Check out Kvlt’s new home in one of Tacoma’s best eating neighborhoods
In an expansive building the size of a warehouse, there are a lot of cool things to see in the space that holds Tacoma meadery taproom, Kvlt Mead.
The wood-beam ceiling is one thing you shouldn’t miss.
Always look up on your first visit to Kvlt Mead in South Tacoma.
“This building was built in the 50s,” explained co-owner Jen Otis, a civil engineer who runs Kvlt Mead with husband Brian Sprouse, who is a software engineer. “I think whatever crazy man built this building decided to over engineer the roof so there is not a column in the building.”
Otis became enthralled with the building’s expansive wood ceiling and beams the first moment she and Sprouse laid eyes on the space.
“There’s not a single column in the place. The roof is supported by these giant beams. It’s beautiful, deep rich color wooden beams. You don’t see warehouses like that anyplace other than the Pacific Northwest,” said Otis.
The floors? Those are another matter. “The floors are a wreck,” she said, laughing. “We could use a fill and polish at some point, but we’re starting small. The place is great, the size was right, the price was good.”
They shopped for months for a location to move their Dome District meadery, which they operated for about 18 months, when they stumbled on the cavernous industrial space that seemed too good to be true.
Beer friend Andrew Babcock, co-owner of Edison City Alehouse just down the street, helped the couple broker the deal that resulted in their new meadery home.
They’ve spent the last few months settling into the new spot and are now back to allowing visitors inside. With current regulations, they can host about 50.
THE SPACE AT KVLT MEAD
The mead making area takes up a fraction of the warehouse-sized building that houses Kvlt Mead, which is pronounced “Cult” Mead. The rest is a sea of concrete with well-spaced tables.
It’s got to be one of the coolest spaces in one of the coolest eating neighborhoods in Tacoma. Its closest neighbor is Pasteles Finos del Angel, the outstanding Mexican-European bakery with a subspecialty in vegan baked goods. Within a short drive, there’s also The Church Cantina with Cuban-brushed bar food from chef Nicole de la Paz. Her biscuits and chorizo gravy or Cuban sandwich are a natural pairing for anything on the tap list at Kvlt Mead. Outside food is encouraged, FYI.
The Mule Tavern is nearby, home to the city’s best house-made ginger beer and a big list of mule cocktails. There’s also The Opal Lounge, the barbecue spot with an extensive whiskey list, plus newcomer pizza joint The Main Ingredient with a hybrid style of Neopolitan-New York style pizza. There’s also Edison City Alehouse with a constant food truck presence, The Airport Tavern, Empanadas Colombianas Luis Panes, Patty’s Burgers, Han’s Place (that pressure-fried chicken, tho), Dawson’s and so many other nearby terrific eateries, I can’t list them all.
The meadery itself is industrial with a slice of Megadeth, Slayer and Iron Maiden. Metal music is the theme. The bottle list is labeled “set list,” there are nods to metal bands incorporated throughout the decor, meads are named after metal bands and songs, and there’s a drum set in the corner, although the space is not yet licensed to host live music shows (maybe someday). The drums are just for fun. Just as a visitor will find a piano at El Gaucho, at Kvlt Mead, there’s a drum kit.
Metal music is not just a decor theme here, it’s also the bond that brought together Brian Sprouse and Jen Otis. “Our first date, we went to two metal shows in one night,” said Otis. “That’s our thing. This is our culture and our people. All our people are metalheads. It’s really interesting. People in our group range from young people, with little life experience who work three crappy jobs, and all the way to rocket scientists who spend all their money on concert tickets and alcohol.”
Enter the meadery and you’re bound to see tattooed and pierced metal friends, but just as one would find with neighborhood Tacoma spots like the Parkway Tavern and The Red Hot, the come-as-you-are crowd also includes grandmas, bearded hipsters and families dropping by to pick up a bottle of mead. (Yes, it is family friendly, and kids are allowed).
It doesn’t take much to get Otis engrossed in a conversation at the ordering bar about mead or her business. Just ask her about the glossy-topped bar that she’s affixed with photos of metal bands.
Tacoma restaurant history is embedded into the space.
“Our bar top is the original bar from The Swiss,” said Otis. “We got tables from Masa. We recycled a lot of furniture from other bar owners in town. None of our furniture is new. It’s been upcycled.”
And they’ve got plenty of upcycled seating ready for their adjacent outdoor lot where they hope to have a nice, sprawling seating area complete with gardening spaces and a welcoming vibe. They’ve even got plans to make it ADA accessible. I get the sense that as a civil engineer, Otis can pretty much engineer anything to make the space or their lives better. Keep an eye on this space.
THE MEAD AT KVLT
They name many of their meads after the music they adore, but their mead also is inspired by the food they love to cook. “We love to cook and eat and we love things that taste good. And we cook a lot of foods from all over the world at home. Those foods have great flavor combinations and they work just as well in alcohol,” said Otis.
For the uninitiated, mead is a fermented, alcoholic honey drink. It can have any kind of flavoring imaginable. It’s not a wine, it’s not a beer. It’s in its own beverage category, although it’s licensed and often marketed as something like wine.
For instance, shoppers are more likely to find corked bottles of mead than cans of mead.
Kvlt Mead sources its honey from a local apiary (the location is a proprietary secret) and they source some of their flavoring agents locally through businesses such as Valhalla coffee roasters in the Proctor neighborhood.
Sprouse started as a home brewer. “I was brewing beer for about two years. My home brewing was a hobby, and then I moved into mead making. One of the people in our brewing group started bringing mead to our beer shares and it really got me hooked and I fell in love with it.”
Eventually, the couple came across Tukwila’s Oppegaard Meadery and they began chewing on the idea for their own meadery. “Making mead is a lot different than brewing,” explained Sprouse. “Brewing (beer) is a long all-day event, but once you’re done, it just sits in the tank and ferments. Mead is constant work. Every day, you’re checking on it, making adjustments, adding nutrients and babysitting for a long time.”
Otis added, “It’s a few weeks to make beer. For us, it’s six months before we can release what we make. To put out a product that’s high quality and drinkable, you have to do that.”
TRYING MEAD FOR THE FIRST TIME
The couple constantly battles the perceptions of mead. They encounter visitors whose first taste of the beverage is far-too-sweet meads from the grocery store. Said Otis, “The stuff you buy in the grocery store is not indicative of every mead. Most people have a perception that mead is a cloying beverage and their first experience is awful what they don’t realize it’s just like with beer and wine. There’s a range of styles from tart to sweet to sometimes bitter. You’ve got bubbly and still mead. You’ve got low and high abv (alcohol by volume) and so many flavor combinations, you should never give up after trying one mead. You should try many meads. We will find a mead for you, a mead you like. Come on in.”
The taps change often, so what might be on today might not be tomorrow. Check the meadery’s social media for new releases.
ON TAP AT KVLT MEAD
Kvlt Mead offers up to seven of its own meads on tap. “Six are full strength (12-14 alcohol by volume) and one is a carbonated session mead,” said Sprouse. “I think our goal is to do a dozen taps eventually.” Their next expansion will be to add a beer handle from a local brewer (that’s coming soon). For now, it’s just their meads served at the taproom.
Walking into the meadery for a first-time visitor is not overwhelming because Otis will talk any newcomer through the world of meads. They serve mead-by-the-glass, but those who really want a good overview of the meads should order a sampler. “We charge $7 for three two-ounce pours. For $14 you can pretty much taste everything we offer,” said Sprouse. “We try and keep our taproom prices really accessible because people we know and love can’t afford to buy bottles and bottles of mead. This way, they can enjoy it and find it accessible.”
Those bottles are not terribly expensive at between $25 to $35 each, but they do reflect one fact about mead.
“Mead is six times more expensive than beer to make. People balk at the price, but what they’re really getting is something like a wine,” said Otis. There’s a lot of artistry and labor tending the mead, and there’s also the necessary aging time.
There’s also the actual cost of honey. “With beer, grain is cheap. For cider and wine, apples are cheap and grapes are reasonable. But honey is so expensive,” said Otis. They’re also mindful of the sustainability of honey. That’s why they’re contemplating branching into fruit wines.
“We’ll probably move into experimenting with cherry wine first,” said Otis. “We’d love to take fruit wine and rebrand it to something in our wheelhouse with our crazy labels and heavy metal aesthetic.”
ON TAP NOW: Cherry chocolate mead; a honey clover mead; a clover honey mead flavored with black currant, blackberry, orange peel and Tahitian vanilla bean; a clover mead flavored with black currant, blackberry, Valhalla espresso beans and Ugandan vanilla bean; a clover mead flavored with rose hips and hibiscus, a clover mead dry hopped with Cascade hops and a sparkling mead with ginger, lemon and star anise. All pours are $7. Check out the board for specials. Bottled mead for sale to take home. Samplers available for $7 for three two-ounce pours. They also sell growlers.
Where: 5011 S. Washington St, Tacoma; 253-666-8739; firstname.lastname@example.org
Hours: 3-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 3-10 p.m. Fridays, 12-10 p.m. Saturdays, 12-9 p.m. Sundays
Family friendly: Kids are welcome
Food: Outside food is welcomed, no kitchen on site
MORE MEAD: MISSION MOUNTAIN MEADERY IN PARKLAND
Steve Taylor discovered something interesting when he jumped down the rabbit hole of mead, the honey-fermented craft beverage that’s seeing a big surge right now. Brewing mead is like brewing beer. But more fun. Taylor has started a slow debut of mead rollouts this year from his production-only Parkland meadery, Mission Mountain Meadery. Read all about his meadery here.