By Julie Huss
---- — LONDONDERRY — What began as a hobby in a garage has now grown into a sweet success story for one local businessman.
Michael Fairbrother owns Londonderry-based Moonlight Meadery. He brews up batches of honey mixed with water, yeast, spices and fruits to create mead, a drink older than most grape-based wines.
Fairbrother had been brewing at his home since 1995.
He said he learned a lot about food, taste and seasoning from watching his mother cook.
His company started production in May 2010. Since then, it has grown to include mead with names like Desire, Entice, Coffee in Bed, Smitten, Flirt, Indulge and Scorn. There are some 66 flavors ranging from dry to sweet — and always a new one in the works.
"We make an awful lot of varieties of mead," Fairbrother said.
He sees a new type of drink almost visually first, then a name and how to create the flavor.
"If I like it, then I'm happy," he said.
A new flavor now in the works will be a unique combination of orange and vanilla.
"It's almost like a Creamsicle," Fairbrother said.
Making the traditional drink requires a lot of honey and fruit brought in from around the state.
His apple cider supply comes from Londonderry's Sunnycrest Farm.
More than 3,200 pounds of honey will arrive at the Londonderry Road meadery in one box from Littleton.
"We use as many local ingredients as we can," he said.
Once the mead is processed, the wine ages anywhere from three months up to 18 months, depending on the type. Fairbrother fills about 120,000 bottles every four months.
Each bottle of mead is smaller than a traditional wine bottle, holding 375 milliliters of liquid.
This year, he anticipates selling 5,000 cases of mead, doubling last year's total. He said he hopes to add more jobs to his five-person staff to keep up with the demand.
Last month, Moonlight Meadery received an investment from Vested For Growth, a Concord-based company that helps business owners increase their profits.
"In Moonlinght Meadery, we saw growing sales and an excellent management team," said James Key-Wallace, a senior investor at Vested for Growth. "This company is poised to accelerate and offer high quality jobs to the community for many years to come."
Fairbrother sees his business as not only a sweet success story, but one of hard work, perseverance and commitment to making a solid product.
"We are doing something nobody else in the county has done so far," he said. "Keeping up with the demand is almost impossible."
He said more and more people are trying the drink and liking it. That brings customers in the door.
"We had over 3,000 people since May come in for tastings," he said.
This summer, Moonlight Meadery signed a distribution agreement with St. Killian Importing Company that will help Fairbrother expand to retailers in all 50 states.
Fairbrother calls his success "breathtaking." He said he doesn't always think of it as work, but as a total labor of love. He and his wife, Berniece, even got married at the meadery.
"It's a dream story," he said.
Moonlight Meadery is located at 23 Londonderry Road, Unit 17. For information, contact Fairbrother at 216-2162 or visit moonlightmeadery.com.