The idea came simply and quietly at the usual time- when I was working on something entirely different.
One of our customers asked if we made any Handpies that could meet their lower-than-usual price point. They loved our pies- as did their customers- but the rising costs of ingredients meant that for a lot of our flavors they would have to charge more than they thought their customers would tolerate.
So rather than cut off the pies completely, they asked my owner- who in turn asked me- if we had any recipes that would 1. Be delicious, 2. Be popular with customers at a cafe, and 3. Wouldn’t use too much of our more expensive ingredients so they could be sold at the desired low point.
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but economics and desperation make fantastic midwives. As I went through our recipe books, checked with suppliers to see what ingredients cost what, and started spitballing ideas on our whiteboard (“Pineapple is cheap right now… a pineapple pie? What’s more expensive right now, berries or nuts? What can one person make quickly to reduce labor?”) three ideas from my past and present slammed into each other.
The father of invention had shown up, and it’s name was “Why Not?”
I used to be a little smug about not drinking coffee. When you’re a weird, obnoxious kid trying to find out who you are, it’s often easier to find definitions based on what you’re not. In my case, I wasn’t “one of those coffee shop people.” I had a massive collection of tea in my cabinets at college for any reason and any taste. My friends jokingly called me a “tea shaman,” and if I really needed caffeine? That’s why God invented energy drinks.
As I write this 16 years later, sitting in a coffee shop with an empty cappuccino at my right hand, I can tell you I’m still not a coffee guy. I’m drinking a vibe… it just happens to be coffee based. “A man who can laugh at himself shall never cease to be amused.”
You might think it’s odd for a baker to go out and find other bakeries on their day off. I bake all the time, and surely I can make anything I want at home for a fraction of the price. Why should I go check out other bakeries in the city?
You might as well wonder why musicians go to other peoples concerts. Baking is my skillset and profession, and I definitely make a commodity, but it’s also acraft- and I like seeing how others practice it.
The same as there are different genres of music or literature, there are different cuisines. Within those genres, everyone has their own style. A way they practice their art that’s all their own, or a kind of art that they just vibe with and respond to.
There’s lots of ways to do this cooking thing, after all.
The Horse Brass Pub is busy tonight. The cold and wind outside feels miles away when you are sitting at a small table over a hot meal and a pint of cold, dark, heavy beer. That is very much what I’m in the mood for.
My usual “writing table” is occupied, so I’ve found a similar two-top just to the right of the door and around the corner to better avoid drafts. Looking out the window at the darkening sky and swaying leaves, I know I’ve only go so long before I need to head home and eat dinner. I sit myself down, leaning my walking stick against the wall and out of the way, tuck my cloak under myself, and start to write.
I started making mead 9 years ago with a single jug, a beer fridge, and a jar of honey. It looked like a simple, fun, low-effort way to do science and get “free” booze out of it. It was a single gallon batch that I got ratio for from The Art of Fermentation. After about two weeks, I took a sip of my first mead- wildflower honey infused with some cinnamon sticks and a single split vanilla bean. It was cloyingly sweet but obviously had fermented slightly, so it was a win in my book.
The success of making a fizzy, slightly-alcoholic-but-drinkable beverage led to a years-long hobby. I’ve shared with friends, experimented, collected more books and (slightly) better equipment, and even won an award at the Oregon State Fair.
(To be clear, that award was a silver medal in a single subcategory. I came in second out of two entries in the “experimental” mead subgroup.)
A few weeks ago, I bottled my latest mead.
It was a version of one of my first metheglins (a.k.a. Mead with spices), but this time I wanted to Do It Properly. It wasn’t a “shake and pray” wild ferment. I’d made a 4 gallon batch using locally sourced honeys. I wrote down my sources, my water temperatures, the sources and amounts of the spices I used, and I used campden tablets and real cultured mead yeast to Make It Right. I didn’t know what “gravity” was for that first jug way back when. For this one, I factored time and temperature into recording the changes in gravity over five months.
The result was a spicy, warming mead that drank like a dry white wine. By any measure, it is my best mead yet- and I will never sell it to anyone. That’s because unlike baking and now writing, home brewing is something I want to keep mine.
The drive to Capitalize and Monetize everything we enjoy or may do well is thee double-edged sword of Damocles hanging over everyone’s head today. As soon as we realize we enjoy or have a knack for something, one of the first questions we are asked (or ask ourselves) is “how can I make money off of this?”
Why? Why is simply enjoying ourselves from the start not reason enough?
I remember the first time I realized I enjoyed making origami paper figures and that they made others happy. Within a day, I had set up a little table and chair on my nearly-empty sidewalk with a stack of square paper, trying to sell origami figures.
It wasn’t enough to just make me happy. Something told me I had to make it worthwhile- and that meant it had to make money. I dare anyone to tell me that my goofy 10 year old ass could have made a career out of selling origami figures on the sidewalk in Margate. At least the hobos selling wire-wrapped stones and pendants in Portland buy their own materials.
Baking and writing also make me happy, but I long ago decided I was willing to try making careers out of them. It’s either the best or worst thing you can do with a hobby you love. Often it’s both. I still love baking and creating in the kitchen, but when shit hits the fan and I need to stare down the barrel of a 60 hour week because all these pies need to be made, baking stops being a fun activity really damned quick.
It’s the same thing with writing. As much as I love writing, telling stories, and introducing people to worlds and ideas they may never have considered otherwise, when I’m not feeling it it is 1000% work.
Meadmaking, though, is one hobby I insist on keeping a hobby. I may barter a bottle or two, but I will never sell it. I will never start a meadery (except as a joke. I’m on Untappd as “Le Chapeau Noir Meadery”) or go into the brewing business. No matter how good I might be or awards I might get.
Why? Because it’s mine.
We all need things at only have meaning to us that no one else cares about. The little things, activities, and moments that make us happy. We are absolutely inextricably connected and intertwined with each other, but we also need opportunities to explore and be ourselves. To understand ourselves a s a community of one.
For me, that means connecting with local beekeepers and honey vendors, finding new varieties, and bringing them mead made from their honey. It means giving bottles to friends as a gift, or just chilling down a bottle for my wife and I to enjoy on a summer night.
Mead is a thing I make that’s just for me to enjoy with those I love. No one and nothing else need interfere. There is no sin or failing in this- no “loss of potential” or waste simply because I’m not attaching a price tag to the result. The world has enough of us for so much of our waking lives- we can have some of ourselves TO ourselves.
What’s something you do that you refuse to monetize or share beyond yourself and choice others? Tell us about it in the comments!