I caught up with Agnew recently, and we talked about how the business has changed, what’s available now and, yes, about Breakfast Magpie, New Day’s super-popular winter seasonal.
How did you get started making mead?
How has the business grown over the years?
I laugh, quite frankly, at our original idea for the business model. We thought 10 years ago that we were going to be a boutique, by-appointment-only tasting room in Elwood, Indiana. Our bottles were an average price point of $20 a bottle. They were still, not carbonated. Bone dry to very sweet. All of our products are still very food friendly, but they were specifically meant to show you what else you could do with mead, that mead could be a fine wine, just as a nice grape-based wine could.
And then you opened the tasting room?
About four years ago we decided to grow the business to move it to where our customers are, here in Fountain Square in Indianapolis. So that was a real big kick start. We over doubled sales in one year’s time; it was amazing. And with that momentum we decided about three years ago to do a product line extension, so we started doing carbonated cider and mead. We thought, ‘oh, it’ll be a nice addition, it’ll be so novel.’ As of last year, that’s all we make. We found out very quickly that the carbonated line – we were selling 100 growlers to one bottle of the other style. They are carbonated and actually bottled in beer bottles and beer growlers. Lighter drinking, extremely food friendly. We’ve found with our customers they’re much more approachable.
Why do you think that is?
When we were in more of a traditional wine bottle, if I had like real hard-core wine drinkers, they were off put by the fact that it wasn’t a traditional grape wine. Whereas people who were not big wine drinkers, they were a little intimated. I have to say our packaging was very, very fine, very nice, and the price point was rather high for Indiana–based wines, and for wines in general.
So people are more accepting of something carbonated?
I didn’t expect this, but I guess I can understand it. Their barriers come down a little bit. If they’re a fine wine drinker, they’re like, ‘oh, it’s carbonated.’ They feel much more relaxed about it. Or if they’re a craft beer drinker, they’re like, ‘ooh, a new carbonated product. I want to try this; what is this crazy stuff?’ If they’re not a seasoned wine drinker or beer drinker, they’re like, ‘oh this is interesting.’ People just have a much more open attitude about the product now.
In addition to the varieties available by the glass or in growlers at the tasting room, which products are available in bottles?
The two you can find now are South Cider and Johnny Chapman, both hard ciders, and Washington’s Folly, the first year-round mead that’s going to be available. It’s cherries and honey. Really approachable; not too sweet. Nice tart cherry flavor. Really, really delicious. And really pretty too, I have to say.
But there’s another one, right? The seasonal that fans get excited about?
Those of you who know New Day know all about Breakfast Magpie. I said the magic words – and no, I don’t have any! I say that because people are still asking me, and I love that. It’s our winter seasonal. It’s a black raspberry mead infused with locally roasted espresso.
And I understand it didn’t last long.
It was gone in two weeks. I promise — put me on the record — we’re making a lot more for next year, I promise. And I guess I can officially say this: We are going to be bottling for the holidays this year a very limited release of Imperial Breakfast Magpie. Fair warning for everyone, it may only be available in the tasting room.
Got it. But what makes the Imperial Breakfast Magpie special?
It’s a specialty of a seasonal. The Imperial Breakfast Magpie is Breakfast Magpie that we’ve actually taken and aged in bourbon barrels. It’s a much higher ABV; it’s 10 versus 8. It’s a little less on the coffee so the bourbon can pull through. We have decided we are going to bottle some of that for the holidays.
Jolene Ketzenberger covers local food at EatDrinkIndy.com, and you can follow her on Twitter @JKetzenberger.