Liquid Arizona: Meadful Things

Craig OuthierMay 1, 2023
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How an industrious Valley couple gave Gila County a much-needed beverage boost.

Robert and Angela Mitchell like beer just fine. But when Robert was stricken with celiac disease a few years ago, the Valley couple had to pivot to a less gluten-centric drinking option. They found it in mead, that most ancient of adult beverages, which Robert – a longtime aerospace engineer – took to brewing in the couples’ garage. “We’d take it up to our cabin in Payson and drink it on the patio up there,” Angela says. “And one day we were sitting around and one of us said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to [make it commercially] right here?” Mastering the art of fermenting honey was the easy part – navigating Gila County’s notoriously strict production statutes proved far more difficult. Last summer, after years of wrangling, the Mitchells finally unveiled Below the Rim Meadery, the first tasting room of any sort to open in Payson in decades. Having ended the town’s scandalous run of dryness, the Mitchells walked us through the sticky details.

The Mitchells start with three types of honey – wildflower (pollen-y, rich) clover (mild, lighter) and baker’s (dark, wheat-y) – all sourced from West Virginia. Robert deploys them strategically for his different mead styles. The baker’s honey, for example, will be used for his plum mead.

After boiling the honey, Robert starts the fermentation process by adding water and a special Champagne yeast. “It’s more highly alcohol-resistant [than beer yeast], and honey needs that, to help convert those stubborn sugars,” he says.

After about a week, Robert adds more honey to start a lengthier second fermentation that will ultimately deliver his target 18-20 percent ABV. He filters out the dead yeast.

Photo by Angelina Aragon
Photo by Angelina Aragon

Finally, the Mitchells divide the mead into 8-gallon barrels and add the fruits and natural flavorings that inform their 21-variety strong portfolio. The steeping process can be as short as a week (for Hatch chiles) to two months (for blueberries).

Could they simply make the mead in the Valley? Sure, but that would take away all the fun. “The whole point was to do it in the woods, not in a bar,” Angela says. Find Below the Rim at 1227 Taproom in Phoenix and other fine beer stores, or head up to Payson to sip some on the Mitchells’ hammock.


Below the Rim Meadery

Photo courtesy Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.
Photo courtesy Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.
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Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. Strong Safety
Triple New England IPA/10.5% ABV/8 IBU

Proceeds from the sale of this Pat Tillman-themed brew will benefit the late Sun Devil and Cardinal player’s namesake foundation – so here’s one instance where donating to charity really will give you a buzz. Make no mistake, friends: This is a high-ABV Imperial hazy that hits you like a pillowcase full of door knobs, accompanied by a pleasing blitz of melon, papaya and pineapple. Tasty stuff. A special release timed with Pat’s Run in mid-April, the beer should remain on shelves through early summer.