, that was it, and we could share the bottling line and equipment out of saponify It was a you know, a gravity filler with you know, six heads. So but we were able to share equipment with the winery and we ran that program for a couple of years before it was time to move on and open up our pointing because I’m like looking at our production facility buildings for my office. So we opened up production facility in air quotes right I mean, it was 400 square feet and a tasting room in Prescott it’s still there. We don’t make me there anymore. Now our old production space is you know, sitting in search of merch space, but um, but you have this awesome tasting room that my wife and I like we couldn’t afford to pay contractors beyond pulling the tenant permit and doing some fiction work. We spent about a year doing the work ourselves. I’ve got video my wife running a jackhammer, we’re wallpaper and painting, welding all this stuff, built a tasting room production facility. And I thought hey, it’s gonna take me, you know, three or four years of, you know, growing this business with all of the mind If we’re still working as well with her full time gig, you know, and I had the fire thing already talked about. So I was like, hey, in a few years, maybe we’ll be at a point where we can grow, right. Three to four months later, we had barrels in the office barrels. under the stairs, we had 34 wine barrels full of products, we made 6800 gallons and beaten cider in Well, besides the barrels in the office and stuff in 400 square feet. In 2016, we saved up enough money to get an SBA loan, we from scratch designed and built, bought commercial land that was vacant, our current production facility, we opened that in 2017 2020, we opened our restaurant in Phoenix, the world’s first meeting food pairing restaurant called Superstition Downtown. And this week, or next week, we’re getting keys for a new warehouse right across the street, just for storage, not for production of equipment, some empty and full bottles, cans, and cakes. So we’re, that’s, that’s kind of a wrap up of the growth

Drew Thomas Hendricks 15:53

that is quite an operation to get from, from just their first homebrew your first getting your first awards to be the scale that you grew on this meadery. Now how do you so the question is, how do you how do you find adoption? And how do you find such great you’re placed in total wine or Costco? You, you’ve got an incredible distribution thing set up. But that requires people to really just really embrace the brand and the product. How did you go about building that?

Jeff Herbert 16:22

That’s a really good question. So I think that, you know, almost anyone that’s really in depth homebrewing, for example, can can become an extreme homebrewer is we were when we went commercial, right? You can learn how to make great beer, Mead, wine, cider, with the resources available today, the classes that are out there, I think that figure out how to make things that tastes really good. Technically, as long as you know what good is, which is kind of a dumbed down way of saying like, you just have to know what good is right? Like, if you go to a restaurant, you have to be able to, you know, I think articulate and, you know, what are you tasting? And why is something that’s complex, and it’s changing across your palate? Why is it good, right? You got to know that. And then you have to learn how to make that. And then you have to do something original. And then you have to learn how to sell it. And that’s really that’s the hard part, right? I mean, think how many how many breweries, wineries, meaderies, even out there making awesome products, but you know, are having trouble scaling, we’re always having trouble scaling to the next level, it’s always it’s an ephemeral challenge. It’s, it’s because you’re gonna have your wins, right? But anyways,

Drew Thomas Hendricks 17:25

if you look, if you look at your product offering it, it’s really akin to almost what you’d see at a brewery versus a winery with like, I’m looking at this Belgian dark, strong need. And there’s some, you can definitely see the affinity and why that would appeal to a beer drinker. How do you walk us through the different types and styles of mead because I think even the people in the industry, we don’t know as much as we think we know.

Bianca Harmon 17:51

Or even just what and to maybe, you know, like a little bit of the big differences between me between wine and mead and beer made. And

Jeff Herbert 17:59

that sounds great. If you allow me one minute, I just want to wrap up that last answer, because it’s really important to say at this point that you cannot grow, scale, or sell products without great people, because you can’t do it all yourself. And I have some amazing, amazing staff that really embraced the brand that know about it and know about me, that are true subject matter experts. And those are the men and women that work for Superstition that are out there every day, doing events, working with our distributors and changing people’s minds. So that that’s maybe like a good way to sum up. How do we make those sales happen? There’s a there’s a lot of we could talk about need one on one and our cell sheets and our design and all this stuff, too. But, but really, it comes down to people and training and training programs that I’ve taken from the fire service and apply to our staff. Anyways, that’s a whole nother thing. But let’s talk about meeting styles and beer. Right. So we already mentioned that. A brewery is going to use cereal grains to make their products. A winery is going to use sugar. It’s going to use sugar that comes from grapes in wine as we know it right white wine. It’s going to use sugar from apples and cider. It’s going to use sugar from honey for me and a distillery can can do any of those things in any combination, but they have to distill it. So it is possible to stack licenses and be a brewery and a distillery in a winery depending on your state but federally, that’s cool. So it’s important to understand that in America, the federal government divides and conquers and taxes right? The alcohol producers by those three categories there are no other categories. A lot of what we do like you just mentioned Belgian dark strong mead it’s kind of a grey area right we technically that’s a wine but it took inspiration from beer my favorite beers to make as a home brewer and to drink today I’ve got what’s often consider the best beer in the world. Westville letter 12 It’s a Belgian dark strong ale. I love brewing those. That’s a Belgian Trappist ale. And as a homebrewer you’re trying to you’re like trying to save money, right? So, I mean, you can even buy this in a man Erica but but if you’re in Dubai, its counterpart to be like a brooch for 10. Right, and that would be a $6 11.2 ounce bottle of beer that’s kind of spendy right? So I can make that not as good as the monks but I could make like something kind of close for about a buck 50 bottles a homebrewer and so I love talking about Belgian dark strongyles That’s as as a beer Judge, I became a beer judge BJCP judge. So our homebrew club here in Prescott could could get the guys and gals names like in the emerging magazine and stuff. And so we would abbreviate that PDSA, so I thought it was kind of fun to say, hey, Belgian dark, strong BDSM and we have a little tongue in cheek fun with our names and advertising when it comes to to all of that, and, and so me takes cues from the beer world and the wine world. We can also age as a winery, you can age you can age a Cabernet, a cider a need in any kind of barrel, even a spirit barrel, the barrel like it has to be dry officially, but you can have flavor imported from Cherry brandy, peach brandy, Sherry barrels and barrels, bourbon barrels. And we we’ve used all of those things. I’m drinking a rye whiskey barrel aged Mead right now that’s Jeremy. And this hasn’t come out. It’s coming out in a couple of weeks so that we don’t even have a label I just we wrote, right. So we can use any barrel that we want. But need is defined by the fact that honey is providing the primary fermentable sugar or ingredient into the product. So a traditional mead will be made from honey, water and yeast. And what we do to make that is we reverse the process that the bees went through to make honey. 

So so now we’re going to talk about the birds and the bees. So if you don’t know about beekeeping, we’ve learned a little bit along the way by like interacting with cool small local beekeepers. And by trying to raise bees or so I have books behind me on beekeeping. I haven’t read one yet, and that’s why the bees keep flying away. But one day, I’m gonna have more time we’re gonna have an apiary. Fantastic. It’s got a lot of extra time to read these days, starting a business so anyways, but traditional mead is honey, water and yeast and to make that fermentation happen. We’re reversing this process of the bees are going to leave the hive, they communicate through dancing and pheromones. It’s amazing what you learned about bees, and they’re going to go out to to a flower, and they’re going to drink the nectar and on their way back to that beehive. There are enzymes and a honey sack. So bees have this like, it’s kind of like an extra stomach, but it’s before their stomach where the nectar starts to change into what will become honey, they get back to the hive, they regurgitate from this honey sack, this nectar into the hive, eventually they’re going to seal it up. But first they have to dry it out. And the bees know they have to get the moisture content below 18% In order for that to be stable. So when we talk about stability in winemaking or brewing or cidermaking, it means it won’t ferment and there’s a lot of ways to make something stable. The bees no they have to make that a hyperosmotic solution. It’s it’s so thick, right? We all know how the economy is that honey is fine. It won’t ferment you can have all the wild yeast and bacteria in the world and it’s all around us right now it’s invisible, right need a microscope. But those those things can work on on that nectar if it wasn’t, you know, below 18% moisture content and the views we’ll be making be and there’s you know, anecdotal evidence in nature where there’s a beehive in a tree and you know, the tree branch breaks and the bees leaving the hives kind of messed up and rainwater floods and Mead can spontaneously fermented nature. So I haven’t seen that myself. But I’ve read some stories.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 23:35

So we’ve seen the YouTube videos of the drunken bears.

Jeff Herbert 23:41

Absolutely. So Bear goes smashes up a beehive he’s looking for grubs, right? They don’t care honey is just a makes the grubs go down, right. So they want protein from the grubs. They smash it up the bees leave bear gets stung rainwater gets in and then who knows? Yeah, the bears can be, you know, making me not the same way we make it but you know, good on those guys. So, so we’re gonna, we’re gonna reverse that process by adding water back in. So if we do that, that’s a traditional B. But instead of water or in addition to water, we can add any legal route or spice to that fermentation. We can add those those ingredients at the end of fermentation to retain a little extra character. We can add them after we can add them in the barrel after the barrel that we’ve made over 400 products in 10 years. And so it would be almost impossible you have incredible

Drew Thomas Hendricks 24:28

cell sheets and the amount of products that you’ve tried. That is it is impressive.

Bianca Harmon 24:34

When are you using like like this blueberry one really sticks out to me. So are you using blueberries? Are you using that like are you Where are you getting fruit for all of these?

Jeff Herbert 24:45

It depends on the recipe. So we use different types of fruit juice, fruit purees whole fruit, frozen fruit. I’m going to finish this glass and I was I was just thinking we would you know since you since you asked how we do it before rose peaches with liquid nitrogen to make this mean. And so when you freeze fruit, you break down the cell walls and it allows you to extract more flavour and colour from the fruit. So there are all different processes and preparations of fruit and different ingredients that we use, we’ve used whole vanilla beans, vanilla bean paste, we’ve tried vanilla extract, there’s all different ways to get vanilla into a product. So I feel like part of the Superstition style in the way it’s evolved is i I’ve never issued any any, you know, like production methods or, or processes or, or different types of ingredients, we want to use what we can source and find that makes the best end result. And that means we have a wind press, that means we’ve used liquid nitrogen, it means all of these crazy things. It’s also a lot of fun. And, you know, there’s a, you know, graphic design and marketing aspect of using

Drew Thomas Hendricks 25:52

what I love your designs. So before we talk about some of your most successful needs, all that experimentation, there has to be some that just No, I’m not gonna do that again.

Jeff Herbert 26:02

So, I’ve only had to like actually dump a couple of batches in 10 years, which is amazing. One really big and where we had an equipment failure with a glycol machine that was set. But, but as far as things not working out, we get to avoid that almost entirely through two different ways. One, we’re really great at adapting. So we we made a meet with my friends from MotoSonora. They’re a relatively new brewery in Tucson, Arizona, and they have this really great branding, and then we just we hit it off and we’re like we’ve got to do something. So again, talking about Belgian beers. Normally, I don’t do Belgian beers, if collabs it’s usually like an IPA or something. But we decided to make a triple. And that’s one of my favorite styles of beer to drink. And it was one of my favorite cells to brew, it’s a homebrewer. And so these guys, as you know, on brands, they took a five gallon keg of triple yeast from our collab and drove it up on a motorcycle. And that was the yeast that we use to ferment this Mead that we had made, we have never used that exact kind of ale yeast we’ve used all different, we can call them Metis. Honestly, they’re mostly different types of wine needs for red wine, red or white wine grapes. But we have used alias we’ve co fermented with both as well. And so we did our first true Westmalle style triple ale yeast fermentation of a traditional mead, and we put that into three, heavy toast brand new American oak barrel, so see what would happen. And that wasn’t done like throwing spaghetti on the wall style. I mean, that was intentional. But but the thing was in the beginning, none of us like to me like it was it was weird. It was phenolic. And we’re like, honestly, we didn’t know if it was going to gonna get good. And we’re like, well, we’re trying to think of what can we do, right? So we’ve sold these barrels, about six months went by and we’re like, okay, it’s getting better. I got goosebumps right now I tried them the other day, unbelievable. Like, seriously, top two or three traditional meads I’ve had in my life. Amazing. 

And so we liked we have three barrels, we like one of them so much, we’re gonna we’re gonna package that as a traditional mead, Asian heavy toasting alphabet with a triple use. And then we’re gonna do this BlackBerry version of of the other two barrels, because we, we bench trials, right? All of these different fruits, and we had 12 different types of fruits, different juices, and we took the traditional mead out of the barrel, and we did little bits of blending, and we’re measuring everything with the milliliters and sub there were some close seconds, but the BlackBerry just nailed it. It was, it was fantastic. Oh, yeah. And it’s a long locker. So we’re gonna do this BlackBerry may not have. So that’s kind of explains right? The two ways, right? So the one way is waiting, being patient, and hopefully, it’s going to get better. And that was, you know, kind of how homebrewers made me when I started, you’d make a Mead, you didn’t manage the fermentation? Because you didn’t know how, and didn’t know that was a thing. That’s something we can tell it’s a huge difference between what we do and other types of alcohol, but, but you would just wait and everyone’s like, Oh yeah, in a year, it’s gonna be good. It was probably true. Because if you don’t have a happy healthy fermentation, you’re gonna create all flavors or aromas in the process. And if you’re lucky, you cross your fingers and it goes away and you have something you really dig 612 months or longer down the road, but the real way that you do crazy new things is through bench trialing. So you take a small amount of something that you made and then you you trial it we literally have a lab bench and you know you’ve got eyedroppers and measures and and you try all these different things and you think okay, what works best and that’s what we did in the case of this you know, this triple fermented mead and we found out that BlackBerry was that it killed it but the what but it turned out to be so good. So it was time on one hand, fixed our issue and became amazing with a barrel character as well. And then bench trialing a lot is to determine the best, you know, fruit to add in post barrel with this.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 30:01

That’s smart. That’s very smart, very scientific in the way you’re going about that. But now we didn’t do the pre Brit bench trials, who comes up with all this inspiration for 400 different products is it just your, your mind, and you’re

Jeff Herbert 30:14

absolutely not, I still come up with a lot of ideas. But anyone that works for us, certainly in production, they’re making stuff that like we have our Tuesday today, it’s our sort of big sales and production meeting. So this afternoon, there are gonna be things that show up in the sample jars I’ve never even heard of, I mean, it just happens every week. So our team is constantly innovating, evolving, trying new things at this small bench trial level, and bringing me examples to try and approve or saying oh, it’s but let’s add this or had that are a little more of this, or this needs more sweetness or, or whatnot. So we do that on an individual basis, we do it just with our imagination, and then we play. But anyone that works for Superstition, that wants to take the time to go out to production, if they don’t work there can can make something at the bench trial level test batch level. And we have had several things that I’ve never even conceived of become really popular products, because of our staff. And again, that goes back to having great people. And that is a culture that we have developed. And I thought when I started a company, while I didn’t have the awareness and that kind of 30,000 foot level of strategy I have today back 10 years ago couldn’t have right. I always wanted to create more than just really great mead, I wanted to create a great company, I wanted to create a great corporate culture where people feel inspired, and and valued. And I think that that’s one of the ways that you do that, in a concrete way is you tell people go ahead and come up with an idea and like, let’s test it, let’s test it together. And, and try not to get your feelings hurt if we don’t use the name or the thing or I have lots of dumb ideas to that don’t make it off to the shelf. Right. And that’s

Drew Thomas Hendricks 31:51

a creative culture of creativity. But so I think that a lot of the success. I mean, hearing that it kind of mirrors some of the things he’s hearing in the biggest companies like 3am always had always open to the internal inventions or Google, spend 30% of your time on your own little projects to bring in that creativity. Sounds like you’re doing that. And that’s something you don’t see too often in wineries. It’s always just the house style, or it’s the winemakers vision, and everyone else is kind of there to support that. I love that I love

Jeff Herbert 32:24

about like the trappist, you know, brewery model where you make three beers. Or you make one thing like, Oh my God, my life would be so much easier. But I’m glad those guys do that. I love those products. But that’s just not in my DNA. And, and I couldn’t imagine that that’s very, I mean, they I guess they get creative spiritually or something. But like when it comes to making products, you know,

Drew Thomas Hendricks 32:51

that it’s that real Zen Buddhist just kind of doing one thing. I’m going to be the best floor sweeper ever. So they do

Jeff Herbert 32:59

that. But that’s not me. I’ve always been half assed and a lot of things. I’m okay with that, you know,

Drew Thomas Hendricks 33:07

talking about so talking about the skew. So you opened up a couple years ago, right at the heart of COVID, he decided to open up the world’s first meadery wine, food pairings.

Jeff Herbert 33:17

So yeah, we were really on a roll in 2019. My, my wife and I were named the National Small Business persons of the Year by the SBA out of 30 million. We went to DC, we won Arizona, and we had, you know, 49 of the most amazing businesses, all from all different, you know, categories that were, you know, sort of competing to be named, who’s the best in the country, and we won that and we’re on this just crazy trajectory. And we had already planned at the time to open a second retail location and to test the concept of running something remotely because, you know, it’s 100 miles away. And, you know, I drive there and back once a week at least, but it’s still it’s still remote, we were gonna have to build a system that operated without us being there every day with really great people. And, and we and we did that. But yeah, we, I mean, one of the I think definitions of mental illness today is opening a restaurant. That’s the first of its kind and an up and coming area during a pandemic. Yeah, we did that in 2020. And, and, you know, it’s been challenging, for sure. We’re going through the same challenges when it comes to not as much staffing these days. We have some great people. That was a challenge for a while, but our core folks that are with us say many of them were there since day one two years ago. But um, but you know, the supply chain issues, the fluctuating prices, the cost, I mean, I mean, what I’m going to skip any sort of, you know, personal or political commentary, but let’s just say the price of gas we all know is really high and that makes every single thing that is produced or consumed in this country costs so much more than if I just

Drew Thomas Hendricks 34:57

paid $20 for a hamburger and a place that I use to pay about 10. So yeah, it’s it’s kind of it’s it’s kind of everywhere,

Bianca Harmon 35:04

absolutely your schedules. So

Jeff Herbert 35:07

nothing’s being done really done about it. But anyways, we’re adapting and evolving as best we can do. And and we’re, you know, we can do, and I say this almost weekly as a reminder to my step, what we can do is we can make the best products in the world. And we do that every day, we can, we can offer the best service in our restaurants. And our reviews reflect that every day. A year after we opened Phoenix, Superstition Downtown, one of the the main foodie publications Phoenix magazine, named as one of the best new restaurants of the year in 2021. So we’re doing everything within our power to provide the best service the best products, and we’re doing it in the best environment that designed down there, that what we came up with is amazing design on a dime. But you would never know it. I mean, the steel in the wood and the noble building materials that made both our tasting room in Prescott and what we what we did in Phoenix is incredible. So your food is second to none. And I am a foodie. I’ve been to three star Michelin places in Asia and Europe. And it’s not that but there are things we make that I enjoy as much or more than anything I’ve had anywhere

Drew Thomas Hendricks 36:13

else. I gotta say those bail bonds must be awesome with need, it’s our best

Jeff Herbert 36:17

selling thing every single week is our Portelli bail bond. And the only reason that’s on our menu is because I was doing a meet the Meet maker event at McKellar, Taipei in Taiwan. And I showed up early because you know, trying to have good impression, right? And want to have a beer and warm up and you know, get ready to talk to a bunch of new folks. And so you got so many food handlers, I can’t pick up a whole bunch. And I was like, I know what that is. And so this pork belly bell button came to home, right? And I’m like, This is amazing. I’m like, if I ever have a restaurant, I’m going to have this. And that’s how we made the menu. From years of traveling around and going to different countries. I definitely would take notes and we’d say, hey, if we ever have a restaurant, we’re going to put this on the menu. And so our menu today is very international. Right. So, but also our building happened to be the first Chinese market in Arizona was built 1928. So we have, you know, some homage to the past when it comes to some of the Asian food, and also our chef Adolfo. You know he’s Hispanic. And of course can you know, cook the hell out of that. But he’s worked in a lot of Asian restaurants. So we do a pop up sushi menu on Friday, Saturdays. And so we have food inspired from from our travels from all over the world that makes the menu.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 37:26

That’s fantastic. How many. So how many SKUs are not SKUs, that’s not the right word, how many different meads are available, like on a rotating basis at that.

Jeff Herbert 37:34

If you were to like at this moment, in our tasting room in Prescott or in Phoenix, not counting our reserve lists, you can order 50 to 60 different samples of mead or cider. Wow. And I’ve only been to a couple places I’m thinking of like the brewery in Placentia California, a couple of wineries that have that sort of a catalog available. And it’s it’s amazing you and that’s why you’re going to find something you love. Now in general our style is still meaning there’s no bubbles like wine 13 14% semi sweet, but balanced. So that would be like if you’re throwing a dart at the Superstition average that would kind of nail it but we do session needs and cans and ciders with carbonation. Some are filtered, some are unfilled. But the most flavorful session needs, you know lower ABV six percenters that that anyone’s ever made. And we also do crazy multi year barrel aged projects with bottles that are very expensive because of that time and, and ingredients that go into them that, you know, through competition and reviews of rival anything that’s ever been made. And so our range is huge. We do things that are bone dry. I mean, I could go on and on on that. Yeah, I mean, there’s 400 Plus examples of different products that we

Bianca Harmon 38:50

see you’re gonna find something you’re consistently doing. Absolutely.

Jeff Herbert 38:54

So we have a core cider blueberry spaceship box. It’s the top rated cider in the world on untapped and has been for years. It’s

Bianca Harmon 39:02

I looked at that one. I’m very intrigued by it. It’s cool because you

Jeff Herbert 39:05

know, it looks like purple champagne. You don’t have to use your imagination at all. It’s like granny smith apple tannin blueberry juice. It’s just it’s fun to drink. It goes with almost anything. And then so that’s our core cider. It comes in to 750 we have for 750 milliliter meads, we have lager mas de oro it’s you would think it’s sweet if you’re like really a bone dry wine drinker because you’re going to smell and taste honey aromatics, but it’s dry and we Asian in a bourbon barrel to you know even you know, balance that out further. But then we have our Mary and me we do three different dark berries with honey, and we have our blueberry hacks and then peanut butter jelly crime rounds out our fourth core bead and that’s called classic that’s really fun to make. And then we have two session needs in Cannes, we have doon blue, it’s a prickly pyramid, so 6% ABV carbonated it’s just delicious and BMO So, which is there’s no grapes in it and it tastes good. exactly like you mix champagne in orange juice 5050 So we’re using orange juice and honey exclusively to make the most of it and it’s like the most in a mimosa and it can

Drew Thomas Hendricks 40:10

sounds great now did was moving into the cans a recent endeavor

Jeff Herbert 40:15

about two years ago and I was one of those people that you know, if you told me 10 years ago when I started you’re going to be canning need one day I would have would have I would have like laughed the mead right out of my nose. I’m like I’m never putting my mead in a can you know, you have to adapt to market forces right and, and so I’m not gonna put liquid nitrogen super limited peach frozen specialty source Masamoto family farms fruit

Drew Thomas Hendricks 40:42

like Indigo expand, what does that sell for?

Jeff Herbert 40:45

So this is about $36 for this 375 But our cans are five to six bucks on the shelf. And so we went from exclusively using Arizona honey, and we still use Arizona and all of our bottled meads but we started sourcing international honey that cost us a little less was still amazing, like wildflower honey from Brazil and stuff like fantastic honey, but we had to find a way to to compete with my in my mind a double IPA. So we have a 16 ounce can of mead on the shelf for five to $6 retail. That’s great price point. So we have a daily drinker and we’ve we’ve never we did this one time with a 12 ounce slim for a barrel aged me we I just said I wouldn’t do that. But with trikes it was fairly cool. I’m going to try some new but but next year I think we’re going to come out with I haven’t even made the labels yet. I’m like currently in this like I need to go off on like a vision quest and figure out what these labels are going to look like but but I want to have 12 ounce cans me because that could bring our four pack price down to probably like 7099 for four pack. And so now we’re really getting into that daily drinker especially,

Drew Thomas Hendricks 41:49

I would think that would be a great gateway, because in the in the refrigerated section, I’m anticipated to be next to the seltzer is in the ciders. And people are going to grab it and they’re just going to sit there’s a little mental, assuming that they’re going to like it, versus having it over in the bottle section by the wine looks a little more exotic. Like they might grab the mead before they even realize it’s the mead in the can and then suddenly open their eyes to it.

Jeff Herbert 42:12

So and to put it in perspective, last year, about half of what we made was our blueberry spaceship box cider. That’s our that’s our best selling product for sure, that isn’t a 750. And we and we put it in kegs as well. We have tap handles all over. But about about 20% of what we did was the really high end, what some people call wine style needs, you know, super premium stuff, and about 30% was our cans and the cans are growing. So I have a feeling that while we’re always as we grow, we’re always gonna we’re gonna grow our barrel program, we’re always going to be making more of these ultra premium meads, because that’s what that’s kind of where our passion lies. That’s where reputation lies. But the more cans we sell, the more cider we sell, the more barrels we can have, right? Yeah, even if the percentage of that pie chart comes down to 10 or 5%, one day of these really high end meads in the in the in the CANS take off, that’s fine. And like you said, it’s a great introduction. Because, you know, not everyone’s going to spend that or can spend that for something special occasion or, you know, you’re just really into trying something that’s the best example of its kind in the world, though for the bottles, you know, but if you want to be able to crack something delicious and enjoy it every day, then you know, we make that too.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 43:25

That’s, that’s great. So Jeff, is we’re kind of wrapping down here. I usually ask how you stay motivated, but to kind of figure out your creativity and just getting new thing constantly. But I’m gonna ask it, how do you stay motivated? And where do you see the future of me growing?

Jeff Herbert 43:44

You know, I think, like, my whole life, you know, growing up playing sports, and my dad coaching and stuff, it was always like, you never quit, you know, and that was kind of like a, like a general mantra. I think that I don’t know, maybe it’s, you know, sort of, but that’s not that’s not part of me, you know, that’s not not in my head at all. And, and then you combine that sort of drive with inspiration and great staff. And that’s what keeps me motivated. I think all of the successes that we’ve had, whether it’s, you know, winning a medal at the Mazer cup for that business award, or, or really just seeing our staff come up with a concept and running with a program that they’ve, they’ve, they’ve developed and managed, like, that’s awesome. That’s what keeps me going is seeing all of these aspects of project management. Like we kind of started off with a couple of lines of this interview talking about, I love seeing things being built and see goals being met. So that’s what keeps me motivated. And as far as the future Mead goes, I, I say this all the time, and no one knows if it’s true, but there’s going to be a day where you go into a craft beer bar and they’ve got a meet on tap at every single craft beer bar in the world. And then there’s going to be to meads on tap, you know, and bottles and cans, and that’s starting to happen. I think that there are some major in indicators that will define the mead industry, no meadery has ever grown and sold like you see in the wine world, like you see in the beer world, one day, that’s going to happen to one of us, that’s going to be a major indicator that mead has arrived. But honestly, I think the biggest factor that’s going to define the future of mead and its potential is a really big company, whether it’s buying a meadery and scaling it or doing it themselves, taking advantage of an existing national national or international distribution system to take mead. And it’s not going to be a $30 bottle. It’s like the $100 bottle, it’s going to be a five or $6 can or less. And they’re get someone’s going to take that. And they’re going to get it into every grocery store chain, and every convenience store. And that’s when mead is going to arrive. That hasn’t happened. It may never know it no one can can can speculate that it will, but I kind of believe it will.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 45:54

I think the odds are in favour on that. I think it’s it logically it seems like it would. It’s logically So Jeff, where can people find out more about you and Superstition Meadery.

Jeff Herbert 46:05

So go to our website,, we have four different Instagram accounts, Superstition Meaders, just at Superstition our main account, but through that you can find our production facility and see behind the scenes stuff there, you can see amazing mead and food pairing stuff into downtown or Prescott tasting room. So I think the best way to connect with us is to go to our website, go to our social media, the update social media daily, reasonable meals and all of you can see what the latest stuff is. If you really want to be part of Superstition, on our website, you can join our Meet Club, which is a subscription based program just like any wine club, that’s a great way monthly or quarterly to have new things send to you. And and to get access to some really cool early releases. Our guild is full now. But usually December 1 of every year we open up our guild membership. Throw a huge guild party every year. That’s a really cool way to be a part of Superstition to get products no one else can get and to really be part of the core fan base if you’re really into it, but go to our website, go to social see what we’re doing follow us and I and we have a web store. We can ship to 40 states in DC. So I mean 80% of the country by state math, think about population math, it’s probably 95% of the country right? Yeah. So so go to go try some Superstition mead from our webstore Yeah, there are 40 or 50 things some days on there. And we have like really if you find something you really like order a couple of bottles because it might be a one off or you know just ask us shoot us an email, we pride ourselves on customer service constantly. So we’re always here for people that have any questions about, you know, what’s your order? What’s going

Drew Thomas Hendricks 47:44

on? Sounds great. Jeff, thank you so much for joining us today.

Jeff Herbert 47:49

Cool. It’s great speaking with you guys.

Outro 47:57

Thanks for listening to the Legends Behind the Craft podcast. We’ll see you again next time and be sure to click Subscribe to get future episodes.