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  • Tony Forder

From Stout to Mead in the Black Dirt

Updated: Feb 22

What It's All About Blog

By Tony Forder

My entry to the Black Dirt region, aka the Drowned Lands, was a bit different this time. Up the NY Thruway from NJ to the first exit (Woodbury) and East on 6/17, past my usual turnoff to Florida, past Goshen and the new Legoland slated to open this year, sliding off just before Middletown in search of Jeff Stark, a purveyor of truck caps and honey. It was the honey I was after. Time to brew a new batch of mead and score a wholesale 60-lb bucket of local wildflower honey.

Jeff is an interesting dude. His main business his truck caps and liners, but he has beehives all over Orange County and produces a significant amount of honey, over a ton a year I believe. He had fitted out Oasis owner Dan’s truck, and so when we began making mead at the Oasis farm last year, Dan remembered that Jeff also dealt in honey. Dan also told me that Jeff was an Ironman alumnus, a competitor in the grueling Hawaiian triathlon.

I bought buckets on two occasions from Jeff last year. At first he was a bit wary. “What are you going to do with all this honey?” he asked. “We’re making mead.” “That’s a lot of mead. You can’t sell it!” “No, we don’t have a license yet. But you know – family and friends. My daughter has a wedding coming up at the farm.”

“OK, I just don’t want anyone jarring up my mead and selling it.” “Dan can vouch for me,” I said.

Jeff’s located between the hamlets of Westtown and Johnson, both part of the town of Minisink. He’s only about 10 minutes from Westtown Brew Works, so that was obviously my next stop. Brianna was behind the bar. They have a great patio overlooking the valley, but this being winter and kind of a shitty day, only a few people were there on this Saturday afternoon inside the cozy tasting room. I’m in good standing with Brianna ever since I helped out with Westtown’s hop harvest a few years ago. Their hopfield has lapsed a bit unfortunately, but Brianna told me that owner Rich has a new plan to convert it into a hop garden with tables among the hop plants.

I was looking for something rich and dark, and they had it ­– Czar Fred, a 10% chewy imperial stout. Brianna said the recipe had been chosen from a handful of prospects offered by members of the local homebrew club at Mistucky Creek Homebrew over in Pine Island, which was to be my next stop. Brianna also mentioned that Westtown also use Jeff Stark’s honey in their Three Hives Honey Ale. “Yes,” she said. “He comes in once in a while. Rides his bike over.” As I sipped my dark, rich brew, whispery threads of connection began to take shape behind my eyes….and ain't that What It’s All About?

Yeast was what I needed at Mistucky, and owner Steve was happy to oblige. I had gotten to know Steve a little bit a few years prior when he allowed my daughter Caroline and I to brew a beer for her college graduation. It was a Rogue Dead Guy Ale clone named Scary Cari. Steve always keeps a couple of brews on for customer tastes and one of them was an 8.4% Double IPA from a new brewery soon to open in Florida. It was very good. Keep a lookout for Shepherds Eye.

As I headed on to Edenville and the Oasis farm, the rain had stopped and fog was lifting from the blanket of white snow covering the Black Dirt plain. Where the snow pushed into the road banks from the flatlands, it looked like the lands were still very much drowned, and the tide was in.

I stopped to look, and snapped a couple of shots. It was very atmospheric, and put me in a mindful mood to begin a new batch of mead…and ain’t that What It’s All About?


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