In 2016, Garagiste Meadery became the largest crowd-funded mead operation by a wide margin. But they had only started a year earlier as home-brewers after a life-altering experience with a Michigan small-batch brew turned these craft beer lovers to mead devotees with a single sip.
Chad Wiltz is the founder and owner of Garagiste Meadery in Tampa, FL. The name comes from a teasing French word for boozehounds who brew in their garage. When my fiancee and I showed up on a rainy, Saturday night, we were fortunate enough to meet Chad and try his wares, all while talking craft. The inside of the bar is clean and neat, with front-seat views to massive fermentation kettles, buckets of wild honey from all over the world, and bottles and merch lining the walls. While it still feels like a DIY company, it has the professional gear where it counts.
Garagiste has six different meads on tap at any given time, and Chad and crew aren’t afraid to get creative. Between my fiance and I, we tried them all.
I started with the famous Reboog Noir, which is a Blackberry PB&J Mead. I was mostly attracted because of the blackberries, and also the novelty. Chad and a few patrons confided that this is one of their most popular brews, especially for people who aren’t familiar with mead. The scent of the peanut butter was stronger than the taste, which meant that it mixed well with the blackberry jam flavor that followed through.
My fiance liked the Piñon, and to be honest, it inspired him to try his own coffee mead recipe. He literally wanted to pick up honey on the way home for his next batch. It’s made with mesquite honey from the Southwest, which pairs perfectly with the New Mexican Piñon Coffee Beans, without being overpoweringly smokey. His idea was to always have it on-hand for morning guests who prefer the taste of coffee to the taste of mimosas, but don’t want to commit to a warm drink in our Floridian summers. Fair enough.
I found a surprising favorite in the Just Apples Cyser. Not because I dislike apples, but because the apples that Garagiste put into this brew made it uniquely sweet without being overwhelmingly sour, as is sometimes the case with cysers.
At what point does grape mead just become wine? The question has plagued me as a meadmaker for many years, but Can’t You Hear the Thunder? from Garagiste neither knows nor cares. It blends top-quality wine grapes with top-quality honey, for a red-wine finish on a sweet, traditional mead. It was another that sweet
The taps are always changing at Garagiste. On deck, we heard about a guava Reboog Noir (if you don’t know this, Floridians are googoo for guava), a traditional made from wild African honey, and the mysertious Hondo, which long-time patrons spoke of in excited whispers. They also offer bottles to go, as well as some beautiful mead-themed merchandise.
If you wind up in Tampa, or anywhere in Central Florida, it’s worth the trek to Garagiste. There aren’t many meaderies in Florida period, not really in the US yet but even if there were, the unique and interesting flavors Garagiste provides makes them one-of-a-kind.
The Garagiste Taproom is located at:
1506 North Florida Avenue, Tampa, FL, 33602
They are open:
For information on what’s currently on tap, visit: https://www.garagistemeadery.com/tampa-heights-taproom/