BELLAIRE — A new tasting room inside Bee Well Mead and Cider adds a slice of home to the family-run business.
The tasting room — run by Chris and Jeremy VanSice with help from siblings Parker and Paige — buzzes with family handiwork. Paige VanSice's artwork hangs on the walls alongside her brothers' photography. Their father built the tasting room's wooden bar.
"We wanted something small and inviting," said Paige VanSice of the 400-square foot tasting room inside the meadery. "We're a family and we wanted a tasting room that reflected that."
The tasting room is about the size of Bee Well's original one-room facility where meads and ciders were produced, bottled and kegged for nearly two years. Distribution has since expanded to 225 Michigan locations from Kalamazoo to Charlevoix, said Paige VanSice, marketing guru for her brothers' business.
"We at first didn’t even envision having a tasting room, but we were getting so many requests for a brick-and-mortar location," Paige VanSice said.
Bee Well's popularity was growing, demanding more workspace. The family moved production in March to a rented 3,200-square-foot building at 3533 Derenzy Road. It offered space in front for a tasting room that originally opened June 10.
New faces packed the family-style tasting room during what turned out to only be a month-long opening. Kearney Township ordered Bee Well to temporarily halt its tasting room operations in early July. The VanSices had registered the tasting room in their building plan, but the township had failed to distinguish it from Bee Well's manufacturing and sales operation, Paige VanSice said.
"We’re still under manufacturing, so we can produce here, but we’re not allowed to sell a glass of it in our tasting room," she said. "It was an oversight on their end, I guess something didn't get signed."
The VanSices shut down tasting room operations the same day they received the call, and were told they would have to wait anywhere from 30 to 60 days to reopen.
"It was a big bummer since we had such a good opening, but the silver lining is we got a bit more time to prepare," Paige VanSice said. "We’re trying to be pretty open minded because we know mistakes happen."
The family is planning for a late August re-opening of the tasting room, she said.
Bee Well's tasting room will offer its four signature meads: Cherry Vanilla, Ginger Peach, Hopped Honey and Antrim Apple Pie. It will also serve four Bee Well ciders — King’s Hard Cider, King’s Cherry, White Harvest and Conservancy — each named after the local farms they came from.
"We’re really just trying to source as locally as possible," Paige VanSice said. "Antrim County has plenty of cherries and apples."
Strawberry Rhubarb Mint and Perry Pear ciders will be offered exclusively at the tasting room, she said. Bee Well's specialty Family Tree cider, made from the apples of about 30 family farms, will also be served.
"We asked families in the area to donate any apples that they could and pressed them all into one juice," Paige VanSice said. "It’s kind of a mystery, it will be different every year."
Tasting room customers will be able snack on pretzels and popcorn with their drinks, she said. Bee Well honey, merchandise and half growlers will also be available for sale.
"We plan to do a few fun things," Paige VanSice said. 'We'll do some events and movie nights."
But the facility will likely only house Bee Well for a few years, she said. The VanSices have visions of eventually building their own facility with a more scenic view.
Visit www.beewellmeadery.com for more information.