The Amped-Up Ancient Booze Crashing Chicago's Craft Beer Party
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Honey wine is the new craft booze buzz on Chicago’s southwest side.
By Matt Foley
Chicago is a beer town, and perhaps no part of the city slugs suds like the southwest side. Seven nights a week, crowds flock to a three-mile strip of Western Avenue in the neighborhood of Beverly where restaurants and Irish pubs — emphasis on the pubs — dot every block. There’s beer and Irish whiskey galore, of course. But there’s a new booze on the block appealing to the craft-alcohol set: mead.
Wild Blossom Meadery and Winery is Chicago’s only meadery on the Northern Illinois Wine Trail. And we’re not talking your standard mead. Wild Blossom is taking the ancient honeyed beverage to new places, establishing itself as a Midwest pioneer in sustainability, production and creative flavors — like one spicy version that might just send your eyes somersaulting backward.
The Wolfcraft — a hoppy, sparkling mead with blood orange — pays homage to both beer and champagne.
With roots in ancient Africa, mead may be the oldest alcoholic drink in human history. Hunter-gatherers in the savanna, the story goes, stumbled upon pools of water containing the fermenting remains of fallen, honey-filled beehives. What probably began with the shy taste of a dipped finger sparked a honey wine love affair. Varieties of the drink now appear everywhere from Lithuania and Finland to Mexico, northern China and Ethiopia. Now, an American public with a growing taste for craft beers and spirits is creating a market for craft mead.
“With mead, we can manipulate it to reflect any style that we’re looking for,” says Greg Fischer, founder and owner of Wild Blossom. The mildly sour Cran Apple Cyser is an apple-infused mead, and Pirates Blood, a hot chili-infused version, is smoky, fiery and sweet (the appropriate skull-shaped bottle retails for $19.95). The Wolfcraft — a hoppy, sparkling mead with blood orange — pays homage to both beer and champagne. Then there’s the Charlatan, a dry blueberry mead aged in red wine barrels, and the bourbon barrel-aged Sweet Desire ($35.95, 16 percent ABV) that delivers autumn in a glass. At the winery, with its Finger Lakes-esque backyard patio bordering the shaded corner of the Dan Ryan Woods forest preserve, a six-pour flight will set you back $12 to $15.
Wild Blossom’s meads are made with purified water from Lake Michigan and honey that hails from a variety of local sources: five hives ranging in location from the roof of the Marriott on the “Magnificent Mile” to Indiana’s Ogden Dunes. Each bottle of the sweet, alcoholic final product leads to 2 million flowers pollinated in the area, says Fischer. In addition to meads, Wild Blossom also produces a range of Chicago-themed wines, like South Side Syrah and Chicago Bulls Blood.
The company opened for business nearly 30 years ago as a winery … in a Prohibition-era dry zone. Fischer relied on the skills he had learned as a boy, helping his Italian immigrant grandfather make wine and mead in the family basement. In 2017, Fischer opened the doors to a full-scale meadery, equipped with a tasting room, a 14,000-square-foot backyard and a production space — this time in a building just outside the dry zone.
Still, in beer country, Wild Blossom feels like a hidden gem to those in the know. The new location is helping to change that, as is word of mouth. “People appreciate a local product and our willingness to experiment,” says Fischer. But the new appetite for mead goes to show that it’s not just beer leading the craft craze, at least on Chicago’s South Side.
Go There: Wild Blossom Meadery and Winery
- Location: 9030 S. Hermitage Ave, Chicago. Map.
- Hours: Wed-Thurs: 3 p.m. – 9 p.m.; Fri-Sat: 3 p.m. -10 p.m; Sun: 1 p.m. – 8 p.m.
- Pro tip: Start with a traditional mead, such as the Prairie Passion, to get a taste before progressing to the more creative flavors.