Last Updated on March 24, 2023 by rise25
Michael Fairbrother started Moonlight Meadery in 2010 to bring ultra-premium meads and ciders to the market. He previously worked at Fairbrother Software Consulting LLC as a Co-founder and CTO and was the President of Brew Free or Die, New Hampshire’s first homebrew club.
For Michael and the rest of the Moonlight Meadery team, it is more than just a product and a process — it’s an obsession. With over one million bottles sold and over 20 international awards, Moonlight Meadery is proudly positioned as one of the best meaderies in the world.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- Michael Fairbrother shares how he got into the mead industry
- What sparked Michael’s shift from wine and fermentation to mead?
- The evolution of mead over the last 14 years
- Michael’s advice to new fledgling meaderies
- A glimpse of Moonlight Meadery’s farmstead
- Why segmenting products into different distribution channels is crucial
- Michael’s marketing strategy for Moonlight Meadery
In this episode with Michael Fairbrother
How do you start a brewery and differentiate yourself from a sea of competitors? Today’s guest has successfully set himself apart by creating flavors nobody’s ever had before.
Michael Fairbrother has been recognized as New England’s best mead maker for three consecutive years. He quit his full-time day job in 2010 and progressed from moonlighting as a mead maker to full-time production.
In today’s episode of the Legends Behind the Craft podcast, Drew Thomas Hendricks is joined by Michael Fairbrother, Founder and Head Meadmaker of Moonlight Meadery, to discuss Michael’s shift from wine and fermentation to mead. Michael also talks about his mead-making process over the last decade, his observation of industry changes, and advice to up-and-coming meaderies.
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.
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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
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 we have a meadery on the show. We’re gonna learn a lot about that coming up. But today’s episode 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 their revenue. Go to barrelsahead.com today to learn more. Today I’m super excited to talk with Michael Fairbrother. Michael is the Founder and Head Meadmaker at Moonlight Meadery in Londonderry, New Hampshire. Welcome to the show, Michael.
Michael Fairbrother 1:03
Drew, thank you so much. Pleasure to be here.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 1:06
Oh, thank you so much for being on. So Michael, you you’re one of the OGs in the meat world.
Michael Fairbrother 1:12
Not quite the original
Drew Thomas Hendricks 1:15
back to Chaucer and Canterbury Tales, but in modern need history, talk to me, how’d you get into this?
Michael Fairbrother 1:22
So I started homebrewing back in 1995. And it took me a few years to figure out what I wanted to do, and how I wanted to do what I became known for. But I started with beer and then I started making cider and and it was July of 1995 where somebody offered me a Mead. I had no idea what a Mead was. But I don’t want to embarrass myself and say that so I passed my glass over. If you’ve ever seen a little baby, try something that was sort of research time and see its eyes popped right up with a big smile. Well, that was my reaction. I looked at Sky said what is this? He said to Apple neat. I’m like, What’s me? He said a wine made from honey. And I’m like, how do you make wine from honey because honey doesn’t go bad. He said, Well, you dilute it with apple juice or water or whatever you want to use. And else you can then add yeast and will ferment like wine. And I got pretty good at it. So 2010 I quit my day job and started this company. And we sold just over three and a half million bottles the last 12 years. And I’ve been flown all over the world to talk and present about me. They’ve taught at the Robert Mondavi Institute at UC Davis. I do what I love and love what I do. And it’s it’s it’s amazing to see customers reaction because they think me it’s gonna be super sweet. And it can be sweet. And it can be dessert like sweet, but it doesn’t have to be. So we’ve, we’ve been known and we’ve won meadmaker the year or grand champion at the international competitions in San Diego, with our meats, and you know, we’ve won medals every single time we’ve entered a competition. So it’s really, for me about the process and thoughts and making something great. And we distributed 38 states in this country have exported to Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, Canada. So it’s a it’s a burgeoning market. And it’s just it’s a lot of work is what it comes down to.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 3:16
I can only imagine. So you say, what was your day job before? Yeah,
Michael Fairbrother 3:20
I was a chief technical officer of a software company. So I worked my way from software engineering up into executive management. And this will now be my 30 year 20th year of management of, of teams. So a lot easier managing winemakers and Mead makers and brewers than software engineers, but it’s all the same thing. quality and quality out.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 3:45
Yeah, I can imagine on that. So he started as so that I get that I always get wonder so you start as a home brewer and then move towards the winery side and the fermentation side of honey, what excited you about mead?
Michael Fairbrother 3:58
So I’m a huge beer fan. And I’ve been a
Drew Thomas Hendricks 4:03
part of it too, which we’ll get to yes.
Michael Fairbrother 4:05
So the what excites me about fermentation in the skills of fermentation is it’s all very similar. But it’s all unique. And the smallest magnitude of changes make go from average to exceptional. And so, you know, when I was thinking about what do I want to do and start a brewery, I’m like, there’s so many great breweries out there. How can I? How can I differentiate myself and at the time, there weren’t so many great mysteries or any real mysteries to speak of. And so I said, Well, if I’m going to do something, do it in that in the most crowded field. And so that’s why we chose me and now we’ve broken into cider, hard cider and beer as well. But our beer we’re only going to sell here in our farmstead so it’s it’s kind of we’re going for a destination location. So we’ve got 100 acre Farmstead, I can see, you know, 45 Miles The 270 degree view from the dining room or my currently in my office. And it’s it’s the end consumer, right? So it’s it’s that look on the customer’s face and making something nobody’s ever had before and making something really well is really what’s motivated me over the last 12 13 years now commercially,
Drew Thomas Hendricks 5:23
for sure. Now, like over the last like 1314 years as you’re kind of building up Moonlight Meadery how was that was New Hampshire that already have sort of a large kind of need? No. Population? Like, how is the how is meat as a category evolved over the last 14 years?
Michael Fairbrother 5:41
Yeah. So when I started, there were 50 eateries in the country, and now there’s over 500. So it’s, it’s pretty significant. The number of people that have taken my story and, and tried to see oh, if Michael Fairbrother can do it, we can do it. And there are several great mysteries that are coming along behind me. But that’s why I’ve taught and helped build a class at UC Davis, which was to really kind of the better the need is in the industry, the better my company will do. Right? So it’s, it’s a, it’s a tough sell when you’re walking into a store in St. Petersburg, Florida. And I own while we’ve had me, but we don’t like it. And I’m like, Well, you haven’t had mine. So then I give them a taste. And I go, Okay, this is different, right? And that’s this past February, I was teaching in Warsaw, Poland, to international group of meat makers and talking about balance of flavor. And and what makes that difference, what makes a Mead go from good to great. How do you how do you manage that? And how do you, you know, talk about that, how you consistently plan for that. And all that it’s got to do with that? Like I said, that smallest delta of of things to really, anybody can make wine, right? You take some grapes, and you ferment it, but as a good, you might be able to get your friends to drink it, but will people pay for it? And is it just the label is a pricing are what really makes people come back. And, you know, what we have is consistency and sales, right? So we see that consumer coming in time and time again. And what they’ve come to known to expect about us is that consistent flavor, and consistency of quality. And that, you know, we don’t try to be the cheapest meat in the marketplace, but we try to be the best. And you know that you have to, as a business owner define what you want to be and why. And then drive towards that. Right? So how do you consistently be the best? Well, it’s in quality of ingredients. It’s measuring every aspect of what’s going on. So we have tools in our measuring devices in our fermenters so that we know the you know what temperature things are fermenting at what’s the degree of attenuation, how is this all happening real time? What’s the co2 producing? So we can we can measure every single aspect and no, knowledge is power. And here’s why this matters so much.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 8:09
Yeah, you start with the start with the science, then you can actually do the art.
Michael Fairbrother 8:13
Oh, well, I started the other way. I started with the art and then I finally became a scientist to say okay, well if I’m not the guy doing it every single time, how do I how do I train my staff to do this consistently for me because I’m trying to really push myself up up the food chain to just manage that the business not managing the fermentation.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 8:37
So as you go out and you’re teaching at UC Davis and all these classes, what advice do you give like the the new fledgling meadery on how to promote themselves and actually get a foothold in the marketplace?
Michael Fairbrother 8:51
So they’ve got to be able to be the best and know what the best is and taste that right. So you know, I’ve been a beer meat and cider judge for the last 2028 years now. So it’s, it’s tasting a lot of really bad meat. And knowing why a bad meat is where it is because it’s it’s the smallest like I’ll keep going back to the smallest Delta know, where, where you’re at and where you’re trying to go to and what does it take to fix that? So
Drew Thomas Hendricks 9:24
I’ve had a few I’ve had my share of good meat and my share of pretty not so great need, and I can get what in your opinion, what what’s the biggest flaw in in need when people guys it’s not for me? Yeah, temperature
Michael Fairbrother 9:37
control fermentation. So the right amount of yeast, the right type of yeast, and how how you’re balancing that acidity and sweetness and yeah, because there’s a perception of sweetness, which really goes a long way towards giving the end consumer balance right. So even if it’s a sweet Mead, like our credits apple pie Hmm, the tartness from the apples that we’re using given that that balance and that 14% ABV also plays into that, that that the smallest microbes have are pieces of, of trying to make it all well balanced piece. But don’t try to make it taste like apple pie, like cramming it down the spices into it, it’s light. And, and so by using as little as I can, the average consumer, when they taste it, they taste the spices, but they taste the apple and the honey in it represents an apple pie in their mind. But if I made it tastes like apple pie, just to me, that may not taste the same to everybody else who tries it. So, you know, that’s how we’ve gotten that one to be, you know, one of our best sellers with, you know, the National honey board ranking it the 15th most influential honey beverage over the last 200 years is, you know, that’s it. You can’t when you’re trying to make something amazing. You have to take yourself out of the equation, you can’t just make it for you. You have to make it for a really broad audience. And that doesn’t mean dumbing it down. But it means sticking to something in believing in it in a way that you’ve you’ve never thought possible. I mean, we we make a barrel aged meat that’s been aged for 10 years. That’s the
Drew Thomas Hendricks 11:22
utopia X. Yes. ask you about that. And the category. Yeah, so
Michael Fairbrother 11:27
that one is our most expensive need. And it’s our most awarded me that we’ve made. So we’ve we’ve released 10 batches of this meat over the last 10 years,
Drew Thomas Hendricks 11:37
next 10 years. So it’s an old Samuel Adams.
Michael Fairbrother 11:43
Yeah, the latest release was 10 years in the cast. Next one will be your 15. So it’ll be 15 years and the utopia scoundrels Samuel Adams. And then our final release will be your 20. So 20 years in the cast. So this is a me that I do not touch. I do not disturb. And it’s, it’s, we’re sleeping dogs lie. You do not disturb type of thing.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 12:06
Like a whiskey release you you battled it. So you put it in the cast 10 years ago, and now you’ve you’re releasing a certain number of casts every year.
Michael Fairbrother 12:15
Well, every five years, every five years. Wow. Yeah. And we’ve, we’ve almost sold out. We’ve released 1000 bottles at $250 A bottle and we’re down to like, I think it’s 250 bottles left at this point in time. So it’s but yeah, is Jim Cook, founder of Samuel Adams sent me an email when they many years ago now. He said, Michael, I shared about a year Mead with my wife and I got to tell you a big improvement on wine all the best Jim. I looked at that email. And I said to my wife, what’s it take for a billionaire to send me an email? And he’s never going to tell me it’s better than beer. So yeah, that was as close as I could get. And they’ve been really great. To help us along the way have won the Samuel Adams brewing the American dream. I think it was back in 2011 12. Somewhere around that time, but I’ve always started my career as being a fan of, of craft beverages. And, you know, that’s, that’s what’s gotten me here, which is, you know, knowing that crafts can be more than just beer. It can be Mead and cider, and you know, wine and everything else in between, you know, and how do you? How do you capitalize on that? Right? So I paid attention to every little detail in the world since I was a little kid, right? When Wrigley’s gum went from seven, six to five, I paid attention when smart food popcorn came out in 1987, they gave every kid in college a free bag of popcorn. The popcorn in 1980s Was this dayglo orange stuff that was nobody would ever give to anybody. And yeah, here comes smart food saying well, we’re gonna change that trend. And we’re gonna give everybody a free bag. And it was tasty. And it was natural, and it was great. And they sold that company for a billion dollars. And when Ben and Jerry’s wanted to start their company, you know, half gallon of ice cream was like $1.29 and they wanted to sell a pint of ice cream for $3.50. So how do you take half the size for twice the price, you know, or quadruple the price based on that size and succeed and what they knew is make it about the flavor, right make it about consistency and quality and amazement, and everything else will come together. And so when I started my company, you know everything I did was about you know, not worrying about the gasoline or the cash to drive the business but you know, take the car or the company where I wanted to go and that’s that’s how I view money which is money is to accompany like gasoline is to a car. You can’t go far without it. You definitely know it’s not the reason I’m here. The reason I’m here is because I want to make great product and see that expression on people’s faces. And that’s why we started our new Farmstead, you know, which is you know, this 100 acre, you know, middle of nowhere in New Hampshire location but you know, if you look at destination brewery locations across New England, you got Hill Farmstead, you got Trillium treehouse. Well, I’m building the first one in New Hampshire, which is over the hidden Moon brewing at over the moon farmstead. And so we’ve we’ve really kind of never let anybody tell you where you can go to find where you want to go and figure out how to do it. And that’s, that’s what I’ve been the best at, which is, I saw problems, right? So if, if, if I would listen to everybody, I told me, I couldn’t do this. So you first ask what was New Hampshire, this mecca of me? No, there was no injuries. There was one that was going out of business, and I bought all their equipment and commission here and in the state, laughed at me and said, Don’t ever quit your day job, you never sell a bottle. And you know, they’re my big one of my biggest customers in the country. So, you know, it’s the success of a small business owner in any craft industry is based on perseverance. So never giving up, always understanding what your story is, and how to make that story stand out and understand what makes you different. So what I was good at is understanding, it’s about the experience, it’s about getting customers into my shop, and understanding, you know, how to give them the value of a tour and tasting without losing my shirt, whether it’s with Groupon or LivingSocial, back in the day, and driving that. So when our average customer came into our gift shop, they spent about $65, a couple. And so you know, that was a real strong data indicator for me to say, okay, I can work with LivingSocial and Groupon, to come in and do tours. But how do I create perceived value so that when you discount perceived value, you’re not discounting and going out of business, you’re, you’ve essentially figured out the magic sauce to it. When they wrote a book on Groupon, they included me in their book and said, you know, we like what you’ve figured out. And we want to tell customers, our customers about this, and why this works. Because let’s say I was giving you had a restaurant, and I was giving away a free slice of pie with every group on customer came in. That’s real value. Yeah, if you discount real value, you lose money.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 17:33
Mistake people made there.
Michael Fairbrother 17:35
Yeah, well, and you can’t, you can’t overcome it, because it’s there’s real costs associated. But for us, we are happy to do tours and tastings. And we used to do them for free. But we switched the model to doing them for a price and the customers got that perception of value because we were spending one on one time with them, we’re giving them a great tour, you’re building them into our story, letting them be car become part of what we were doing. And it didn’t really cost me anything. And at the end of the day, you know, I made money. So we went from a free tour and tasting to, you know, essentially, Groupon cuts the price in half. So $50 tour and tasting for two becomes 25 on that 25 We get 1250 So 1250 To start with over zero is six significant amount of money compared to zero and then those customers would spend $65. So here I am bringing in 70 7250 per couple that they delivered to my doorstep each and every time and that’s that’s why we’re able to make that a really successful venture for us. And now that we have this farmstead with this epic view and hiking trails and everything else
Drew Thomas Hendricks 18:45
when did that when did the farmstead come online? Online?
Michael Fairbrother 18:48
Yeah, this officially the spring, so May of this year. We now have year round capacity. We’re working on the restaurant. Restaurant shouldn’t be open. It’s going to be a beehive the bistro as my wife likes to call it. Uh huh. And it’s should be 100 person venue. We’re working on a wedding venue as well. So we’ll have up to 200 person wedding in Oh, that’s pretty nice.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 19:13
You can handle some events too as well. Yeah,
Michael Fairbrother 19:15
we’ve got 108 Because they had a lot of things and then we’ll be moving our winery or meadery and brewery up here from Londonderry so this and you know what I’ve paid rent over the last 12 years in Londonderry would have bought this property for cash so it’s it’s a
Drew Thomas Hendricks 19:33
Yeah. On the other 100 Acres is their crops are Yeah,
Michael Fairbrother 19:37
we have a Hey apples, cultivated blueberries and raspberry bushes so well, blackberry bushes but we’re will eventually probably put in more apple trees as we continue to grow but we were up on top of this hill so we can see from least a 40 mile five mile view from north to south in New Hampshire which is a is pretty just breathtaking to see.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 20:02
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah, that would be great. So then eventually do you envision most of your the fruit coming going into your needs and your ciders coming from the firm said
Michael Fairbrother 20:13
empty some not. So we were pretty large scale these days. I mean, our typical cider purchases about 7000 gallons.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 20:23
Okay, so, your, your artisanal, your, your artisanal releases,
Michael Fairbrother 20:28
yeah, we might have some farmstead or, or heritage releases that we do, but we tend to put, so it’s here’s another lesson for any your business folks that are trying to manage their companies. Yeah, you have to put quality first, right? So local doesn’t mean the best. Best means the best, right? So if a local is the best, that’s what you want to use. But I don’t do anything based on cost, per se, I try to find the best quality first, right? Because if it’s cheap, and it’s garbage, it’s not going to do any kids. Right? So you need quality ingredients to make quality, Mead, cider and beer. And that means bar none. That’s where you have to start. And so if you also find local that can fill that need, and has that quality, perfect. But if not, then do not bank on that. Right. So that’s that’s the, the one thing I really tried to stress with people is to know, your quality first. And then local, like we used to make a certified organic meat. And then our local agency here in the state of New Hampshire dropped their certification process. So we end up giving up our certification. It turns out not a lot of customers buy organically certified alcohol. It’s just not the right marketing. endeavor for people that want organic. It’s not to say there aren’t some, but it’s a there’s no cost value just to occasion on a high end product or high expensive product, like what we make to make that work for everybody. Yeah,
Drew Thomas Hendricks 22:07
I think I mean, in the wine category, like with a grape, grape wine, you you do see that whole organic quality, but there’s such a, it’s, it’s such a large category can segment down to that section versus like me, like, over the last 14 years with distribution and seeing me categorize itself on the the big box store shelves? How? How have you seen that evolved? And how do you see it moving forward? So as is it as category on the beer? Is it a category on the wine? Where do they stock it? Yeah,
Michael Fairbrother 22:45
a lot of the bigger box stores, the national chains that we deal with, put us in the desert wine section. Yeah, that’s which is really hard for us because the craft wine buyer is not anywhere near as adventurous as craft beer buyer. So the best product placement we’ve seen market after market is in craft cider or craft beer section of the store, because those buyers are tending to look for something new. That whereas the wine buyer is really kind of focused on what they’re heading after, you know, they may want meat and they may trip on to the meat section. But, you know, the the craft beer buyers are looking for any new labels. And, you know, I’ve done so many podcasts over the years with the various home brewing and brewing and networking shows that you really kind of focus. And that’s why I’ve gotten to where we’ve gotten, you know, with 38 states of distribution, we’ve seen sales and certain markets grow 500% over a given year. And then they they turn around open up the market to a lot more meaderies because they see it it’s a new category and they want everybody and then my sales plummet and everybody’s like, well see your sales not so strong as it was before you just dropped the bottom out. Yeah, so it’s um, but you know, we do so much business with like, Total Wine and more across the country, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s in such that, you know, they, they bring a really strong consistent market base to us, and they they’re pretty consistent at how to present and, you know, like for Trader Joe’s, for example, you know, we don’t do tastings in their, their stores, they don’t allow us to, and but they’re one of my biggest customers here in New Hampshire, and it’s every week order after order. So there are customers buying everything I make consistently at these stores. So it’s, you know, how do I then turn around and go talk to like a state like Tennessee or whoever and say, you know, our PIO and Iowa, you know, here’s a working model. What do we need to do to help bring that to you and with a small team like we have, you know, free COVID We use I used to travel the country, my son runs sales and marketing. He traveled the country. My wife was also in the sales and marketing department, she traveled the company or country. Well, and now it’s pretty much. Yeah, none of us are traveling. So how do we continue that? And, you know, the biggest states for us in sales are Florida, Texas, and in California, and, you know, what makes those states special. This is a population, right. And it’s the consistency of the quality of the product that we make. That keeps our, our sales numbers high. Yeah, but, you know, the further I get away from New Hampshire, the better unknown in the meat world as doing something amazing. But you know, local, considered local, and everybody goes local is not so good. So I see, what do you got? What do you bring into the table? And now I’m like, Well, I, I do pretty good numbers. And so then I talked about what the grocery stores here in New Hampshire do. And, you know, we can sell like grocery stores, liquor stores, and small craft beer stores. And, yeah, we make different products for different markets, right. So if you want to get our products like our utopian acts, at, you know, a store, you got to go to New Hampshire liquor stores, if you want to get it from us, we carry it. But you know, the major grocery stores carry six SKUs, and then everybody else carries everything in between. So I’ve really tried to think about segmenting my, my markets and my products based on the needs of my customers, right. And so it’s not easy to do that. A lot of money sitting on a shelf sometimes, but you know, it’s if, if the store that’s down the street carries everything I make, then why would the little craft beer store carry anything I mean, the bigger the box store, the lower the price point, usually, because they can make it up on steak and eggs and everything else. So I’ve had to think about what goes into a market and why I can’t under sell those accounts. Because if I under sell them, then nobody’s going to come to them to buy product, they’ll come to me. And I can’t, I can’t be running the store 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So you’ll it’s this value add to not being the cheapest, and making your while not making but giving your customers a reason to go buy consistently from the stores and maybe bump into somebody else when they’re in that store and say, Hey, have you tried this? This is pretty amazing. This is from Moonlight Meadery. And I love that they’re local here in New Hampshire. And they Yeah, but you know, when I get to Washington State, you know, or we’re in Washington State. I can’t go do that. I can’t. Yeah, so it’s now my distributors. Who can do that right. And think about, all right, well, they’re making this for bars and making this for these Apple only cider bars, you know, they’re making this for this market. They’re making this for the total wines and more than making this for the Bevmo. is, it’s
Drew Thomas Hendricks 28:11
your product to the different distribution channels.
Michael Fairbrother 28:13
Yeah, it’s exactly right. Which is not easy, right? Yeah, no,
Drew Thomas Hendricks 28:17
that’s a trumpet. And I, I really liked that, because I come from the small independent wine store was where I got my start in the wine industry. And I was always looking for that product that isn’t going to compete with Bevmo, that isn’t going to be in Costco, or Safeway. So for me that was particularly particularly appealing.
Michael Fairbrother 28:36
Well, it’s, it’s, it’s attractive to try to think about how you survive in the big box stores. But then you gotta realize how many there are? And what about all the stores that don’t fit that category? Right? So, you know, as a previous software engineer, I think of problems in a very dynamic space. And I try to think about how do I how do I work with small boutique store? And then how do we work with tastings and boutique stores? And what’s the cost sharing revenue system we’re going to look like if they’re going to sample our bottles or our needs. So like if you were to go to Disney World and go to a savannah B, and come in and try Mead while we’re helping to make sure that they can do those samples, customers try the meat and then they buy it. And you know, that’s it’s a liquid to lips is kind of a industry term. And I’ve seen Australia wants doing a tasting and this this gentleman honed multi bar thing in Sydney. He said Michael, he said if your product sucks, you’d never go far. He said but your products amazing your labels at the time. This was like 10 years ago, could use some help. But yeah, he said, You can fix your labels, you can fix your product. So this is your strength, right, which is it’s always been about liquid you know, and understanding what makes it taste good and why and how to cook insistently drive, you know, trying to encourage customers to taste it, you know, whether we’ve done tasting events, you know, I’ve literally traveled the whole country and done these events. And it’s that expression when you see somebody try something for the first time the eyes light right up, you know, it’s it’s that simplicity. And this is what I see in my tasting room day after day, right? So I don’t have to go far to see it anymore. But, you know, there’s a reason we can do this consistently. And it’s it’s that care and attention because you can’t fake that, that sincerity that is required to get to this level of success.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 30:42
Sure, sir. No, it can’t fake the sincerity and you can’t fake motivation. How do you stay motivated? Overall.
Michael Fairbrother 30:52
That fear of failure is a fear of failure is a never ending. devil on my shoulder, I, I’ve, I’ve worked my life to get to where I’ve gotten to, and I keep taking on more and more challenges because I believe in what I’m doing. And you know, the hardest part for me to start my company was to start the company. But once I started the company, I look back at myself, and I said, What was I so afraid of? Yeah, I was afraid of, did I have the courage to do this? And now I look at myself and I’m going, Why be afraid? Why why you think you’re gonna fail, you’ve done so much to get to here. And it’s not everybody has that skill. And it’s, it’s, there are a lot of people that will fail and have failed. And I think I’m lucky being lucky. And you know, that or
Drew Thomas Hendricks 31:52
problem solving, as you’re saying, because a lot of people stick to a plan and they fail to deviate from the plan or solve the problems that are unexpected.
Michael Fairbrother 32:02
Yeah, you have to know how to deviate when required, but not when when maybe wanted this? Do you need something or do you want something or do you have to have it type of thing? You know, for us to branch into making hard cider it seems like logical I mean, I was making apple needs you know, the Apple need is a sizer. Yeah. Heiser is essentially a strong apple cider. So how can I not make those and now my cider is my number one selling item? And you know, we’ve we’ve we’ve learned our lessons the hard way I mean, we you know, making this 14% Alcohol needs versus a six and a half percent cider presents a whole new level of challenges from stabilization and oh, yeah, yeah, making sure you don’t creating bottle bombs or other problems that will lose.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 32:57
I had a bottle bomb just last week from a cider company that I’m a member of. I opened I opened the cap the thing hit the roof.
Michael Fairbrother 33:06
Yeah, that’s well, and you’re gonna be it’s a lot of lessons learned the hard way. I mean, I used to run meat for die, which is a hunger competition. And I was opening some packages and I put a ball on the table and I just happen to turn around to get the next bottle and the bottle exploded. Last went 20 feet around. And I was lucky I was looking at that bottle because you know it wasn’t smart enough to put on safety goggles or anything and I probably would have gotten some glass my eyes and that could have been the end of my vision so no,
Drew Thomas Hendricks 33:39
no are you expecting now safety goggles just handling bottles?
Michael Fairbrother 33:42
Yeah, well there’s you never know what the Homebrew
Drew Thomas Hendricks 33:45
homebrew you might need the safety goggles?
Michael Fairbrother 33:49
Yeah, it’s so we stopped that year. Oh, then the liquor commission was frowning upon us trying to run these evaluations and, you know, considering the hazards and whatnot, it’s even when you know fans and whatnot want to produce stuff and send it to me for evaluation. It’s, it’s kind of like well, I don’t know if that’s too smart of an idea. You know, what do I know about who’s making this and who they are and you know, what their intent is? And I mean, I want to believe everybody has the best of intentions but you know, it’s clear not everybody always has that so it’s my take unnecessary risks when you
Drew Thomas Hendricks 34:30
know, that makes sense. That makes sense. So kind of a step back or maybe forward talking about Moonlight Meadery In your How would you characterize your house style in the in the scope of need? I know it’s very rare, from dry to sweet but there’s sort of a house Hill style.
Michael Fairbrother 34:47
Yeah, 14 percents or or nominal average alcohol base. And then from there, it’s, you know, because I think of yeast as Um, my canvas to which I create my flavors from. So I’ve really worked for Lavell and 71 V, which is a white wine yeast, near France. And it’s the yeast I use on pretty much everything we make cider and Mead wise, because I know what it likes, I know what it wants, I know the temperature from it’s that very nicely, and I can get it to perform exactly like I want every single time. So the house brand is is really consistent, you know. And so we have windows of maybe lower pH and higher acidity and sweetness levels and such, but we can get in the window. And I I’ve told many, many, many people that we don’t try to make the same batch every single time, but we try to make an excellent every single time. And that depends on knowing that range of All right, well, if it’s a little bit sweeter, but it’s a little more acidic, that balances, right? So if you can balance, you can create that, that perception and that flavor. And sometimes our ingredients change pretty significantly out from under us. So you know, what might look dark purpley, red raspberry color one year, look lighter than next? And it’s a question of, you know, what do you do now? So customers gonna pour it into a glass logo. That doesn’t look like the last one I remember. And then they got to taste it. And then if you can kind of come close, like Yeah, okay, that’s close enough. That’s, that’s what I remember. But yeah, to know, I mean, imagine you’re ordering black and tan or American Pale Ale, and you get some looks like a stout. Right, so your eyes are gonna go, that is not what I’m ordering. But you know, whether that’s raspberries, or blueberries or something else with honey, that can happen, right, that those those shifts can be, you know, pretty significant. And, you know, from my perception side of the fence, yeah, I’m looking at, okay, we’re using the same source supplier, we’re using the same quantities, but we go from a dark, mahogany color to this light pink color. And what do I tell everybody? Right? Like, how do I how do I justify that? And the reality is, everything’s up for grabs, you have no control over a lot of this stuff. And the bigger the houses, I mean, you know, we’re not maybe the largest meter in the country, but we’re, we’re up there. I mean, we sell 100,000 Plus bottles, maybe two or 300,000 bottles a year,
Drew Thomas Hendricks 37:39
pretty production to ramp up in 10 years, or 12 14 years.
Michael Fairbrother 37:43
Yeah, so it’s our biggest batch sizes are 3100 gallons. So that’s 3100 gallons or 3000 31,000 bottles at a time. So you know, those that’s those are big numbers. Yeah. But you can’t just make them and get them in a warehouse. You got to you got to make them and make sure they get pulled from the distributors warehouse onto a store or from the store into the consumers enjoyment and, and keep going. It’s it’s, you know, the hardest part when you’re trying to plan for growth is you have no idea where what you can’t push the market, right? You can’t push product through the market. You gotta you gotta hope you’ve gotten enough fans and customers that are walking in and need sales and nothing like beer or wine sales, it’s it may take a while to have it pull through the market. And then in do
Drew Thomas Hendricks 38:37
you think that we’ll talk about sales and how they got a pull to the market this new all the new categories that kombucha and Seltzer and the all that stemming out of the craft brew is me taking a little bit of a is it getting a tailwind from all this with people more experimental and looking for more natural beverages?
Michael Fairbrother 38:56
Well, I think so that’s why I suggested that the craft beer segment or the cider segment is the right location for it to fit on the shelves because no wine buyers looking for kombucha, right. It’s very rare that somebody is looking for a Chardonnay and they just tripping over kombucha and that’s what I wanted. Right?
Drew Thomas Hendricks 39:16
Come for Chardonnay. Now.
Michael Fairbrother 39:19
I mean, I guess I could be proven wrong, it could happen. But whereas the craft beer buyers have been really taught brand loyalty is not such a amazing thing anymore. Right? So they’ve been taught look for new labels. Think about the newest thing. Is it a double hazy IPA with lime and guava and everything else that could be in there or, you know, and that’s why my brewery side of my house is, you know, making beer to taste like beer. We don’t we don’t want to follow in those footsteps. I mean, you know, we do have some IPAs, and we have three on tap right now to the 15. But you know, I’ve been in craft beer bars that have like 810 IPAs and you’re like, Well, what’s left? You know where’s We want to have scotch ale a porter, you know, mild, we heavy and everything else in Metairie how to
Drew Thomas Hendricks 40:06
talk to half the breweries here in Vista where I live in San Diego. They’re slowly evolving. And we’re all now we’re having pilsners we’re having loggers. We’re having a broad selection. But over the last 10 years, you’ll go in there and you’re right. There’s like a dozen IPAs are variations of of the IPA. And I’ve got a pretty good palate. But there, there’s a lot of similar more similarities than differences between those eight.
Michael Fairbrother 40:29
Yeah, my Yeah. Well, you know, I’ve got a lot of friends in the craft beer industry. And you know, Tommy nickel, who runs O’Brien Zalk out your way, and nickel Brewing Company and big fans of pizza port and everybody else. Yeah, so we’ve, you know, my beer fandom goes back 27 years now. And yeah, it’s I want I want beer to just take me by the heart and soul and just sing to me. Right? You know, and that’s, that’s really kind of why, you know, I thought there were too many good breweries to start a brewery 12 years ago. But you know, now that I’ve got the wherewithal to, to change the world here, I can I can make the beers I want to make. And customers are coming. Right. So we had our first year mug club, and we sold out before June. And next year, we’ll triple the size of that. So it’s, you know, people want something good, right? And it’s not always the skill. And I’m not trying to poopoo the people that make Skittles beers, you know, whatever else that comes down the pipeline. But yeah, I think there’s a reason why if you go to Germany up into Bavaria, and you find these breweries that have been there for 1000s of years. Why? Why they made beer that’s just mind blowing ly delicious. And, yeah, I’m like, Okay, this is what triple decoction does for you and why, and this is, this is why melon Nordens matter in the flavor profile of a good dark, multi lager. And this is, this is why I brought bottles home to give to my brewmaster to say, I want beer to things like this. Like, I want to just sit back and say, Yeah, give me a leader of a dunkel. And I want to just sit back on a beautiful fall day and just enjoy this thing. Okay, I don’t need to drink 20 of them, I just want to drink one and have it be the best in the world. And that’s, that’s, you know, so I’ve gotten to the affordability in life that I can, I can put my persuasion into what I want to create why and this is. So another tip for any, any meaderies are brewers that come along the pipeline, don’t chase the crowds, right, understand why you’re doing what you’re doing and stick to it. You got to be good. That’s a requirement. But if you are good, and you you can consistently make great beer or meat or cider. Don’t chase them don’t chase the tail, right? Don’t chase that ball coming down the soccer field, know your position, play it well. And this is why I’m not trying to make beer and sell across the mic. It’s the never ending battle between shelf space. If I can barely keep the shelf space for the meat I want to keep in the marketplace. And we’re considered one of the best in the world. You know what, why do I want to try to do the same with beer where you know, it’s it’s in the Budweiser Miller Coors interest to prevent me from succeeding. They they literally have lobbyists that every, you know, State House and represent, you know, representation to prevent little guys from getting even shake. So if that’s the case, how do I control that? And that’s why I said we’re gonna have a destination location. We’ll sell the beer here. Nowhere else. And if you want you come and if you don’t, that’s okay, too,
Drew Thomas Hendricks 43:55
huh? Yeah, no, that’s that’s a wise go to market strategy for especially having having that location and having building off of the brand you’ve built with Moonlight Meadery.
Michael Fairbrother 44:08
Yeah, that’s, well, it’s taken us for what seems like forever. My wife has driven me around the country looking at properties for 12 years. And I stumbled upon this one on Google and I wasn’t even sure where Pittsfield was located in my state. I was like, okay, 30 miles from the Capitol, and that’s not so bad. And then I got her out of bed and we drove up and a real estate agent didn’t even show us the property because she was busy and we parked along the road and walked past the house to the mailbox and back and took photos and I knew 30 seconds in I said everything that’s wrong with this house. I can fix. You know, we’ve we’ve sunk a lot of money in at this point, but exterior roof siding installation is all done. Restaurants nearing completion. We’re getting our final inspections and another week. We’re Working to hire chefs and Oh, awesome in line cooks at this point, so
Drew Thomas Hendricks 45:03
what is the plan to come online?
Michael Fairbrother 45:06
I’m gonna say Columbus Day, but it might be a little later than that. But, you know, our, our model that I’m trying to go for is kind of like, you know, really great pizza, like a pizza port type of deal or Mellow Mushroom, it with a gastropub. So, you know, full spectrum, but not just pizzas, and you got to drive about 3040 miles from my location to find a decent pizza. And we have a lot of high end. Tourists in the area that have their second or third homes in the area, and they have money. So we don’t have to, you know, just deal to the locals that are trying to get by, but we want to make amazing food. And what we’ve seen consistently is if you make an amazing, you can control your price point. And if you control your price point, you can actually make a successful business from it. So that’s, that’s how I run the company from day one. And that’s why I continue to do so.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 46:09
That’s, that’s, that’s fantastic advice. And then, like, was there anything else that we haven’t talked about as we’ve kind of round down this episode?
Michael Fairbrother 46:21
This was great. I mean, if you ever want me back on, I’d be happy to I’d love
Drew Thomas Hendricks 46:24
to have you back on the one thing that one thing I was I picked up on that I was going to mention when you’re talking about your apple pie, the part that stuck in my mind, and maybe I misheard it, but the fact that you make the need to embody the vision of what someone would have is an apple pie, versus trying to make a meat tastes like apple pie, it’s going to fail.
Michael Fairbrother 46:43
Right? Well, it’s so it’s the simplest of ingredients, right? So it’s essentially Madagascar, bourbon, vanilla beans, Vietnamese, cinnamon, honey and apple cider. So we ferment the we dilute the honey with the apple cider, get it to ferment, clean and consistent, and then we add the spices for almost three days at the end of the fermentation process. But a lot of home brewers will think you have to add spices at the beginning. And then the co2 scrubs out all the aromatics so that you need the aromatics. And that’s why we use high grade vanilla and cinnamon. And then you get that taste. There’s nothing like Vietnamese cinnamon in the world. And when you taste it, you can actually be you know, pluck your sense of smell and you can still feel that sense of cinnamon come through. And there’s no there’s no substitution for in quality quality ingredients. You can’t I mean, vanilla beans cost me 55 or $17,000 for 55 pound bag of vanilla beans. It’s it’s expensive. But it but you have to have it. It has nothing close to that flavor presentation. And customers will try my need and say, Man I got I can almost taste the crust. Like how do you get that flavor in there? Well, I don’t. Your mind. Yeah, connecting those dots. That’s fantastic.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 48:07
Well, Michael, where can people find out more about you and Moonlight Meadery?
Michael Fairbrother 48:12
Yeah, our website moonlightmeadery.com. We do ship to 38 states. So we have distribution of 38 states. But if you can’t find us in your local stores, you can buy out Meads and ciders online. If you’re in New Hampshire or anywhere within the New England region, come to visit us at over the moon farmstead.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 48:32
Awesome. I can’t wait to your thing comes online. And I got to try this took me an accent. I’m looking at the store right now here. Maybe I may be shopping after the show. Well, Michael, thank you so much for joining us today.
Michael Fairbrother 48:45
drew my absolute pleasure. And you know, we’ll we’ll do this again some way. Appreciate it.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 48:51
Talk to you later.
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