Mead in the Middle
article by VANELIS RIVERA and photography by KELLY MOORE CLARK
When Curtis Sims walked into Governor’s Cigar & Pipe in 2016, arms laden with quarts of honey collected from his beehives, his only aim was to share the sweet bounty and kick back with a smoke. As customers billowed in and out, Sims struck a serendipitous conversation with fellow veteran and apiarist Cameron Myers. The duo bonded over their overseas experiences in the military and their overflowing stockpile of honey. “You ever thought about making mead?” asked Myers. The fortuitous question prompted a business partnership, an award-winning product, and the first commercial meadery in Louisiana.
Confident that his math degree and heavy background in physics, chemistry, and biology would yield a decent product, Sims accepted the challenge. “How tough can it be?” he recalls thinking. How tough can it be? “He said it the other day,” chimes in Myers to answer my question. “It’s easy do and even easier to mess up.” Sims’ first batch was in 2016. He brought it to Governor’s, which had become a homebase, with the intention of having folks try it and provide feedback. Initially, the cigar crowd celebrated his batch, but Sims remained steadfast about perfecting his meticulous recipe. Around that same time, Myers found a mead competition he kept pushing Sims to enter. After a month of “haranguing,” Sims finally relented, sending two different meads to the Texas Mead Cup (the second largest mead contest in the United States). Though he pulled two second place awards, Sims deemed it a fluke, so to be absolutely sure what they were producing was top tier, they entered the largest mead competition in the nation, the Mazer Cup. They sent about eight meads to a competition that had over five hundred entries and ended up placing third for one of Sims’ experimental brews–Poppin’ Smoke, an unreleased brew where the honey is smoked before fermentation. The win along with a widely positive reception at that year’s Celtic Festival clenched their certainty in the product, especially for Sims who recalls finally thinking, “Okay, we might be onto something here.”
After a soft open in 2019, Two Warriors Meadery officially opened in February 2020, eager and ready to stir the Viking blood–real or imagined–of North Louisiana residents. Their logo not only honors the ancient lineage of mead, often deemed the oldest alcoholic beverage on Earth, but also their military service. The crossed pistol and saber nods to military insignia used to designate a soldier’s job–the pistol honors Myers’ service as a military police officer, while the saber honors Sims’ service as cavalry and helicopter pilot. Naturally, the symbol for Thor’s hammer (called Mjölnir) is used in the foreground, while on the background a round wooden shield venerates the age-old Scandinavian spirit of warriors, feasting halls, and celebration, seemingly inspiring their motto: “Louisiana honey, Louisiana fruits, and Louisiana veterans.”
A few years ago mead was associated with the niche culture of Renaissance fairs, but the growing buzz surrounding shows like the History Channel’s Vikings and HBO’s Game of Thrones has resulted in the triumphant return of the old-world elixir. At a commercial level, there are a plethora of superb meads in the market, but what sets Two Warriors apart is their focus on historical recipes, mainly inspired by their time stationed in Europe. “I am a student of history, so I enjoy going back and looking back at these historical recipes and how they would have done them,” says Sims. His discoveries have been as interesting as they have been strange. One recipe from the 1600s instructed, “add water to the recipe until an egg the size of a shilling floats,” forcing Sims to research the size of a shilling at that time, which turns out is the overall dimension of a medium-sized egg. Deconstructing these timeworn recipes are integral to Sims’ creative process, though at times the recipes present more barriers than clear paths. “One of the recipes called for starting with rainwater that had been aged in a barrel for two years, and I went no.” The same recipe asked for an addition of two handfuls of oak leaves to be brought to a boil. “I’m thinking, okay, I don’t think the FDA would like me going out and picking up a handful of oak leaves out of my yard and throwing them in there,” says Sims. He was able to figure out that the purpose of the oak leaves was to provide tannins, which can most notably be recognized as the bitterness in red wine. In place of oak leaves, he decided the more acceptable solution was using black tea.
The Warriors are using honey from Jonesboro and sourcing fruits from local vendors. Their Bayou Blues Berry is made with whole blueberries from Brown Family Farms, located south of West Monroe. The pair believe in using as little chemicals as possible, which is why their meads appear cloudy, a common characteristic of traditional meads. The only chemical Sims adds is potassium sorbate, which he affectionately calls “yeast birth control.” This addition keeps the yeast, especially the wild yeast in the air, from reproducing in the batch, which Sims discovered can make a covered bottle explode. The longer they created batches, the quicker they realized how subjective an experience the honey wine tasting process can be. When they released Louisiana Nectar, a semi-sweet mead with fruity and floral notes, customers claimed to taste hints of apple, pear, and apricot. Curious, they talked to the beekeeper providing the honey and she revealed that all those trees were planted in her orchard. “You really can taste what those bees have been eating,” says Sims. On occasion, Sims will taste the honey before diving into a recipe, creating offshoots of existing recipes. Sims paired the recipe for Louisiana Nectar with honey that came from a cotton field, resulting in a much “drier, cleaner, and crisper taste,” says Sims.
Currently, Two Warriors Meadery offers seven meads, distinct in flavor profile and ingredients. Their top seller is Oden’s Love, Myers’ favorite. “It is unique. I’ve never had another mead that tastes like that.” Norse mythology fans will note that while the name seems to refer to the Norse god of wisdom, poetry, and death (Odin), the misspell is intentional and refers to the maiden name of an employee’s wife. Their most sought-after mead is so labor intensive that it is only produced twice a year. Inspired by a French recipe from the 12th century, Bobby’s Bochet has hints of toffee, caramel, and toasted marshmallow. “It kind of tastes like you’re drinking a smore,” says Myers. The word bochet is French for “burnt,” which is what Sims has to do to the honey. It takes twelve hours to cook the honey alone. The first time Sims tested his honey burning skills was at home. “I put five quarts of honey in a five gallon pot and put about a quart of it on the kitchen stove. That was in 2016 and I’m still finding honey in places. I don’t know that my wife has forgiven me yet,” he says, admitting that he didn’t consider honey’s expansive quality. Though it’s their most expensive bottle, it’s also the perfect apéritif. Not wanting to stop at lucky number seven, Sims has a few meads in progress such as Light of Valhalla, an oak aged mead that requires six months before it is ready. The oak aging process gives the mead an alcohol bite with an oaky bourbon nose, light vanilla note on the forefront, and finishes with the fruity and floral notes of the honey. “It’s very complex,” says Myers.
MORE THAN JUST A DRINK, Two Warriors meads can be used in food recipes. Sims has used Oden’s Love alongside spices to marinate pork chops, while his son favors using Louisiana Nectar to marinate chicken breasts. Recently, Myers had two friends from North Carolina stop by the meadery to pick up a few bottles they plan to use in an upcoming cookbook. Another way to put your mead into action is incorporating it into cocktails. Oden’s Love is a great substitute for whiskey in a classic old fashioned. Their Valkyries Flight, an historical recreation of a traditional sweet mead, makes an excellent addition to a classic margarita or Moscow mule (Viking mule could be a more appropriate moniker in this case).
If you look closely at their bottles, you’ll notice a small blue label designating their business as veteran owned. This salient mark is a result of Governor John Bel Edwards’ Veterans First Business Initiative initiated last year, created to honor the sacrifice Louisiana veterans have made by recognizing businesses owned by a veteran, active-duty or reserve military, or Gold Star spouse. Sims and Myers credit Friday Ellis, owner of Governor’s and newly elected mayor of Monroe, with being instrumental in the development of their business from its conception. It was Ellis who called the Governor encouraging him to visit the meadery, consequently introducing them to the veterans initiative.
As proud Army veterans with a love of community and history, Sims and Myers are often championing what is close to their hearts: “We believe that our money should stay locally, so that is why we buy local and a portion of every sale goes to local veteran charities.” Clearly, Two Warriors meads are more than just revived ancient draughts helping us to relive our wildest Norse dreams. They stand as tribute to real local warriors. These men and women who return from exhaustive oversea experiences now have a mead hall where they can share their stories all while enjoying a drink fit for a warrior.
Two Warriors Meadery is located at 95 McClendon Ave, West Monroe, LA 71291. Follow them on Facebook or Instagram to find out about seasonal meads and the debut of Louisiana’s first Viking Festival.