Though convenient to both downtown and Kerrytown, the retail space in Courthouse Square, the senior-citizen and low-income high-rise at Huron and S. Fourth Ave., has never flourished. Isolated between a parking structure and Huron’s four-lane business route, it last saw significant investment in the building’s final days as a hotel in the 1980s. The restaurant and bar there folded along with the hotel in 1989. Since then, the only long-term tenant has been the Performance Network Theatre, which itself folded in 2015.
Now, after a Rip Van Winkle-like generational slumber, the space is being revived as a watering hole. Like Washington St. neighbors Arbor Brewing, Blue Tractor, and Mash, it will be an artisanal, brewed-here place. Unlike them, Blom Meadworks will specialize in mead, an ancient fermented drink made from honey.
Pronounced “Bloom,” the brewery is the work of husband-and-wife team Matthew Ritchey and Lauren Bloom. The o in the name is a nod to mead’s association with Scandinavia in popular culture–as their website says, if the word “automatically conjures a drinking hall filled with Vikings for you, think of ours as its friendly, approachable descendants, without the pillage and plunder.”
The couple grew up in Fenton, dated in high school, went their separate ways for college, and then reunited in Chicago. There Ritchey co-founded the Begyle Brewing Co. Begyle flourished–you can buy its beers locally, and Ritchey is still an owner–but since he developed a gluten allergy, he can no longer drink its products.
They settled on mead as a way for Ritchey to brew a product he could drink, and for Bloom to turn her passion for local food into a living. They are working with several beekeepers around the state to supply the pound and a half of honey that goes into each gallon of mead.
They’ll also be making hard cider from raw pressed apple juice that their supplier freezes to preserve the flavor and make it available all year round. Blom also has a small press for specialty ingredients like rhubarb–“because we are brewing small batches, we can afford to experiment,” Bloom says.
The couple say their craft meads will be drier and crisper with a lower alcoholic content than commercial versions, around 6 percent versus up to 20 percent. Bloom says the lower alcohol content will let them sell a 13.5-ounce glass of mead or cider for about the same price as a craft beer.
“Generally, the higher the alcohol content, the higher the price,” she says. “We want our product to be accessible and affordable.”
Starting a new business with an unfamiliar product has its challenges. “We really need to educate the community about what we’re doing,” Ritchey says.
One way to reach out is through tastings at local farmer’s markets that Blom is planning for the spring. They’ll also be selling a CSA-like “CSM”–“community supported mead”–membership, whose subscribers can enjoy one to two growlers a month of mead or cider. But Blom’s taproom will open to everyone.
“We’ll have a traditional bar, some two-top tables, and community tables in the back,” Bloom says. The wall behind the community tables will do double duty as a projection screen, “if people want to come in and screen a film.”
Blom’s already been contacted by a book group about using the community tables for monthly meetings and by Ann Arbor Backyard Beekeepers, a club dedicated to beekeeping advocacy and support, about crafting a special brew with their honey.
“We welcome that,” Bloom said, “We really want to be a part of the community.”
Customers are also welcome to bring their own food since Blom will offer a very limited menu.
“We’ve got our hands full getting the brewing started,” Ritchey says. “There’s so much great food downtown,” Bloom adds. “We want to support that.”
In December, their opening date was still up in the air. “We were supposed to take possession in April,” Bloom says, but didn’t get in till mid-November. Once everything is in place, it will take about two weeks to brew up the first batches of mead for curious drinkers.
Blom Meadworks, 100 S. Fourth Ave. drinkblom.com. Opening early 2018.