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Green River Ambrosia – Fit for the Gods

The Green River Ambrosia crew – standing L-R Brendan Burns, Will Savitri, Garth Shaneyfelt.  Kneeling L-R Sandy Pearson, Sam Dibble

Mead is an ancient drink, essentially a wine made with honey instead of grapes. The great Norse hero Beowulf drank mead and feasted in a great mead hall 1500 years ago. Somewhere along the line mead fell out of favor as a popular drink, even in Scandinavia, but three young Greenfield men, Garth Shaneyfelt, Will Savitri, and Sam Dibble are brewing a mead they are calling Green River Ambrosia.

The first batch of Green River Ambrosia went on sale in the spring of 2008 and rapidly sold out, as have all subsequent batches. Currently the newly renovated meadery that shares space with Katalyst Kombucha at the Franklin County Community Development Center (FCCDC) brews mead, cyzer a hard cider fermented with honey instead of sugar, and an alcoholic ginger beer. As a participant and sponsor of this year’s Winter Fare events, they are brewing a special local Ginger Libation that uses ginger from Old Friends Farm in Amherst, Clarkdale cider, and Chang Farm schizandra berry juice. I am warning you right now, this is a very limited run. I tested it and it is delicious.

Will Savitri is the founder of Katalyst Kombucha, a fermented tea drink.

Sam Dibble who previously worked at Real Pickles which makes naturally fermented pickles, has worked as the brewer for Katalyst Kombucha for several years as brewer. “I’m Scandinavian, so of course, I know about mead halls. I’m also a beekeeper and I’ve been inspired by Dan Conlon of Warm Colors Apiary.”

When the FCCDC held a big event to show off the First National Bank building several years ago, Garth Shaneyfelt, who had recently moved to Greenfield, met Dibble and Savitri. Their mutual interests in bees, honey, and fermented drinks led them to mead, and the founding of Green River Ambrosia.

Since the equipment for making kombucha could also be used for brewing mead they were in business almost immediately. Getting the necessary state and federal permits and licenses took about six months, and their first 300 gallon batch of mead went on the market in 2008. Most of their honey comes from Warm Colors Apiary in South Deerfield, although Shaneyfelt said they have some hives of their own, and are now working with other small beekeepers. Over the last couple of years they have joined with Clarkdale Fruit Farm and Pine Hill Farm to make cyzer. Last year their cyzer won a gold medal at the International Mazur Cup competition in Boulder, Colorado.

Shaneyfelt explained “We are bringing a wine making mentality to our brewing, a vintage concept.”

“Every year the honey is different, depending on the weather and how that effects the honeyflow, “ Dibble added.

Traditional mead is made with only honey, water and yeast. It has an alcohol content similar to wine, between 12 and 13 percent.

Dibble said, “Honey adds flavor and complexity to our cyzer. The flavor of the apples is still there. Honey compliments the apples and balances the acidity. A wonderful interplay of flavor.”

Mead and cyzer take between six and nine months to finish the fermenting process and be ready to drink. Their ginger beer, called Ginger Libation and technically a wine since it contains no grain or malt, takes less time to ferment making it a useful quicker turn-around product. Shaneyfelt explained that before prohibition all ginger beer was alcoholic. Prohibition changed all that and now Green River Ambrosia may be the only brewery making alcoholic ginger beer in the U.S.

Shaneyfelt is the CFO which means he keeps the books, but all three make the point that this is a worker-owned company. They all do everything. “Brewer is just a fancy name for bottle washer.” Shaneyfelt said. “Cleanliness is essential when you are working with yeast in order to get the flavors you want.”

The meadery space at Katalyst Kombucha at the CDC was recently renovated. The walls, ceiling and floor are made of food-grade material and all are washable.  The equipment is the even higher dairy-grade stainless steel.

The business is growing steadily, enough so that two more worker-owners have been added to the crew, Brendan Burns who brought the recipe for ginger beer, and Sandy Pearson.

All five are committed to supporting local farms and beekeepers. Their motto is Think Global. Drink Local!

The various brews are available locally at Ryan and Casey and the Shelburne Wine Merchant as well as eateries like Hope and Olive and the People’s Pint.

As a former beekeeper myself, and a champion of bees and all the pollinators that are vital to our food supply, I was fascinated to learn about these new local drinks that are increasing the market our local farmers have access to. I give a cheer for every new agricultural and libation enterprise, don’t you?

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Winter Fare events begins on Saturday, February 4 with the Winter Farmers Market at the Second Congregational Church on Court Square. For full information about events logon to www.winterfare.org. The final events on Sunday, February 12 will be the Fifth Annual Cabin Fever Seed Swap at Green Fields Market meeting room from 12:30 – 4:30 pm. Bring seeds if you have them. They can be commercial seeds left over from last year or seeds you saved yourself. If you don’t have seeds, come anyway. There’s lots to learn, and extra seeds to take away.  At 5 pm Conway is having a Local Food Pot Luck Supper at the Conway Town Hall. For more information call Mary McClintock (413) 522-5932.

Between the Rows  January 28, 2012

1 comment to Green River Ambrosia – Fit for the Gods

  • Lisa at Greenbow

    Yes, I will give them a cheer. I would taste test their product too if it was around here. I have read about mead in old stories. I had no idea anyone made it any more. I didn’t really know what it was. Nice article.

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