By Emma Kent
Just as bees stay busy day in and day out to produce honey, so has Jeri Carter been working toward the opening of her “baby,” as she calls it – Queen’s Reward Meadery in Tupelo.
As it turns out, bees are essential to her endeavor.
Queen’s Reward, located on McCullough Boulevard in Tupelo, is a meadery – similar to a winery or brewery, but with mead. The mead is made at the Tupelo location, and there’s a bar-style lounge area in which customers can hang out and enjoy a drink.
Mead is essentially wine made with honey. Instead of using grapes, honey provides the sugar needed for the fermentation process.
“It’s been around literally forever,” Jeri said. “It predates grape wine and beer by thousands of years. It’s been around, it’s just not been as popular – but it’s on the comeback.”
Currently, Queen’s Reward is operating entirely out of the McCullough Boulevard location. Making the mead, bottling it and creating new flavors in their “test kitchen.”
“It’s literally a family affair,” Jeri said, joking that her children have permanent spots on the bottling assembly line.
The mead can be bought by the bottle at Queen’s Reward, and they’ll also be able to distribute it to be sold and served at liquor stores and restaurants.
Queen’s Reward has been years in the making. Jeri, who teaches first grade at Saltillo Elementary School, and her husband Geoff Carter began experimenting with making mead several years ago at home.
When Jeri and Geoff first met, Geoff was making homemade wine. He fell out of the hobby for a while until several years ago, when they bought a kit and decided to try it again.
“There aren’t great wine grapes in Mississippi, and I discovered you could make wine with honey – which I had never heard of before – so I said ‘let’s try it,’” Jeri said.
The Carters experimented and worked at their craft, even traveling to a mead makers conference in Colorado.
Then, they entered a batch of Queen’s Reward mead into a competition. To their surprise, they won two awards.
“We were floored,” Jeri said. “Then we knew we were on the right track.”
With Queen’s Reward being the only meadery in Mississippi, Jeri realizes explaining what mead is will be important to their success.
“A big part of our responsibility is educating people and telling them the history,” she said.
That starts with the packaging. Each bottle is designed to educate. On the label, two small gauges indicate the mead’s flavor from dry to sweet and how the mead should be served, from room temperature to cold.
Beyond the bottle, Queen’s Reward has, naturally, adopted the bee and honeycomb as symbols for the brand. Gold bees and honeycomb adorn everything associated with the meadery, from the glasses used for serving to the chair backs at the meadery, right down to the cork in each bottle.
Of course, a visit to Queen’s Reward for a tour will get you familiarized with the process of making it. It takes anywhere from four to six weeks to make a batch of mead from start to finish.
Pretty much all of that time is spent fermenting. During the fermentation process, yeast feeds on the sugar in the honey, producing alcohol. After fermentation comes filtering, which clarifies the mead so it’s clear and ready for drinking.
Mead can be made sweet or dry and infused with flavors, like Queen’s Reward’s lemon-flavored “Pucker Up.”
Jeri said they plan to test new flavors in small batches. She wants to experiment with tropical flavors and juice concentrates as well as berries.
“We can go crazy and we plan to,” she said. “I’m eager for some berries.”
Keeping it local
Queen’s Reward is what’s known as a native winery, meaning that they must use mostly ingredients that are native to the state of Mississippi.
That also means using specific varieties of honey, like cotton blossom honey, more commonly found in Mississippi.
For the Carters, it’s an added bonus being able to tell customers exactly where the honey being used came from.
“That is so cool to me,” Jeri said. “You’re drinking a sip of what the bees are pollinating in your backyard.”
Queen’s Reward’s whole theme is tied to the root of the business – honey – and Jeri wanted to bring that same locally-sourced element into the meadery’s interior, too.
“We’ve tried to do as much as possible with Mississippi,” she said.
Bottle labels stacked high in the tank room were made in Jackson. The light fixtures in the bar area were sourced from J. Britt Lighting in Tupelo.
She also had tables custom made by RAW Furniture and concrete tabletops and bar tops created by a craftsman in Saltillo.
It took about six months, but the space has undergone a major transformation. It was formerly a plumbing showroom with no windows, but now it looks and feels inviting with industrial elements like concrete and honeycomb-shaped tiles alongside warm wood, gold and leather accents.
For Jeri, the cherry on top will be a swing hung out front in one of the property’s pecan trees.
“If you need me, I’ll be out there with a glass of mead,” she said.