Mead Magic

Liquid Alchemy’s founders haven’t struck gold with their venture, but they’ve prospered over five years and the future looks bright

We hope to create a completely different experience,” co-founder Terri Sorantino said about Liquid Alchemy Beverages, the craft mead and hard cider maker based southwest of Wilmington.

That’s why the tasting room has so much stuff showcasing brewing history, a belief that alchemy is transformative and pop culture — including vintage bottles and equipment, hand-crafted drinking horns, a Viking helmet that’s really an ice bucket, a toaster shaped like Darth Vader and a cow-jumping-over-the-moon cookie jar. Plus, “a lot of guests bring us things that they want to live here,” she said.

“We have a lot of alchemy here,” co-founder Jeffrey “Doc” Cheskin said of the ever-changing, floor-to-ceiling décor. “Things aren’t what they seem.”

A few of Liquid Alchemy’s medal-winning creations.

Twenty or so tables outdoors, some in an open garage, continue their eclectic style. That scene, with patio heaters providing multi-season comfort, is enhanced with old signs and a dog toilet featuring an old Wilmington fire hydrant donated by a city firefighter. The people toilets inside offer their own whimsies, including steampunk fixtures and pop art.

The memorable look accompanies memorable beverages. Liquid Alchemy has earned gold medals from what they called all three of the nation’s mead trade groups (Mead Free or Die, the Texas Mead Cup and the Mazer Cup) and in 2019 was named meadery of the year by Mead Free or Die.

Liquid Alchemy was born during a 2012 vacation when Sorantino and Cheskin were blown away by the Lavender Lemonade mead from Maine Mead Works. By the end of 2012, they had incorporated. They dedicated all their retirement savings to it, which included buying and refurbishing a building from Hurlock Roofing; scouring the country for supplies and equipment; testing recipes with friends; and scoring, making and commissioning those nifty decorative items. They opened Sept. 10, 2016.

“It’s our first child together,” said Cheskin, who is now engaged to Sorantino. They have five children from their previous marriages.

A few numbers illustrate their success. In 2016, they brewed about 500 gallons of mead and hard cider; in 2020, they brewed about 6,000 gallons. And they’re looking for a second location.

Mead starts with honey, and cider starts with pressed apples. Mead is associated with Vikings, as points out. Hard cider is associated with Colonial America.

Liquid Alchemy has modernized both. Some styles add water, yeast and mechanical carbonation. Flavorings are preferably locally sourced but never include extracts, concentrates, processed sugar, artificial flavors, artificial colors or gluten. Products run 6 to 19% alcohol by volume.

“Hard cider seems to have the edge and is at least pretty popular in regular drinking culture at the moment (and growing),” Cheskin said. “Craft mead is the wild horse by the range and reaction of people [and] has incredible potential. … The younger drinkers are liking the meads. [It] might take a while, but craft mead is definitely in our future.”

The number of meaderies has quadrupled in the last nine years, Wine Enthusiast reported this year, citing Investment Weekly News for valuing the global mead market at more than $400 million in 2018 and projecting it to top $800 million by 2025.

Liquid Alchemy’s eclectic tasting room.

How many styles has Liquid Alchemy developed?

“You mean good and bad?” Sorantino asked before estimating nearly 100. Some recipes are both. Their popular Magenta Dragon cider became the sour Pink Pickle Power when fermented too long. Fermented even longer it became the enjoyable Invisible Dragon.

Liquid Alchemy supports other local entrepreneurs by showcasing their products, including Hope’s Caramels, Hurley’s Happy Place soaps, Musings Fermentation Underground kombucha (ideal for someone in a group avoiding alcohol) and Woodside Creamery ice cream, plus recurring food trucks, entertainers and artists.

Cheskin, 57, and Sorantino, 55, continue their day jobs, as physician and office manager at Cheskin Chiropractic and Wellness Center in Stanton. At Liquid Alchemy, they have nine part-time employees and usually work every day there, with tennis games on Sunday evenings their biggest bit of fun.

— Liquid Alchemy, 28 Brookside Drive, Wilmington, is open 4-9 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays, 2-9 p.m. Saturdays and noon-5 p.m. Sundays.