The only place in the state that exclusively makes mead, the process in which wine is made from honey, is in the neighborhood.
Brothers Drake opened just weeks ago in the Short North and has the locals buzzing. Beginning last week, patrons began to filter in, and a band began assembling their instruments. This week, punk rock is featured. Last week featured a solo violinist. Woody Drake was behind the bar, and he had customer Rebecca Haniger’s glass of Hopped Traditional poured before the door closed behind her.
“She likes to start with the dry varieties and build up to the sweet stuff,” Drake said. “She’ll have a Honey Oak next, then a Bergamot Blue.”
Woody’s brother Eric came out from the back with a beaker in hand. He took a sip from the beaker and reported that the new variety of mead he is working on, made with lavender honey, will be one of his best.
Eric has what appears to be a science laboratory in the back, with shelves of beakers with different types of honey and multiple combinations of honey, fruit and yeast combinations fermenting into new flavors of mead.
“This is my brother Eric. As you can see, I am the good-looking one,” Woody said.
Their partnership in mead-making began in the early 1990s. Woody was working as a scene designer in North Carolina and needed a hobby.
He found home brewing.
“I started making beer but quickly discovered that you can buy really good beer over the counter,” he said. “Better than I can make. Mead just wasn’t available. I read about (mead) in the back of a home brewers book and it just set my mind on fire.”
Meanwhile, Eric was a student working in a computer lab at OSU. At the time, it was one of the only places the Internet was available. During the summer, the labs were abandoned, leaving Eric to download and print recipes to send to Woody.
“I started reading the recipes and learning the mead-making process and got curious about the whole thing,” Eric said. “At this time, I didn’t even drink, couldn’t stand the taste of alcohol.”
Eric began brewing beer at home and entered a few competitions. Since he didn’t drink, he couldn’t tell if what he made tasted good. He didn’t score well until he changed from beer to mead. His first mead took bronze at a national home brewers competition.
“That bronze-winning mead is what we now call Apple Pie,” Eric said, pointing to the large menu on the wall. “I had originally made it to serve at a friend’s lesbian wedding.”
“And that’s when I taught (Eric) to drink,” Woody said, laughing, “It was my duty as his older brother.”
Woody moved to Columbus to be near family, and he and Eric decided to partner and turn their hobby into a business. In 2008, they opened a brew house and mead bar in Worthington, Ohio.
Two years later, they decided to expand their brewing capacity and locate in a place where more people could access their wine. Sarah Jones and fiancé Oron Benary joined the team of brothers and relocated Brothers Drake to the corner of Fifth Avenue and High Street in the Short North.
“All our ingredients are as organic as you can get and bought from distributors located as close to Columbus as possible,” said Benary, bent over ironing an Ohio flag to hang in the brew house. “Shipping creates the biggest carbon footprint. We have eliminated that, we support small businesses and we only distribute our product locally. We will not ship it,” he said.
Benary looked up from the iron and smiled.
“Mead is the drink of the gods, cherished by pharaohs and emperors of China,” he said. “We have a duty to stay true to its roots, to make it pure.”
Brothers Drake is open Wednesdays from 4-10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. They will open any day of the week for group events or tours of the brew house if contacted in advance.