WENATCHEE — Nearby flower varieties make a world of difference in the honey a beehive produces. That flavor translates through when the honey is fermented and turned into mead, leaving each batch with a unique taste — like a fine wine’s year-to-year vintage.
The McGregor family discovered that early on when they were brewing 5-gallon batches of the alcoholic beverage in a garage.
Just a few years later, McGregor Farms’ beekeeping, mead making and retail operation has expanded greatly — their mead is now brewed 500 gallons at a time. The family business just opened its own retail storefront in Pybus Public Market. McGregor Farms Honey and Mead will have its grand opening on Saturday.
The business was sparked decades ago when patriarch Mike McGregor kept a few hives as a high school hobby. He rediscovered the passion seven years ago.
“It was kind of just a hobby then, too,” said Mel McGregor Faughnan, his daughter and the retail shop’s manager. “But he loved it and it kind of grew into a full-family dynamic.”
They went from 20 hives in 2013 to more than 300 today, located across North Central Washington, from the forested areas of Blewett Pass to a pumpkin patch in East Wenatchee.
Mike McGregor visits the hives every couple weeks to care for the honey bee colonies and transport their golden bounty back to the family’s shop on Stemilt Hill, south of Wenatchee.
The wooden frames are removed from the hive boxes, heated and spun to remove the honey.
“You don’t know how much is in that box until you actually process it,” Mike McGregor said. A strong hive can produce between 60-100 pounds.
The honey is then canned for direct sale, reserved for making mead or processed into creamed honey, which has a lighter, spreadable consistency.
The goal is to use everything their honey bees produce, including the wax. Most of it is turned into candles, but the family also sells wax for use in woodworking, leather crafting or even to help orchardists graft trees, Mike McGregor said.
One of the newest uses is for the mead production, an idea that came from Mike McGregor’s son, Mark.
“I started out brewing beer 5 gallons at a time,” Mark McGregor said. “Then when Mike started doing the bees and we had a lot of honey, I started doing the mead, too, just 5 gallons at a time.”
Each of Mark McGregor’s mead batches requires 500-600 pounds of honey, which is combined with water and yeast in large steel vats.
It’s then fermented, carbonated and bottled — a process that takes around six weeks. The variety the family produces ends up around 6% alcohol by volume and is more akin to a hard cider than a wine, Mark McGregor said.
It’s currently offered in four flavors: traditional, blackberry, lavender and hopped. But the business’s new retail shop will allow them to expand the offerings, he said.
“Now that we have our tasting room open down at Pybus, we’re looking to expand a few more flavors,” he said. “The stores only have one or two flavors on the shelf, so it’s hard to carry many flavors right now. Now that we have this opportunity we can add more.”
The retail shop was originally expected to open in the spring. But the pandemic forced many business closures, including much of the activity at Pybus.
“So we signed the lease in March, then the shutdown happened just a few weeks later,” Mel McGregor Faughnan said. “We were just getting a roll, then that happened and now it’s taken a bit longer.”
The shop had a soft launch a few weeks ago and will have a grand opening Saturday. It’s a major step forward for the business, which previously relied on farmers markets to sell many of their products, Mel McGregor Faughnan said.
In addition to offering mead tasting, customers will be able to purchase bottled mead, honey and other bee-themed products.
Like the rest of the business, the storefront is a family affair with Mel and her husband Simon running the day-to-day operations. Since opening, even their 14-year-old daughter has gotten involved.
“She works down here every day and helps out,” Mel McGregor Faughnan said. “It’s been fun for her and fun for all of us.”