If the only mead you’ve ever had was drunk from a horn at a renaissance festival, you may want to give the honey-based alcoholic drink another shot.
That is according to Matt and Debbie McDonough, owners of Pye Road Meadworks in Odessa.
The two brewers opened their cozy tasting room and brewery in the Keystone Plaza off of Gunn Highway on March 14, 2021, and have been serving a rotating variety of their boutique craft meads to the Tampa community ever since.
The McDonoughs have been home brewing for about ten years, and started with mead because a friend told them it was an easier drink to brew than beer. While that may be true, they said, mead requires a tremendous amount of patience. A brewer can turn beer around in as few as three weeks, while mead can take anywhere from four months to a year.
“We won’t release a mead until it’s ready to serve,” said Matt. “We’re very particular, and we won’t release anything unless we think it’s exceptional.”
Traditionally, and at its most basic, mead is a combination of honey, yeast and water. Debbie and Matt pride themselves on the fact that they use 99.5 percent local honey in their brewing. The first mead the McDonoughs ever brewed was peach apricot, but it was their apple pie mead that won a medal at the first national homebrew competition they entered in 2017. That’s when they knew they had created something special and worthy of sharing.
Pye Road offers two types of handcrafted mead on rotational tap: still, dessert-style meads and carbonated session meads, which have a lower alcohol by volume (ABV) and are more refreshing. My husband and I visited on a Sunday evening, and opted to share a flight of six still meads, which come in either one- or three-ounce servings.
We started by tasting Super Ego, a blueberry mead with maple syrup, and ended with Irrational, a sweet red raspberry mead made with Florida Orange Blossom honey that was a collaboration with the Indiana-based Manic Meadery. Although we enjoyed all six that we tasted, my favorite was Testimony 2021, a tart cherry and vanilla mead, while my husband preferred Irrational.
In addition to our flight, we sampled two of Pye Road’s session meads. The Pineapple Whip Lemon Lime was fruity and delicious, and the Apple Pie was smooth and sweet, while much lighter than I Got Her Number, an apple pie-inspired still mead that was part of our flight.
The McDonoughs explained that mead can be dry, sweet or in-between, but the Pye Road meads tend to be on the sweeter side. Matt and Debbie both come up with the mead recipes, but Matt credits his wife’s “excellent palate” for their high level of quality control. They extend that dynamic to the craft beers they carry on draft and to-go, for patrons who may not be in the mood for mead.
Pye Road is open Thursdays from 5-9 p.m.; Fridays from 4-9 p.m.; Saturdays from 12-10 p.m.; and Sundays from 1-7 p.m. Both Debbie and Matt have full-time jobs outside of being mead brewers, but typically spend seven days a week at Pye Road.
“We love doing this and it doesn’t feel like work most of the time,” said Debbie.
They don’t serve food at the tasting room, but visitors are welcome to bring food with them or order in. Pye Road hosts food trucks twice a month, and typically holds a monthly event. From a “90s Night” to “Mead and a Movie,” the McDonoughs are committed to making Pye Road a welcoming place for all of their patrons, whether they are being introduced to mead for the first time or are longtime fans.
Debbie told us a story about an independent coffee shop that they frequented when they were younger. Someone referred to it as their “third place,” and the reference made a huge impression on her.
“You have home, you have work and then you have a third place where everyone knows your name,” Debbie explained. “We want Pye Road to be that third place for our customers.”