A new business with roots dating back thousands of years is making its home in Tukwila.
Father and son, Rob and Jon Oppegaard, opened Oppegaard Meadery, 596 Industry Drive, Suite 608A, on Dec. 10.
There they make and sell a honey-based alcohol known as mead, commonly associated with Vikings, “Game of Thrones” and “Lord of the Rings.”
“When we were still trying to figure out a name for this business we were like, ‘Why don’t we just call it Oppegaard Meadery because it is Norwegian? It is Scandinavian. It is Viking,’” Rob said.
“Which is kind of where everybody thinks of mead from, even though every major civilization going back, we know for sure at least like 9,000 years, knew about mead,” Jon added. “But it is kind of famous for Viking stuff.”
The Oppegaards are starting out with five flavors – traditional, cherry, blackberry, blueberry and oak barrel bourbon, which starts with traditional mead made with honey and water and aged in an oak barrel.
“We are trying to keep all of our business local,” Rob said. “Our honey is from the Northwest. Our fruits. The blueberries, my cousin has a blueberry orchard – 30 acres of blueberries that’s been there for years. The cherries came from a friend’s cherry orchard in Eastern Washington. The blackberries we all picked wild. We picked over 700 pounds of fruit this year.”
New flavors will be added.
“It is going to be a product that is going to go by seasonal taste,” Rob said.
Jon said he and his father became interested in mead separately.
“I was really into craft beers,” he said. “My wife and I have driven down to Oregon and had a beer in a pub just because we wanted to.”
One of Jon’s co-workers introduced him to mead.
“A friend that I worked with said, ‘I had mead last night,’ ” Jon recalled. “I was like, ‘You mean mead like J.R.R. Tolkien ‘Lord of the Rings’ or Vikings?’ ”
That night, Jon bought some mead and was hooked. A few months later, Rob told Jon he had tried mead and the two began buying and sampling the beverage wherever they could.
“One night (Rob) called me up and said, ‘We should just make it. It would be way cheaper if we just made it,’ ” Jon said. “Instead of saving money by making it, we just made more and more. At first it was OK. It wasn’t real great. We used a few internet recipes that we found, and they were decent. We just started tweaking them and tweaking them and the batches got bigger and bigger.”
Their friends and family told them they should start selling their product. So a couple of years ago they decided to start their business.
The permitting process at the federal, state and local level took more than a year.
Jon lives in Graham and Rob in Bellevue, but they chose Tukwila because of its location.
“The reason why I chose this is not only because it has all these businesses, but the airport is five minutes away,” Rob said. “Seattle, Tacoma, the Eastside. This is a central hub where 405 meets I-5.
“Even though we are in the Seattle area, we wanted it to be Tukwila. We are happy to be here.”
Mead has grown in popularity in the last few years.
“Ten years ago, there were probably a handful of meaderies in the country maybe 10 – maybe not even that,” Rob said. “Now there are over 300 and many more coming up. It is the fastest alcohol sector growth area in the past three or four years.”
In the Pacific Northwest, mead has caught on quickly. Washington state is home to several meaderies.
“It has grown pretty big here,” Jon said. “A lot of the hipsters are starting to get bored of craft beer, and they are starting to look for something new to jump onto, and mead is kind of filling that void.”
Mead’s rise in popularity is also benefitting honey bee populations.
“Because there are more meaderies now there are now more beekeepers producing honey,” Rob said. “The more beekeepers there are, the more bees that are being taken care of out there.
“We are helping the whole environment by having this business. We are actually creating a sustainable environment with the bees.”
Mead is versatile and can come in different forms.
“To be mead it has to be mostly fermented from honey,” Jon said. “Alcohol is just sugar. Yeast processes it and turns it into alcohol. If the majority of the sugar comes from honey, it is mead. Technically, mead can be just like beer. You can put hops in it and make it like beer. You just use honey, instead of sugar. It can even be like wine you can make a grape mead – just like wine but with honey instead. It is super versatile. The alcohol percentages can vary a ton.”
For now, Oppegaard Meadery is open from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays as Rob and Jon both work day jobs.
“At some point, I would love to see this business grow big enough so Jon can spend more time here, and, if it gets bigger and I can leave my job, that would be fine,” Rob said.
The meadery is a family business. Relatives help pick the fruit, and Rob’s daughter, Marji Wight, a graphic designer, creates the labels for the bottles of mead.
Oppegaard Meadery takes orders and hopes to eventually ship throughout Washington. For more information, visit facebook.com/oppegaardmeadery.