GEM LAKE, Minn. — Mead is a popular alcoholic drink at Renaissance festivals but a Minnesota couple is making sure more people can enjoy it all year long. 

White Bear Meadery in Gem Lake opened in June, offering craft meads made on-site.

On Wednesday morning, co-owner Josh Eckton was in the fermentation room destemming 150 pounds of St. Croix grapes. He'll be using those grapes in a pyment. 

So what is mead? 

"Just like they turn grapes into wine and barley into beer, we turn honey into a fermented, alcoholic beverage called mead," Eckton explained. "We use different varieties of honey and we can used different fruits and different spices." 

Josh Eckton
Co-owner Josh Eckton destems 150 pounds of St. Croix grapes. He'll be using those grapes in a pyment.
Heidi Wigdahl

In the tasting room, different signs hang on the wall explaining the history of mead. Vikings drank mead and Eckton paid homage to that, making the place a Viking-themed meadery. 

Known as the oldest alcoholic beverage, White Bear Meadery invites its customers to "Drink like a Viking." 

Before opening White Bear Meadery, Eckton was a stay-at-home dad. He's been a home brewer since the 90s and has a degree in food science and technology. 

Last spring, Eckton visited a family member's meadery and it inspired him and his wife, Dana Eckton, to open their own place. 

White Bear Meadery tasting room
The tasting room at White Bear Meadery in Gem Lake.
Heidi Wigdahl

"There's places that make it but you have to really look for it. In the liquor store, there are aisles and aisles of wine and then you really have to ask the person there, 'Hey, do you have any meads?'" Eckton said. 

They currently have five craft meads and plan on releasing more as they grow. The mead is made with local honey from Gardner Bees in Sleepy Eye and Eckton said they try to use as many local products as they can. 

"It feels really great going through all those ups and downs and all-arounds, and now we have a place that we can call our family business," Eckton said. 

They do everything on-site, from the fermentation process to the bottling. Their mead is offered on tap in the tasting room and in bottles. 

"This is wonderful being able to create a special craft beverage for people to enjoy and, you know, it's kind of my ideal job," Eckton said, laughing. 

Earlier this week, White Bear Meadery released its latest flavor: Coffee mead. 

You can find White Bear Meadery at 1595 County Road E East in Gem Lake, Minn. They're open Wednesday-Sunday. 

Know a local business we should feature for our Behind the Business segment? Email Heidi Wigdahl at  

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