Chris Ekechukwu walked into a room in Washington, DC, with a two-minute pitch for his mead, and left with a ticket to the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream finals in Boston in December.
Ekechukwu created the company Honey Grail and its main product, Boudica’s Uprising Honey Mead. It is a light, semi-sweet, sparkling take to the ancient alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey.
“I had been home brewing for a little bit, and I had this notion you could kind of improve this if you made it more like a cider,” Ekechukwu said. “So ours is less sweet, it’s sparkling, and we pack it in beer bottles instead of wine bottles.”
He was selected by a panel of expert judges from among six DC-area food and beverage small business owners. If he wins against the three other regional winners in Boston, he will receive a $10,000 business grant and mentoring from brewing company Samuel Adams.
It was the first time the Pitch Room competition has come to DC.
“It was a tough decision, but ultimately the judges could see that Chris of Honey Grail was extremely passionate, had a great product and could really benefit from coaching from the Sam Adams team,” stated Jennifer Glanville, brewer and director of brewery programs for Samuel Adams and one of the Pitch Room judges.
Boudica’s Uprising requires an unusual operation to make—it uses brewery equipment, but mead is regulated as wine, so it has to be produced at an operation licensed as a winery.
“There wasn’t anyone in Virginia with extra capacity that was licensed as a winery that could make it with the proper equipment,” Ekechukwu said. His mead is brewed on the West Coast in Washington.
Right now, Ekechukwu says his biggest challenge is getting his mead in to stores. Every time someone tries it, he says, they ask where they can buy it—and he doesn’t always have an answer.
“It’s not like a regular product, if you had something that you came up with that you could just sell it straight to Walmart if you wanted,” Ekechukwu said. “Here you have to legally work through a three-tiered system through a wholesaler.”
Convincing those wholesalers that putting his mead in grocery stores across the country is an uphill battle. At the moment, he said, you can find it in grocery stores sometimes—if a wine manager has taken a liking to it and ordered it for that store.
But he’s working hard, spending all his time traveling and at trade shows. And if all goes well in December, he’ll be a big step closer to seeing his mead at the local grocery store.
Boudica’s Uprising is available in Loudoun at Brew Loco, 19382 Diamond Lake Drive in Lansdowne.