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Beekeepers brew mead Renaissance style

Staff writer

His journey started 15 years ago with an appreciation for history, a do-it-yourself attitude, and a buzz — the buzz of bees.

Ever since local honey producer Bill Vinduska of Vinduska Apiaries got involved in a medieval recreation group 15 years ago, he wanted to become a beekeeper and brew mead in the same fashion as Renaissance brewers.

Mead is an ancient alcohol distilled from boiling and fermenting sugar found in honey.

He is part of the Society for Creative Anachronism, which is a national organization that focuses on four major aspects of the Renaissance: fighting, teaching, art, and science.

“In the SCA we are always looking for different things to reenact,” Vinduska said. “Brewing mead is just another aspect of the sciences.”

More so than drinking mead, a big part of the allure for Vinduska was the challenge of brewing it Renaissance style.

“In the Renaissance they would capture the bees, grow the bees, harvest the honey and use it to make mead,” he said.

However, rather than skipping steps and buying honey, Vinduska acquired bee-handling equipment and began removing bees professionally about 15 years ago in order to collect and propagate their hives.

Since then he has amassed about 200 hives that he and his wife, Candy, manage on several different properties off K-150 and near Pilsen.

Unlike some other producers who use a more modern approach by adding spices, grains, hops, or carbonation to achieve various flavors, the Vinduskas stay true to the beverage’s roots and lets the bees do the work.

Vinduska said mead production is much like wine in so far as there can be noticeable difference in quality and flavor depending weather conditions, crop nutrition and overall health.

“We are blessed with good wildflowers in the area,” he said. “Our bees are free range bees. We are chemical-free beekeepers.”

Pollen bees collect from clover, alfalfa, and soybeans contribute to the sweet flavor the Vinduskas strive for in their mead.

Typically, any flowering plant within a 1 to 3-mile circumference of a hive is a potential source of pollen.

“Our mead is traditional straight mead,” Vinduska said. “It’s made from honey, yeast and water. Honey is what determines its quality and flavor.”

He said that there is about 1 pound of honey in every bottle of mead or honey-wine they brew.

Candy said the light-colored honey that bees create during spring makes for the most flavorful mead.

“I like being the taste-tester,” Candy said. “Ours is a sweet mead, like a dessert wine you might partake in after dinner.”

The Vinduskas have made mead recreationally ever since Bill started collecting hives, but recently acquired a farm winery license in order to professionally brew and distribute.

Since bees are technically livestock, factors such as conflicting farming methodologies come into play.

When neighboring farmers or county workers spray crops and roads near Vinduska Apiaries it can negatively affect the health of their bees.

“The Sensitive Crop Program warns people about spraying to close too livestock,” Vinduska said.

As a beekeeper, he is also well aware of colony collapse disorder.

“In CCD people talk about three things that contribute to a drop in bee numbers — stress, nutrition, and known or unknown pathogens in the area. Pathogens or weed killers can cause a lack of available variety of pollen and nectar, which in turn can cause a deficiency in nutrition,” Vinduska said. “It’s like trying to raise your kids on just bread and potatoes. They don’t get a balanced diet.”

Like wine grapes, Vinduska said, these factors can negatively affect the quality of their bees, the honey, and mead from year to year.

As a licensed farm winery, the Vinduskas have modernized storage and sterilization techniques.

They plan to fill a small niche market composed of friends and acquaintances they have made in the SCA.

Their signature beverage will go by the apt title of “King Bee Mead.” Most bottles will have between 10 to 14 percent alcohol content.

“Our intent is not to become a large producer or a travel destination winery,” Vinduska said. “It’s hard to show your crop when it’s bees, not grapes.”

Last modified Sept. 25, 2014

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