Melo Lion meadery began with the bees

Even though it’s only two years old, Melo Lion Meadery in York County is already making a name for itself on a global scale.

Earlier this year, Melo Lion competed in Colorado in the international Mazer Cup Meadery competition, winning a silver award in the Varietal-Semi category for its traditional honey mead, Sunshine Daydream. It was the only meadery in Virginia to take home an award.

“To win second place in this international competition of mead is really something,” says Zeb Johnston, founder and co-owner of Melo Lion.

“It is quite an honor and quite a big deal for us,” adds co-owner Casey Jackson.

Melo Lion Meadery sprang from Johnston’s first business, Zeb’s Bees, which he started in 2010. Johnston, who started beekeeping in his backyard in Newport News, initially sold his honey in Yorktown at the farmers market.

“I had customers who would buy several pounds of my honey,” Johnston recalls. “It turns out they were using it to make mead. I decided to give it a try. I thought it would be a good way to support and encourage beekeeping and introduce people to an ancient beverage that has fallen by the wayside.”

Johnston began homebrewing a basic honey mead first, which he named Sarah’s Choice after his wife. The mead was later renamed Sunshine Daydream, Melo Lion’s flagship product.

As the company grew, Johnston found three other co-owners: Jackson, a fellow beekeeper and meadmaker; his best friend, John Ragan; and a silent partner. Melo Lion operates from the garage of Ragan’s home in Seaford. The meadery’s name is derived from “mel,” a Latin term for honey and a lyric from the song “Samson and Delilah” about Samson’s legendary fight with a lion.

In addition to Sunshine Daydream, Melo Lion makes a variety of other meads including blackberry, strawberry, cherry, a hopped mead, and other blends as well as carbonated meads. The company uses as much local ingredients as possible in all their products, which are all naturally gluten-free.

“We have fun doing anything and everything,” says Jackson. “We also have a lot of fun with the names of our meads.”

“Ornery,” a dry mead, was named after Jackson’s family. Another, “No Worries,” a dry carbonated mead flavored with hops, was named in honor of a fallen soldier. The name of one of Melo Lion’s upcoming summer releases, “Roaring Red,” a semisweet blackberry and cherry mead, was chosen by a customer.

Melo Lion sells its mead at various locations throughout Hampton Roads as well as in Richmond, Charlottesville and Northern Virginia.

Johnston’s favorite is, of course, Sunshine Daydream, the meadery’s bestseller.

“It really highlights the flavors of honey,” Johnston says. “To make a base honey mead that people truly enjoy is both difficult and satisfying to me.”

Eventually, Johnston and his partners would like to expand the meadery into a retail space with a tasting room.

“I love making mead,” says Jackson. “I love watching people’s reactions when they try our products for the first time. It is my favorite part of this job.”

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