An ancient beverage is making a brand-new appearance in Tucson.
With a grand opening on Friday, April 14, Brillé Mead Company will be the first meadery in Tucson, and only the fifth commercial meadery in all of Arizona. The meadery is a labor of love project for David Woods and his business partner Andrias Asnakew, who have been busy brewing up batches of their Ethiopian-inspired honey wine in anticipation of the big opening day.
Woods and Asnakew both lived in Ethiopia before relocating to Tucson, where they met through a mutual connection at Zemam’s Ethiopian Cuisine. The business partners are eager to share their take on Ethiopian mead, known traditionally as T’ej in the East African country of its origin. Mead-making dates back to the fourth century in Ethiopia, and this nectar is still regarded as the country’s national drink.
The meadery’s name Brillé is in reference to the berelé, the round drinking flask customarily used to serve T’ej, and thought to be the oldest style of drinking vessel still in use today.
In an Ethiopian-style mead, a bittering herb is generally added to balance the sweet honey brew. Traditionally, this is achieved with gesho, an herbal extract from a native East African tree, but a similar effect can be achieved with hops. Yes, hops, the very same ingredient brewers use to add a subtle bite to beer.
Woods and Asnakew will primarily use hops in their mead, which will also be enhanced with spices, fruit, and Ethiopian-origin coffee beans to achieve desired flavor profiles. Local Arizona honey is the shining star of their recipes, and the mead-makers hope to utilize other ingredients representative of our region, such as prickly pear fruit, in their specialty batches.
Woods, like many mead-makers honing their craft, got his start brewing mead out of his own home, to be shared with family and friends. Fueled by positive feedback, he and Asnakew collaborated to perfect their interpretation of a traditional Ethiopian honey wine, eventually deciding to turn this passion project into a business concept.
On a whim, Woods brought a sample of home-brewed honey wine to Eric Sipe, owner of Dillinger Brewing Company. The two bonded over the beverage, as Sipe spent his pre-brewery days traveling to various countries including Africa, and was familiar with Ethiopian mead. A plan was soon hatched to set up the Brillé meadery alongside the beer brewing tanks in the Dillinger Brewing Company production facility.
Each business utilizes its own separate equipment and vastly different ingredients, but the missions are the same — to create delicious unique beverages to be enjoyed by all.
In addition to the brewing space, Brillé Mead Company will also share the Dillinger Brewing Company taproom at the Oracle Road location. Visitors to the taproom will be able to sample both Dillinger beers and Brillé Ethiopian-inspired mead when they stop by.
Kolo, a traditional Ethiopian snack made with roasted and spiced barley, will likely be offered to pair with beverages, but for now, it is drinks-only (outside food is always welcome). Woods and Asnakew aim to eventually have their mead in restaurants, bottle shops, and taprooms around Tucson.
The Brillé Mead Company/Dillinger Brewing Company shared taproom space is located at 3895 N. Oracle Rd., the grand opening takes place on Friday, April 14, and will be open from 3 – 8 p.m. on Tuesday – Friday, noon – 8 p.m. on Saturday, noon – 5 p.m. on Sunday, and closed Monday. For more information, follow Dillinger Brewing Company on Facebook.
Jessie Jean Mance was born in Tucson and never met a riparian area she didn’t like. She is a lover of lightning, sunsets, mezcal, music, and other intoxicating experiences. Mance resolutely believes that fresh air is medicine, burritos are the...