A guest post by Dave Lewis, Director of Production at Silver Hand Meadery in Williamsburg, VA.
Many of us involved in commercial meaderies have had the “pleasure” of working with the TTB at some point. In the past, the process of filing for and awaiting approval for labels or licenses was arduous and required a lot of education from both sides. Today, things have improved significantly but there is still a ways to go for both meaderies and the TTB to learn how to work most effectively together.
So, it really was our pleasure to be able to host 22 TTB staff at Silver Hand Meadery this week. I quickly realized how significant and beneficial a face to face meeting was for them and for us, your humble representatives. When dealing with the TTB and the frustrations that arise, it’s easy to imagine them as some massive inept bureaucracy that neither knows or cares about our plight. Oftentimes, our communication is through email or even through a third party; it’s rare to actually speak directly to a TTB employee. Having the opportunity to speak to 22 of them in person was not taken lightly. One of the first things I noticed about them – which completely ruined my vision of them as the Empire from Star Wars – was that they were actually just regular people, like us, who care about their jobs and (this may be even more shocking) they were really nice! I believe that it really is not a case of them not caring about mead or meaderies, but rather a lack of education. Out of the 22 people there, only 2 had ever had a mead before and it was not memorable. They also knew very little about the process of making mead or the characteristics of honey. They were however, very attentive and eager to learn.
Our founder, Glenn Lavender, did a great job of educating this group in these areas. He was able to lead them through a honey tasting, which was very eye-opening to them. You could see them starting to make the connection of honey to mead in the same way the grape is to wine. When talking about the process of making the mead and the ingredients the group was very attentive and interested. They asked a lot of great questions about yeast and the fermentation process compared to wine or beer. Glenn was able to walk them through each of our meads and our recipes and different mead styles. He answered some questions about some of the difficulties we have with what can go on a label with different ingredients and styles. Many of them were genuinely unaware of how many differences there were.
In many ways, the TTB staff were not unlike the majority of our customers who come in and have little to no knowledge of mead, or what they think they know is incorrect. That is why this opportunity to provide some much needed education was so important. In an hour and a half, Glenn was able to open their eyes in a way that probably would not have happened otherwise. Those 22 people now have a pretty solid understanding of what mead is and what the challenges are that meaderies face. Even more important is the fact that they personally had an authentic experience and a dialogue at a meadery that will positively influence how they work with meaderies in the future. This group was on a tour of several wineries, breweries, distilleries and tobacco plants and the leader and several others gushingly told us that the meadery was by far their favorite stop. Glenn definitely worked his charm but beyond that I believe their stop here was the most valuable for them because they learned the most and had a great connection. The leader gave us her direct line and said they want to help in any way they can and are always available. We were even shocked that almost everyone left with a bottle or two, which was completely unexpected, especially since they didn’t get to taste.
I believe as I said in the beginning that the greatest benefit of this meeting was connecting directly with the real people face to face. They got to see our passion and see us as real people trying to build something we cared about. I think we definitely have some new allies inside of that big machine in DC. If we can continue to find ways to work directly with them and aim to educate instead of getting frustrated we might just find even more progress is not only possible but likely.
Dave Lewis is the Director of Production at Silver Hand Meadery in Williamsburg, VA.