by Mandi LeCompte

For ‘Mead Madness’ at Capitol Cider this March we’ll be interviewing local mead makers. One favorite at Capitol Cider is Sky River Meadery in Woodinville. The women-owned meadery was established in 1997 and débuted its first bottle in 1999, making it one of the older meaderies in the state.

Owner Denice Ingalls (right) grew up in Woodinville with her sister and future mead partner Glenda Downs (left). Denice is involved in all aspects of production, from selecting the honeys used in the meads to the fermentation process, packaging, paperwork, and finally educating customers on the joys of mead.

How would your friends describe you?
Cerebral, hermit, a bit sarcastic, hopefully kind.

If you could only drink one drink for the rest of you life, what would it be?
I’m a Seattle girl . . . gotta go with coffee, although I’m supposed to say mead. I love melomels (fruit meads) too—honey is such a complement to so many fruits, especially the fruits with a bit of bitter or tannin.

When you’re not making or brewing up something tasty, what are you doing?
Supervising homework, harassing my dog, reading, hiking, or binge watching my favorite shows.

What goes into making the perfect mead?
A lot of experimenting and imagination. I don’t like to get too kitschy or trendy, but mead has such a widespread presence that the variations are nearly endless.  From the start to the finish it is about quality—good honey, good fruit and/or spices.  No shortcuts.  No flavorings—go for the real thing.

What sets Sky River apart from other meaderies?
We have time on our side—a lot of years of learning.  From there it is our commitment to quality.  True ingredients and simple ingredients.  No flavorings—all real. Ingredients that Grandma would know!

What prompted you to start brewing?
Bizarre confluence of events.  Old English classes in college (Beowolf and Chaucer). Hired by my former father-in-law to run operations in his honey packing plant, growing up in Seattle where beer and coffee menus are expected, home brewing taking off.  It’s a clear path in hindsight, but one made of a thousand tiny steps.

It looks like as a small-business owner, you have to be a jack-of-all-trades. What advice do you have for those just getting started?
Don’t do it! Just kidding. Be prepared to learn a lot, in a dozen different directions—especially if you’re working with alcohol.  Laws (by state), taxes (regular and alcohol), dealing with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, sanitation, accounting, presentation, packaging design, and so on, and so on.  Much like parenting, you go in many directions all at the same time.