Miracle Stag Meadery founder and Cellar Master Árpád László Kovács crafts an assortment of mead, a drink imbued with mythological and kingly associations.
“My HOA would not allow me to have a hive in my little backyard,” says Kovács (who’s known as “Laz” to friends). “But they do allow me to have a meadery.”
Originally, Kovács imagined starting a winery in Maryland. That’s where he grew up, after his ethnic Hungarian parents fled Transylvania — situated within communist Romania — in 1969, before making their way to the United States. After relocating to Loveland, Colorado as an adult, Kovács says, “I found myself in an environment where grapes are more challenged because of the environment.”
Besides having some previous experience with wine making, Kovács had learned about beekeeping from his father. And Kovács had a fond memory of first trying mead as a geology student, after completing a field camp in New Mexico in 1992. So, he decided to explore the possibility of making honey — rather than grape — wine and launched Miracle Stag Meadery 20 years after that first sip.
Today, the basement of his home is filled with bubbling, five-gallon glass carboys containing his meads. “It’s picturesque because of the colors,” he says of the liquid filling the bottles. In total, Kovács produces five different styles, broken down into ten varieties.
There’s the light-golden color of his most traditional mead — made simply, yet artisanally, from water, honey, and yeast; Kovács says it has naturally occurring hints of toffee, chamomile, and vanilla flavors.
There’s the golden-brown color of Honeymoon, which has the addition of raisins, dates, and toasted oak chips. (Mead at one time was considered a “honeymooners’ drink,” which, legend has it, would lead to a child being conceived shortly after marriage.) Fleur de Helen has a “pink-strawberry kind of color to it,” given that it has the addition of strawberries and rhubarb. And there’s also one possessing a “deep crimson, almost a charred red look,” made with cherries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and toasted oak chips. It’s called Dragonblood.
That latter name sounds like it comes straight out of The Lord of the Rings‘ Middle-earth — a fictional land where mead is consumed. But Kovács says it’s actually a play on a Hungarian wine called Bull’s Blood. While working for six years as a linguist in Hungary, Kovács also assisted a friend at his winery, and he sampled the country’s “amazingly good” small batch productions of wines — an eventual inspiration for his own business. Kovács says mead wasn’t as common in Hungary in the late ’90s, compared with a country like Poland. Or Ethiopia. Or a Scandinavian nation like Finland. But Kovács says it’s growing in popularity in Hungary — as well as here in the U.S.
In Kovac’s estimation, there’s a flying creature more noble than any dragon: the bee, which will produce under one-and-a-half teaspoons of honey during its lifetime. (Kovács estimates that the amount of honey in each bottle of his mead is equal to the life’s work of 33 bees.) Kovács says he’s “quite worried, as I think ever person should be,” about those pollinators who have suffered a host of maladies in recent years. “I’m glad mead-making doesn’t harm the bee.”
Kovács sources Colorado wildflower honey. Within his 900-square-foot workspace and commercial kitchen, he ferments the honey in water with yeast, before mixing it with, for example, crushed or ground spices, or apple cider, for varieties respectively called metheglin and cyser. For his melomel — fruited mead — he often adds whole organic cherries or berries. He ultimately allows gravity to filter his mead, letting small fruit particulates remain within to enhance the flavor.
Kovács’ limited winery license is good for 10,000 gallons, but he makes just under 1,000 per year presently. “So, I’ve got room to grow and still be small,” he says. Still, that’s up from about 500 gallons after first starting production in 2015. The mead is predominantly distributed along the Front Range from Denver to Fort Collins. Calling his operation a “one-man show,” Kovács makes the deliveries himself to around 50 shops carrying his products, in addition to juggling most of the other business and mead-making tasks. That includes hand-notating info about each batch — the bottling date, level of sweetness, and batch number — onto each label.
Kovács says the name Miracle Stag derives from a Hungarian legend — an origin story involving two princes who, in the midst of chasing a magical stag, are led to an enchanted land filled with beautiful maidens. But, in addition to the antlers on Miracle Stag’s labels, there are also the shapes of a triangle, circle, and heart. For Kovács, they respectively symbolize moderation, humility, and love — qualities which, he says, inform his sense of business ethics. Long considered a premium beverage (“They say it was the drink of kings”), and made from “the most-costly sugar in the fermenting world (honey),” Kovács seeks to keep his meads as affordably-priced as possible. A single bottle can retail for $25 to $27 on the company’s web site.
Additionally, a motto on his company’s website encourages people to, “Enjoy your mead. Enjoy your feast. Enjoy your quest.” Kovács says it’s his personal quest “to use the best ingredients I can access — and make the best-quality mead possible.”
Challenges: In the rapidly-changing landscape of craft alcoholic beverages, Kovács says it’s, “Not compromising on my fundamental principles of purity in process and business practices.”
Opportunities: “The growth in interest in mead,” says Kovács. “More and more people are hearing about it from various sources.” Those sources include sword-and-sorcery literature like J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings and George R.R. Martin’s books, which were turned into the show Game of Thrones.
Adds Kovács: “I have room to grow — and I can handle the additional work.”
Needs: Kovács says it’s “people who understand and appreciate mead.” For instance, mead has a long shelf life — even after being opened — given how honey acts as a preservative. And there are different styles of mead with intriguing names like pyment, melomel, and metheglin.