Now Hear This!

Several times recently friends and fans have remarked that they were out of content and asked if we had any suggestions for cool new podcasts for them to listen to.

Because there are literally hundreds of different genres for podcasts out there and I don’t keep up with even the most popular ones, my responses have largely been constrained to local podcasts that I know of because I’ve been on them.

With that in mind I’ve rounded up a list of podcast episodes I and/or Margot have been over the years, forgive me if I have forgotten anyone, and we hope you enjoy the exploration.

A couple of important programming notes:

  • Don’t listen to any of these podcasts looking for wit and wisdom from me, I’m just a fun loving guy who makes mead and cider for a living.  This has always been about having fun.
  • At least one of these episodes involved a classic Margot moment where she tells a great story about something she learned from the Urban Dictionary. That is worth the price of admission alone.
  • The point above can be translated to, some of this content may be NSFW, so listen in private or with headphones so you don’t risk questions about your tastes.

The most recent podcast was the Maidmakers on Got Mead Live where Margot, Lisa, Melissa and Kayleigh shared the stories behind the series of meads made by the ladies of Ancient Fire.

Happy Listening!


Updated Gift Card Process

We sell gift cards! We always have!

These gift cards are part of our original gift card solution and pre-date our Take Out and Direct Shipping online stores. Gift cards we create at the meadery don’t natively work in either of those places. 

But fear not, we have solutions!

Did you buy or get a gift card and want to use it to place a Take Out order? We’ve got you covered. Contact us at We will get the gift card number from you and will then convert the balance of the gift card to coupon codes that can be used in the online store. Once complete, the gift card will be deactivated. The coupon code will be created in $5 or $10 denominations with a use count up to the dollar value on the card. You will be able to use the coupon as many times as needed to redeem your full card balance. 

Did you buy or get a gift card and want to use it to place a direct shipping order? We’ve got this handled as well! Contact us at We will get the gift card number from you, create or confirm a Vinoshipper account for you (via e-mail address) and ultimately convert the balance of the gift card to a credit on your account in the direct shipping store. Once complete, the gift card will be deactivated. The credit stays on your account until it is completely used, meaning an unused balance is stored if you don’t use it all on your next order. 

Curbside Take Out COVID Update

We’ve always offered a touch free curbside pick up service for Take Out orders, but as the weather has turned cold we are no longer setting up a convenient pick up station outside. This creates a challenge for some patrons, believing they have to come inside to pick up their orders where there may also be unmasked diners otherwise enjoying snacks and drinks. 

You do NOT need to come inside to pick up Take Out orders that you’ve already placed and paid for online. 

If you haven’t yet placed your order when you arrive you will need to order and pay inside at the bar. 

If you would like to coordinate a curbside pick up with us please follow the steps below to make your visit to Ancient Fire as safe as possible:

  1. Place and pay for your order online at
  2. Before you jump to the payment processing leave your desired pick up date and time in the “order notes” field. This is VERY IMPORTANT, as this is how we plan what orders to fill and queue during our open hours. This has not changed since we began this process. 
  3. When you place the order above you MUST provide us with the phone number that will be used to text us to coordinate the actual car-side pick up. If this is not the number provided in the customer/payment details then PLEASE provide this number in the order notes along with your pickup date and time.
  4. When you arrive at Ancient Fire to pick up your order you can stay in your car and text us at ‪(978) 272-2416‬. This text should include your order number (from the e-mail confirmation) and the make, model and color of your vehicle. An example might be “I’m here to pick up order 4030. I am in a dark blue Subaru Outback.”
  5. An Ancient Fire staff member will bring your order outside. We will also bring an empty growler box for you to return any empties to us. The staff member will acknowledge you from the sidewalk, and may also ask that you show your ID through a card window,  letting you know that your order can be picked up. They will then back away to a safe distance. 
  6. Grab your loot and head out!

Note: We are being specific about how to text us about your pickup, and we really do expect it to work this way. We want to verify you are who placed the order, and receiving a text from the number provided in the order (which is also why we need the order number to search on) is a secure way for us to be sure that orders are being given to the correct parties. Please do not text this number for any other reason. Random messages will be ignored. General sales/service inquiries and questions can be sent to sales@ancientfiremeads or you can message us via social media. 


The Right and The Responsibilty to Vote

In my last blog post (Voting as a Social Connection) we walked back through the major voting rights changes in the United States since its founding. Clearly in each “era” of our history more and more people have gained the right to vote in our country, so why don’t more people vote?

Don’t we all feel a personal responsibility to participate in our system to both impact the outcome AND legitimize the process?

This is a huge and complex problem, but it is also a problem that has been studied and a panoply of causes of non-participation have been identified. Let’s review some high-level statistics and a few major reasons eligible citizens don’t vote.

In our best recent years participation in our elections has been at about 56% of eligible voters. This is largely representative of presidential elections and dips to 36% during midterms. Pretty dismal. I am sure we could do better.

Remember the increase in the population of eligible voters, especially in the 20th century, from all the legal changes that expanded voting rights? Unfortunately, after the late 1890’s the percentage of eligible voters participating in elections consistently worked downwards to where it is now, but was at nearly 80% prior to that time. More people attained the right to vote, but many of them and/or others are not consistently choosing to participate. What gives?

Ballot/Primary Access – Even our first President didn’t speak too highly of political parties in his farewell address, so why do we have them, and why are only two typically in play in national elections? Power and control. Between vote % counts needed to even have ballot access and closed primaries to independent/unaffiliated voters, if you don’t typically vote red or blue you often can’t vote or don’t have anyone to vote for. It is hard to feel a responsibility to vote when there are no options that reflect your affiliation and ideas. Inviting more platforms and parties to also participate in debates and providing them with the same national visibility would definitely help engage more voters.

ID Challenges – 21 million Americans don’t have a government issued photo ID. Accept that this is currently true. Accept that the reasons why are some of the same reasons why many functions of every day society we take for granted are not universally available to everyone. In states where such an ID is required to vote, a barrier is erected. Recent legal challenges to new voter ID laws have expressed concerns about these laws being much more of a modern voter suppression technique rather than trying to prevent fraud that has consistently been found NOT to exist. It is hard to make good on your responsibility to vote when the establishment prevents you from doing so. Felons in some states can make this argument as well.

Voter Registration & Process Red Tape – The voter registration process, deadlines and frequent de-coupling from actual voting varies from state to state. This creates a confusing process that is often not well documented so getting it wrong can be easier than getting it right. Responsibilities are often complex and require considerable effort to uphold, but I bet we can do better. States with same day registration consistently record higher voter turnout.

Electoral Integrity – Some people feel their vote doesn’t count. When it comes to Presidential Elections and the Electoral College it is hard to argue that there isn’t a problem. Electoral Votes don’t count the same by population/state in this country, and the entire process easily heads into dispute when the electoral outcome is so badly mismatched to the popular vote as it was in 2016. Three million votes different! The integrity of the process and the idea that a person’s “vote doesn’t count” is a disincentive to people to participate, so some don’t. And in states that have lower electoral integrity (a multi-vector assessment, Washington Post) voter turnout also lags. How can we expect people to vote if we can’t provide more of a guarantee that their effort is worthwhile?

Well, this problem has a problem. We need more people to participate in the process so we can make and keep meaningful changes to that process so that it better benefits all of us. In some cases those changes must come first so that we can give voting access to people who we wish to join us. On others, we need to make changes that increase options and diversity within our process so that more voices can be heard. Much of this will require voting for new leaders who recognize the challenges and benefits of change to our process.

This is why we are Making Good Trouble and helping Rock The Vote this year. If we can help get more voters engaged, registered and out to vote we feel it keeps us moving in the direction we all want to go.

Will you help us?

Are you registered to vote? Do you have your voting plan set?



Voting as a Social Connection

Most people think of voting as a political act. The way I said that isn’t meant to challenge that idea, voting IS the act of casting ballots for the election of actors we perceive as functioning politically, but there is more at work.

Voting binds us to each other in how our laws and our social functions are supported and upheld by those in government that we elect. We enter into a contract with everyone else when we vote for specific people to lead us towards goals we deem worthy and just. But, just how much do we understand that relationship?

Sadly, more than you would think if you only consider the optimistic side of such a question. It is OUR country, for US and by US after all, isn’t this just obvious and easily taken granted? Maybe. But what about other conclusions that could be drawn?

Whenever there has been an attempt to suppress the lawful vote for any American, at the heart of that effort is always the clear recognition that allowing everyone a voice would create the possibility that “undesired” experience and priorities might creep into the conversation and somehow impact the outcome those who aim to prevent that expect. For some, the idea that certain “lesser” people would be even be allowed to be in a social contract with them is just repugnant. For such people stopping the “others” from casting votes, and therefore influencing governance, becomes an imperative. This concern is present across differences in gender, race, economic status and political ideology.

Most Americans can’t really put together more than a high level timeline for voting rights changes in the US, the practical impacts the changes did AND most often didn’t have, the persistent problems, or make any real case that the progress we have made is acceptable when so many people are still regularly challenged when they attempt to vote. That is a real shame, because knowing that everyone is able to exercise their right to vote is the only way you’ll ever know that your right to do so is also safe. We are bound to each other through this right, and we must protect it for all or we risk losing it for ourselves.

Here is a quick reminder of some American voting rights milestones:

  • 1700’s – Property owning white men are generally the only people allowed to vote
  • Early 1800’s – The property ownership requirement began to be lifted
  • Fifteenth Amendment (1870) – Americans could not be denied a right to vote based on race
  • Later 1800’s – Poll taxes and literacy tests, most often in the South, were used to limit who voted
  • Nineteenth Amendment (1920) – Women win the right to vote without gender discrimination
  • 1924 – The Snyder Act, Native Americans were granted citizenship, and therefore the right to vote
  • 1952 – Immigration & Nationality Act, allowed immigrants from several communities to attain citizenship and therefore the right to vote.
  • 1960’s – Voter suppression continues to ramp up, most often in the Southern States
  • Twenty Fourth Amendment (1964) – Poll taxes outlawed, upheld by the Supreme Court in 1966
  • 1965 – The Voting Rights Act passed by Congress. Outlawed many voter suppression tactics and forces states with a history of voter suppression to submit voting change plans to the Federal Government for approval
  • 1971 – Voting age reduced to 18 years of age (from 21)
  • 1975 – Voting Rights Act expanded to include support for additional languages for Americans to use in the voting process
  • 1982 – Voting Rights Act extended, and with additional priorities for the disabled
  • 2002 – Legislation to help modernize American voting infrastructure passed
  • 2013 – Supreme Court removes the portion of the original Voting Rights Act that required some states to submit voting change plans
  • 2013 Since – Voter suppression tactics have returned to many states, including some with very specific identification requirements as well as significant closures of polling places in locations whose demographics look hauntingly familiar from past eras of suppression
  • 2016 Since – Political campaign messaging about voter fraud often doesn’t match evidence and leads to confusion; attacks on alternative voting methods breaches states rights relative to elections and causes additional confusion
  • 2020 – COVID and concerns over the safety of in-person voting…

What a long, strange trip this has been. And we’ve not arrived anywhere just yet. To understand that one form or another of suppression had led to significant numbers of Americans NOT achieving the right to vote until just the last 50 years is simultaneously both sad AND telling for how current this topic is. We are still preventing thousands of Americans from free access to voting, and we are all suffering from the downward drag this continues to have on our society.

Please vote. Please help your family and friends get registered, know their voting options and cast their ballots.

We will be stronger when everyone who has the right to vote can, and actually does. We can all share in the respect that this act has for our commitment to each other and our society. Please vote to protect all of it.

This blog post is from a series about voting, voting rights and the importance of exercising your right to vote as part of the Making Good Trouble campaign. Read about how we are Making Good Trouble this Fall as we support Rock The Vote with voter registration and voter education events to help connect more people with the voting process.

National Voter Registration Day is September 22nd. Events will be going on all over the country to help get voters registered as well as make sure they know how they can vote where they live.

Local organizations StayWorkPlay and NH Rocks are hosting the NH Rocks The Vote campaign this year. The web site has great local voter resources, including information on absentee voting and the deadlines for voting in NH this year.

We release Making Good Trouble, a new draft mead made from Brazilian Quince Blossom honey, on October 1st to celebrate voting rights and the upcoming election in which we hope everyone gets out and votes.  Funds raised from pints and growlers of this new mead will be donated to Rock The Vote.


Making Good Trouble


“My dear friends: Your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union.” — John Lewis, 2012

There are lots of opportunities to reflect on privilege and sacrifices these days. The mere act of me safely being able to sit at the bar at my business and bang away at this keyboard is an example of the incredible privilege I have in my life. I’m sitting here writing a blog post about the importance of exercising one’s constitutional right to vote in the United States. Some people could only dream of spending their time this way.

It’s true that I’ve never really had to fight for anything in my life. I grew up in the suburbs, went to college, started working in my chosen field right out of school and have successfully used my skills to do quite well. I am grateful for all the support I’ve had along the way, being able to safely chart my own course is not to be trivialized. But, many people never get such an opportunity. 

Along my journey I’ve also had plenty of experiences that have shown me exactly how different things can be for other people, and because of this I’ve always been respectful of my privilege, respectful enough to lean in and listen when important lessons about inequity and systemic bias that has stripped my outcome from the hands of others were being told. What I’ve learned has been turned into action. 

From an early age I have volunteered time, and money when I ultimately had some, to the Boy Scouts, Appalachia Service Project, Habitat for Humanity, the American Red Cross and more recently to the American Cancer Society, the New Hampshire Food Bank and a number of other organizations that provide services to people who need help with a spectrum of challenges. I have done this for the sole reason that I know how valuable it is to be able to use my abundance and privilege to help others make their own way in this world.

But, change is still needed. Inclusion in all facets of our society for all Americans is still not the norm everywhere. In some places people still hold the bias that skin color alone is something to make a decision based on. That bias is not just one of thought, it is also one of action. Our system isn’t equitable for everyone, because not everyone agrees that it should be and some vote to keep it the way it is. That’s not good enough for me. 

So what do we do? Elect better leaders. Elect leaders that surround themselves with the kinds of people who make things better for everyone, not just themselves. 

At this point I could veer off into a partisan diatribe about the issues and fighting for or against something, but that isn’t going to get anywhere. I’m not the arbiter of thought for everyone, and my take on the issues isn’t something I’m going to push on others. More importantly, most people won’t listen long enough right now to an obviously partisan point to result in any real, meaningful discussion. It’s clear our educational system has failed us magnificently, but that is a post for another day. 

But, I can encourage participation in the process as both an act of nonviolent protest against the status quo AND an optimistic act. If enough people participate in the process (and here’s to hoping more than ever before) the desired changes will come, and maybe sooner as opposed to later. 

So as John Lewis said many times we must “get into good trouble, necessary trouble.”

In his honor we are making a mead named “Making Good Trouble” with proceeds benefiting Rock The Vote, a three decade old organization with a mission to connect young people (primarily) with the voting process so that they can develop a habit of making their voice heard. 

I am registered to vote. I vote. I am reasonably confident that my vote is secure. Once again, I find I have privilege, and with that privilege comes responsibility. I owe it to every one of fellow Americans to fight to ensure the security of their vote as if it were my own. If I don’t, who can I expect to be fighting for my rights when they have the station to do so?

This year COVID is having its way with our electoral process and the daily (and hourly some days) headlines about the methods by which people can vote, and not, are having a dizzying impact on people’s lives as they wrestle with casting their ballots. It shouldn’t be like this, but remember the systemic bias from above? It’s back in this paragraph.

So, what do we do? 

First, know your options. What voting options does your state offer? In person, mail-in, absentee, early voting, etc. Make sure you know what the options are for your local and state elections as well. Research them with your state and local government resources. Ignore the trolls on social media. 

Second, know when you must act. Elections have different deadlines for different methods. 

Third, pick your method and plan your voting actions. VOTE!

Margot and I recently voted absentee for the NH primary election. We used the state website to complete an absentee ballot application, and our ballots arrived from our town clerk a few days later. This year the State of New Hampshire added COVID safety concerns to the list of disabilities allowed for absentee voting. I believe this was a smart change to ensure everyone has a method available that doesn’t require them to take excess risk during a pandemic. 

The process of completing the ballot was simple, it’s the same scannable one we would see at the polls on election day. We signed the affidavit on the inner envelope and then sealed it and it into the outer envelope. We decided to return then in person to the town clerk, which Margot did. We could have mailed them back, but the post office is about the same distance from our house as the town offices, so this made sense for us. The process was simple, and included an ID check, as well as an affidavit that my ballot was returned by a lawful representative, in this case my spouse. 

Overall it was a very smooth and convenient process. 

When we requested absentee ballots we were able to request both the NH Primary AND NH General Election ballots in one request. This means we have ballots on the way for November, and we expect to use the same process to return them as we did this time. 

I hope the example of what we did helps illustrate the important research and planning work needed to make sure you secure your vote and make sure your voice is heard. 

This is our call to action. Know your options and plan how you will cast your vote. And once you have, keep an eye out here to learn more about how you can help us secure the vote for so many others so that they may safely and securely vote to ask for the changes we all want to see in our world. 

ROCK THE VOTE by Making Good Trouble!


Running Ancient Fire in COVID Times

Star Wars is always our go to after a long day.
(Rise of Skywalker screening in Dec 2019)

In two posts earlier this year we shared some of our experiences and plans during these challenging times. Check out What Next? and Finding The Future to see how things went earlier in pandemic mode. Truthfully the challenges continue to mount, and like so many stories from this period, you can quickly see the “perfect storm” in this one.

First and foremost we are very concerned that no matter what we do we may provide a path for COVID through our community. What a horrible concern to have. Reflected in these times where there will clearly be no easy solutions, we must carry that concern with us as we literally do things that increase that chance. 

What are we, and other businesses like us, experiencing? Assume this is a partial list, because like so many of these stories, every experience is at least slightly different. 

  • Rising prices for materials, packaging and supplies; availability issues with existing suppliers causes lost time and money searching for alternatives
  • COVID specific supply shortages (PPE, etc from day 1, but other items consistently and more frequently)
  • Profitability drops (margin decreases) as more distributed product drives sales goals
  • Logistics delays and sharp freight increases
  • Lots of new “rules”, “recommendations” and “requirements” and approval overhead
  • Minimal to no enforcement of or public education about the new State-driven rules with a call for the public to do their part, e.g. helping to create public trust

The integrated nature of our business means that all of the problems in a wide number of supported industries combine in our production and distribution process. Did you catch that? That was the sound of the perfect storm crashing in. Every day is a soupy mess of tradeoffs and decisions, almost none of which are technically good. Everyone is going through these things. We know because we ask our customers, vendors and service providers. 

But wait, there’s more!

These challenges on top of the changes in gathering behavior and events specific to our hospitality business stokes that perfect storm with unpredictable demand, much reduced marketing opportunities and more friction at and resources needed through every customer facing activity. We’ve brought the staff back to help with Take Out, recovery planning with several having been partially deployed on other responsibilities to help us as much as possible right now. 

This is all without raising prices or adding fees, and as of the time of this document being published, without taxpayer funded relief either. 

And again, we aren’t alone or unique. Ask your favorite local restaurant, bar or brewery. You’ll hear a lot of different stories, but the underlying themes will be the same. 

Depending on where a particular business is at in this moment however, the weight of all of this may come at any one of some classically “bad times” and be more comprehensively damaging than they otherwise might be. For a small company that was just reaching a point of having a capable team in place for primarily a taproom driven model, this wasn’t good timing. We were staffed and trained for one thing, and something quite different was required immediately. Our part time staff all had, and thankfully kept, their primary jobs, but for us that meant they weren’t a good fit for any radical transformations we might want to undertake. We asked them to stick with us without being sure when we could use their help again. Assume the part time arrangements and specific hours per week plays a part in how, and how well, “paycheck” minded taxpayer relief works. 

Some people might say “why didn’t/don’t you just hire new people who fit the need?” Good idea, except that in the immediacy of this change having any staff toiling away next to each other (unprotected at the time) was the opposite of what was being asked, and with an abundance of caution, we took it seriously. Our job can’t be done remote, and training can’t either. Now we don’t have the resources to hire, and remain cautious because we aren’t out of any woods yet. 

So a perfect storm of rising costs, unstable sales and COVID burdens it is. 

Coming back from all of this will be even harder. 

  • We still have lots of uncertainty 
  • Long term thinking is largely off the table
  • Short term thinking can be dangerously reactionary at this point; things change fast

For some of us it is survival not recovery.

This week we are finally re-opening for dine-in, and we hope lots of folks will come see us. Take Out is still a great option, and we also have our quarterly bottle club and the ability to ship to 37 states. You can find us on more shelves and on more taps now than pre-COVID. But we see the challenges reflected in all of these areas. We understand that this is affecting you too, and we are doing what we can to help. As we continue to enhance the engagement with our community we are excited to get the word of mouth working again like it did in years one and two. Thank you so much for all of your support. Your continued feedback has been helpful for us to understand the reality we are all in!

We still need to do all of these and other things we had previously planned so we can understand what the dine-in and other sales channels can actually do for us in THESE times. We need this information because assumptions won’t do it, and this data will feed some very important and challenging decisions that we will have to make at month end. 

The only thing that is certain, and this is typically exciting, is we have a lot to learn with everything coming at us this way.

Thank you for caring enough to read to the end. We want you to know that this is real for us too, and that we understand. We hope what we have to offer can provide you enjoyment for at least a little bit in these challenging times.

 Thank you, and see you soon!

Jason & Margot

Finding The Future

{ Way back machine. 1st birthday party, March 2019 }

It’s amazing what a crisis can do. The opportunity to learn, refocus, exploit new opportunities and to dream are all positive elements to situations that can often just seem so hopeless. My own experience with cancer nearly 20 years ago gave me this same opportunity, and the fact that Ancient Fire even exists is because of what side of that crisis I decided to play on.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been crippling for families, businesses, cities and states. The whole of our country has all been mixed up by it. We are very much at the beginning of our experience with this virus and its impacts, and that is precisely when we need to be looking at where the opportunities are. What can we do differently, and better?

We’ve learned a lot in the last 3 months. We’ve had the opportunity to look at our business model and figure out what worked and what didn’t, and while we were able to pivot to Take Out quickly and easily, everything else we lost definitely didn’t help us to try and continue to grow our brand. Scaling back to a skeleton crew (just Margot and I for the first 8 weeks) definitely reminded us that we’ve grown a bit since we started out that way in 2018, and two people can’t run this business by themselves anymore! We are so thankful to our staff and our entire community for helping us get here, it sure hasn’t been easy!

With re-opening here in NH set to enter phase 2 on June 15th, we’ve ramped up our planning for supporting dine-in again. That said, we won’t be opening for dine-in inside or outside the week of June 15th. We need a little more time to get ready as well as a couple weeks to work on changes from what we’ve learned. Margot and I are also going to take a little break before we jump right back in to things.

So, we are still asking for everyone to be patient with us. We will be back, it will be better than it was before and we really appreciate all of the support we have had with Take Out and Direct Shipping orders up to this point. Folks that really want to help us should continue to use these options. This allows us to put money in the bank, pay our staff and keep the production ramping in the right direction to support all the thirsty mead and cider consumers out there.

So what’s the plan?

We expect to re-open for dine-in both inside and outside the week of July 6th. We will announce more details on what kind of seating and offerings will be available as we get closer. It will be reservation based and there will be all kinds of rules we all have to follow to keep ourselves safe and Ancient Fire in compliance with the Manchester Health Department.

In the meantime we have a number of upcoming releases including, You Cyser, You Brought Her and Leaping Off  The Ledge. At the end of the month, and right before the July 4th holiday, Sweet Burn Dude! and Station 7 come back! So, while we get ready we are still keeping the mead flowing!

Over the next couple of weeks several two person teams from our staff will be making new batches of mead from the Hawaiian honeys so that we can bring back favorites like SHE-nanigans, Orange You Happy and Tai Fighter as well as release new meads from them like Colada Love and some yet to be named! Everyone on the team is rolling up their sleeves to get product moving, re-envision the tap room and make sure we are ready to have you all back!


Margot & Jason

What Next?

The last couple of months sure have been different. The old adage that you throw the business plan out the day you open can easily be replaced for some of us by throwing the long term plan out the window when a pandemic comes along. Needless to say there has been a lot of time for reflection as well as good old fashioned jam sessions talking about all manner of crazy ideas.

Yesterday I saw the wonderfully written piece by Carl Soderberg from Able Ebeneezer Brewing Company, and beyond how nice and positive the message within it was, we could also relate. Grind on Able!

I will similarly cut to the chase. We aren’t opening our patio on the 18th as NH guidelines would permit. We will be sticking with our Take Out model which has been successful. It has allowed us to keep the business open, running at partial capacity, and given us the time and flexibility to be able to muse over the big question, what next?

Read on and you’ll get it. Oh, and we were open for Take Out on Star Wars Day, May 4th. I was the Jedi bartender. 

In early March we had a swirl of things going on at Ancient Fire. Second Birthday party, prepping for the Made in NH Expo, and I was getting ready to head to Colorado to present at my first Brew Your Own Magazine NanoCon.

By then I had heard of coronavirus, but now I was seeing more and more news reports about this new illness COVID-19, caused by the virus, that it was quickly spreading, killing people and already upending life elsewhere in the world and Western US. I knew something was wrong, and I knew we were going to be in it soon. By the time we opened on March 11th for the first of our birthday party events, we were already doing extra sanitizing and the topic of coronavirus really did consume a lot of the conversation. On Friday March 13th I predicted we would be forced into Take Out mode early the next week and introduced a Take Out menu and ordering process. By the end of the weekend we had worked out kinks with several orders and had already received feedback from customers that they appreciated the option.

We had fun over the birthday party weekend. We really did. We accomplished so much of what we had planned in 2 years, and the love and support from our community was easily felt. When Margot and I locked the door on March 15th to head home I remarked that we should remember this moment because everything was going to be different. I was trying to celebrate the two years that we had just eclipsed in the way they should have been, but my mind was elsewhere. This makes the four years of business planning and operations that led to here seem like a past job already. So weird.

The Made in NH Expo was cancelled, and so was the conference late in the month. Things changed that fast. I’ve subsequently been part of two additional conference cancellations and two more wine judging events that have either been cancelled or postponed.

At least my schedule was clear! On the 16th we opened for Take Out, a rare Monday, but honestly we weren’t sure exactly what would happen in NH, and we wanted to book some sales to at least go down fighting. Over the next two weeks we stabilized our process and hours, and continued to see strong engagement with our community. We didn’t know what to expect, so anything would have been welcome, but what we did experience still feels really special.

Sadly our staff found themselves with no work to do (bar & dining room closed) and an uncertain future. We furloughed everyone that week, but thankfully Ancient Fire is a second job for all of them, so this did not immediately impact them. Margot has been working her full time job as well, balancing time between both as best as possible. As of last week the staff have begun returning to help with Take Out orders and cleaning. It has been a pleasure to have them back, and be able to talk with them from 8 or 10 feet away. We have a fun wheel of social distancing that we practice as we work around the different stations at the meadery.

Because of the Made in NH Expo being cancelled we found ourselves sitting on a sizable inventory of bottled product, more than we would typically have on hand in the winter season. What a stroke of luck. And it immediately started to move. We had a small amount of direct shipping business prior to all of this, but once everyone was stuck at home getting a shipment of mead from us definitely seemed like a realistic option for those outside our pick up area. We are still working from that inventory, but new bottling plans are already on the schedule.

Making a difference in our local community has always been part of who we are, and from the very first week of Take Out we decided to share a portion of our weekly sales with local non-profits who would be struggling to react to COVID related issues in their missions. Since we began we have donated $2000 to several non-profits including: The NH Food Bank, American Cancer Society, local mask makers, American Red Cross, FrontLinesNH, FIRST and the NH Hospitality Employees Relief Fund. We have also made a new batch of Making A Difference, our wildflower draft mead that generates non-profit donations with every sale. This mead will be back on June 7th.

As the V1 ordering process stressed from increasing demand we pivoted again and moved to a new web site with integrated payment and a lot more options to include in orders. Two days. That is all it took. I am a retired software engineer, but clearly not completely retired.

In the weeks since we’ve introduced new meads, new honey wines, new snacks, a new Social Distancing T-Shirt and local honey to the store. We lost track of the number of Take Out orders after about 500. As we continue to fit this process and offerings to our audience, it has gotten smoother, and we’ve been able to stay on top of all the other changes.

We are cleaning a lot more now. Growlers are a significant portion of our business, and for the last 8 weeks we have been swapping them for clean glass, and cleaning the dirty growlers in between our open and closed days. It is definitely a crappy job. This is also a great example of a change in costs. We didn’t spend as much time doing this work in the past. Between this type of work, extra cleaning and the cost of cleaning supplies, we definitely are spending money differently today. Food is more expensive to buy, and our supply chain for a lot of ingredients is either still disrupted or has seen cost increases as well. But don’t worry, we’ve got a healthy list of products we can make that won’t break the bank as we try to keep things rolling!

Getting all of this in place, and especially bringing the staff back, has allowed us to plan some short and medium term goals. We hope this will allow us to continue to successfully work through the COVID crisis, but also let us flex into other areas that at a minimum are good marketing, but could also have bigger long term potential.

The cancelled conferences are a hint at other aspects to my work as a meadmaker and are really one of the big reasons why I am where I am. I have been a writer and educator on homebrewing topics since 2010, something I very much enjoy. Getting to share experiences with other people who are passionate about beverage making has got to be one of the coolest jobs out there.

Earlier in the year I turned down a couple articles due to time constraints, but with a newly cleared schedule I revisited the jobs and found some were still open and have subsequently gotten to work. I have more pitches to make. I have conference content that I expect I will finish and use as part of virtual workshops and videos that I am planning to create. We’ve got more ideas like this in the queue, and taking this time to develop them to help engage our community seems like the right choice.

We’ve begun talking about our business model and what the next version might look like. We’ve not made any decisions, but are grateful that we continue to be able to pay all of our bills and can use this foundation to cautiously look ahead.

Honestly, I am consumed by all of this. Margot reaches her limit with me early in most days. I often get up early to read news, share my strong opinions on Facebook, and then set about my day trying to use what I’ve learned to navigate changing State guidelines, consumer sentiment and operational issues all with an eye to “what next?”

I wrote this piece after genuinely realizing that people would be curious. What has this been like for the local craft owners? How are different businesses reacting and making changes based on their unique skills and opportunities? I hope this has been interesting enough to have spent the time.


2019: New Opportunities To Learn About Mead & Cider

When we were doing our business planning for Ancient Fire we found a lot of occasions where we could see how our work as authors and educators could be intertwined with the business of making & selling beverages and operating our tap room. Building an engaged community around our brand takes many different tactics, and because the world of mead and cider are still largely unknown to most people, engaging fans with learning opportunities and immersive experiences is an exciting way to share the story.

We agreed that we needed to focus more on the production and tap room areas initially, and work towards expanding the educational mission of the brand as we felt more confident about the business. There were some obvious “quick hits” that we knew we could integrate early on, like the honey tasting bar, but we also knew there was so much more we could do; much of it needing more time to evolve though.

We’ve reached a point where we would like to tackle the next phase of the mission which involves classroom and hands-on activities on making mead & cider, a return to competition judging and more frequent collaboration with other organizations who host educational events.

And we aren’t wasting any time! So far this year we have the following activities scheduled:

WineMaker Live Chat hosted by Winemaker Magazine on Feb. 13th

Survey Of Modern Meadmaking at Ancient Fire – Feb. 24th – SOLD OUT
We are excited to host our first class at Ancient Fire! We will be talking about a wide range of topics in mead and will make a batch of session mead as a group!

Judging at the 2019 Winemaker Magazine International Competition in April

Speaking & Hosting Bootcamps at the 2019 Winemaker Magazine Annual Conference in Michigan in May. I’ll be speaking about Adding Fruit to Mead and hosting two bootcamps on cider and mead-making.

Attendance, Speaking & Judging at the 2019 National Homebrewers Conference in Providence, RI in June.

Later in the year we plan to host additional classes (more topics too) on site at Ancient Fire as well as at locations such as Musto Wine Grape in Hartford, CT

We won’t be limiting our activities to just content and topics of interest to home-brewers or home mead-makers, but will also include more on honey, food pairing, cocktails and who knows what else we think will be fun!

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