Marion Makes Mead

a man and woman holding a blue glass bottle

Historical and heritage tourism are surfacing and gaining in popularity. From civil war to museums to food and now… 

Mead is commonly thought of as a drink from King Arthur’s time, but it’s becoming more commonly considered a drink of our time.

Wine tasting at Mountain Dragon Mazery

Tom and Ruthann Maltby have never been partial to sweet alcohol drinks, which has saturated the market for some time now. To remedy this, they started making mead for themselves in 2003. They decided to share it in 2013 by opening Mountain Dragon Mazery.

“We found out about this European peasant tradition of a light, dry mead, and that got us really excited,” he said explaining that it’s dry, light and crisp. “It’s not sweet and syrupy.”

The Maltby’s are not your run of the mill local entrepreneurs. Although it won’t seem clear to the majority reading this, mead was an obvious choice for the Maltby’s. Why? It’s made with honey. 

Why WV honey

Honey is made by bees. 

Tom started beekeeping when he was three. (They’re already smarter and more interesting than most of us.) 

The couple maintains their own apiary for breeding bees, and they’ve partnered with a business that maintains 48 hives for them so they can focus on production and delivery.

“Depending on what the bees work, you get a very different honey. … What we’re trying to do is showcase those honeys,” he said. 

Man in white bee suit lifting a hive out of a box

The Maltby’s don’t use any additives; they make the mead in glassware; do craft batches to “really show off the great honeys that the state makes.”

Speaking of West Virginia, what Mountaineers may not realize is that West Virginia is making some of the best honey in the country!

“One of the reasons we think West Virginia has such great honey is there’s less industrial agriculture, so there are not all the chemicals being sprayed all over polluting the honey essentially,” Tom said. “We have more forest mass per population than anywhere else in the eastern half of the country.”

What he’s saying is that you actually can’t get this honey anywhere else.

Ruthann’s family lives in Washington state where industrial agriculture is much more common.

“A lot of them [in Washington] are agriculture honey,” Ruthann explained. “It tends to be very light. It tends to not have that full flavor like the honeys do here, particularly the wildflower.” 

The two agreed, forest honey (as opposed to agriculture honey) is a big deal. 

But before they got into mead and making honey, Tom worked as an industrial programmer in software, new machines for factories to measure flat glass. Ruthann worked for Mountain Peoples Coop in Morgantown for 15 years.

“Partly, we were both ready for a sidestep from the careers we were in. But we’d been making a small amount of mead at home and we kept having more and more people saying you’ve got to make enough of this so we can buy some,” Tom explained. 

Where to find it

Thus, Mountain Dragon Mazery was born, the first of only two mazeries in the world. (The other just opened in England.)  

2 men holding glasses of wine standing in front of the counter at a brewery/restaurant

During that time, many other local entrepreneurs have stepped up as well. Although the Maltby’s don’t get out of the Mazery too often, they’ve found some staples in their lives. The Rambling Root, which sells their mead by the glass, is one of their favorite Marion places. They’re hoping to get to visit the newer places like The Grape Leaf and Wildflour eventually. 

“I’ve always felt like Fairmont underestimates itself. I’ve lived in Boulder and Berkley and Athens on the close corner of Ohio and the cities that are trendy. And what they’re striving toward is what Fairmont already has: it’s all small business and local economy and lots of nature.”

When the Maltby’s started, they were doing commercially what nobody else in the country was doing. There are maybe a dozen now, but why not enjoy what’s in your own backyard: the OG (original gangster for all you non-hip people). 

Mountain Dragon Mazery offers tastings on Thursdays and Fridays or by appointment. Try West Virginia Wildflower, Ruthie’s Rhodomel Rose Petal, Black Cherry Blush, Café Monteverde Coffee and more – all made from local honey to be light and crisp, not sweet and sugary. During the colder months, they’ll also offer mulled mead warmed with fruit, spices and extra honey. 

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