Honey River meads come to us through geopolitical strife and West Virginia serendipity.
If some things are fated, the “meading” of Ben McKean and Ferenc Androczi in 1994 just might be one. McKean had bought a farm in Randolph County and was searching for a healthful agricultural specialty that wouldn’t require disturbing the soil. Androczi, a Hungarian academic who had sought asylum during the 1950s Communist takeover and now made honey wines outside Buckhannon using old family traditions, warned of the negative health effects of synthetic chemicals. “This guy was speaking my language,” McKean says.
An apprenticeship followed. “I learned everything from growing fruit trees and grape vines to tending beehives and harvesting honey—as well as his recipes for melomel, a style of mead made with fruit and honey.”
Today, McKean’s operation keeps some 100 hives and produces about 5,000 bottles of mead and melomel each year at his Healthberry Farm near Dry Fork. Honoring Androczi’s methods, Honey River meads are made from raw, not boiled, honey and fruit juices. And they’re fermented to completion—two-plus years as opposed to weeks or months for many commercial meads—for a complexly flavored product that can be bottled without fermentation-stopping sulfites. “Zero synthetic chemicals from orchard and vineyard to beehive to bottle—it turns out that’s uncommon.”
Most popular are Honey River’s varietal meads, labeled for the type of flower the bees were visiting at the time of honey harvest—basswood, tulip poplar, and others. Melomels include blueberry, elderberry, pear, and more. The meads consistently win national awards, including a gold medal in 2020 for Androczi’s grape melomel recipe.
Try a Honey River mead first as a dessert wine—while the “farmhouse-style” fermentation process invites wild yeasts that impart tart and sour notes, the meads are on the sweeter side. The melomels, McKean says, are fruitier and not quite as sweet.
Find a current list of Honey River retailers on the website. Or schedule a visit—McKean enjoys offering tours, by appointment. “It’s a truly unique agritourism and cultural heritage experience,” he says. “I feel so lucky.”