ST. ALBANS – Should the winds of national politics align and the government shutdown end, the St. Albans Industrial Park could welcome a new meadery in the coming months.
Colchester’s Groennfell Meadery, which produces mead under both its Nordic namesake and as Havoc Mead, purchased a building in the town’s industrial park to serve as its production hub in what would be a permanent move .
Their Colchester meadery, currently nestled into a warehouse behind Costco, was originally set to close in February before the federal government’s shutdown disrupted owners Ricky and Kelly Klein’s plans.
The move hinges on several applications sent to several federal agencies: the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau – frequently shorthanded as the Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) – the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) and Federal Business Administration (FBA). The latter is providing a small-business loan, and the production of alcohol at a new facility requires permits from both TTB and USDA.
All three have been deemed non-essential during the ongoing government shutdown, stripped to skeleton crews for performing only the agencies’ most essential functions, leaving standard permitting applications – and business plans – for people like the Kleins in limbo.
For the Kleins, the situation has meant delaying both their move to St. Albans and whatever other plans they may have had, like a “mobile mead hall” or even a new mead hall, where they could serve their arsenal of meads brewed in the industrial park alongside the locally-sourced, Viking-inspired fares Groennfell currently serves at their Colchester front.
Their timelines, which originally saw the meadery close its Colchester doors in February and begin brewing again in St. Albans later in spring, have been upended by the shutdown.
“We have absolutely no idea where we are in the queue,” Ricky Klein said Friday morning. “Even when the government reopens, we have no idea when someone will look at my application. All of my quotes outstanding are for a move in February, and now there’s no chance anyone will even look at my application until February.”
Mead is a catchall term for alcohol brewed from fermenting honey with water. More traditional meads may resemble wine, but the meads produced under Groennfell’s name take on a more beer-like flavor and style.
The Kleins are now compensating by ramping up production through the shutdown to make sure they’ll have enough mead to reach their expanding markets while they balance their disrupted move.
Their Colchester taproom will remain open in the meantime, but only on Fridays and Saturdays. Their food selections will also be trimmed to “only what can be cooked on a grill,” Klein said, like sausages.
“I consider us really lucky,” he added. “Imagine you’re a new brewery… like, new brewers who can’t even release a product because they need label approval.
“… and all of that is a joke compared to people who may lose SNAP benefits.”
Troubles with the shutdown aside, Ricky Klein said they were excited for the new move to St. Albans, a decidedly closer commute from the couple’s home on the St. Albans Town – Swanton line.
While they had originally sought to rent a new location in either Colchester or Milton, Klein said there “was really nothing” there. “When I say nothing, I mean there was really nothing there,” Klein said.
But when their real estate agent brought a quiet corner of the St. Albans Town industrial park to their attention, where a building was even “move-in ready for a brewery,” Klein said he and Kelly saw a chance at their meadery’s “forever home.”
The new location won’t have a taproom or abutting mead hall, a difficult decision ultimately agreed to by the Kleins after a back-and-forth with St. Albans town officials. “It’s industrial. I don’t want people driving into an industrial park for a pint,” said Klein.
While the shutdown’s made long-term planning difficult, Ricky Klein hinted at some plans for the future. A “mobile mead hall” might be in their future, bringing their meads to gatherings at the Vermont farms where they source their foods and ingredients, while a possible taproom or permanent mead hall may also be possible elsewhere.
But while there’s excitement for the move, Klein said it was a difficult choice to shut their doors at the Colchester brewery.
“I love the mead hall,” he said. “The mead hall is important to me.”
It was apparently important to others, as well.
“When we announced the mead hall was closing, I got personal emails saying ‘my daughter has never known a Vermont without a mead hall,’” Klein said. “We had people come in and cry to our bartenders. It’s not a restaurant that’s closing, but it’s one of Vermont’s safe spaces for people of all genders and nerds. It’s one of those last places where welders and professors can meet as equals.
“If we’re not making mead in ten years, we won’t have failed as long as we’re still serving our mead hall community,” Klein continued. “We’re very serious about it and we have a few ideas… but having no idea what the first half of 2019 is going to look like, I can’t say what the second half will have, yet.”
The federal shutdown remains unresolved, stalled by President Donald Trump’s insistence on $5.7 billion for the construction of a wall along the U.S.’s southern border with Mexico and Democrats refusal to give it to him.
While the Democrat-headed House of Representatives has already passed a bill that would fund most of the federal agencies affected by the shutdown, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R – Ky.) has repeatedly blocked said legislation from reaching the Senate.
Trump has previously promised the shutdown could last “months or even years,” with no realistic reconciliation between Republicans and Democrats in sight.
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