Charleston couple is “trading bricks for brix”

Mead Mason sets up shop inside Lot 50, offering new spins on ancient beverage


Kevin Tracy, a Mattoon native and Charleston resident, owns his own masonry business, Kross Masonry, but what was once a hobby is leading Tracy to “trade bricks for brix.”

The phrase, coined by Tracy himself, plays on a measurement used to quantify dissolved sugar (brix), something Tracy does often when fermenting and crafting the beverage that captured his heart years ago: mead.

“I’ve loved it for 28 years,” said Tracy of the ancient brew. “It’s my favorite beverage, I prefer it over anything.”

His love for mead, combined with a fortuitous conversation with Lot 50 co-owner Bruce Young, led to a partnership local drink connoisseurs will celebrate. Tracy’s new venture, Mead Mason, is leasing the Lot 50 basement, turning the space into a meadery and test lab for Tracy’s fermented creations.

Since early March, Mead Mason’s lemon bar and apple cider meads have been on tap at Lot 50, and Tracy plans to expand his wholesale operations by selling to Pour Brothers locations across Central Illinois, alongside The Uptowner in Charleston and It’ll Do Bar and Grill in Mahomet.

While Mead Mason’s unique label designs, complete with secret messages and fun, campy conspiracy theory motifs, are only starting to appear in new locations this year, Tracy has been honing his craft for decades.

His journey began when he was 21 years old. With rising costs and limited options, Tracy found himself drawn to home-brewing beer.

“It was cheaper to brew beer than it was to buy it,” he explained. “You could make better beer yourself than what you could find on the shelves.”

Tracy turned to Charlie Papazian’s “The Complete Joy of Home Brewing” for guidance and stumbled upon a recipe for mead. As a history and honey buff, Tracy was intrigued.

“I’ve always been a big fan of ‘King Arthur’ and ‘Robin Hood,’ that kind of Old English tale,” he explained. “I was always raised on honey. My grandmother used honey in just about everything… so I already had an affinity for honey. So then I started making mead at that point and I never stopped.”

Tracy’s first batch came to fruition 28 years ago. Today, his curiosity has blossomed into a passion for the beverage’s rich history and versatility.

In its most basic form, mead is a combination of honey, water and yeast. The yeast is used to ferment the honey, and depending on the desired finish or alcohol content, the fermentation process can last anywhere between a couple of weeks and a couple of years.

Tracy observed mead is often considered the oldest alcoholic beverage in the world. The necessary ingredients were readily available, and sometimes pre-mixed, in the wild. A tree stump filled with rainwater, honey from a dangling beehive and nearby yeast could make for a mean brew.

Until recently, the world’s taste for mead was largely forgotten.

“A lot of people don’t know what mead is. They just haven’t heard about it,” said Tracy. “It’s a pretty unheard-of product. It used to be extremely popular back in the day.”

Tracy explained that the term ‘honeymoon’ traces its roots back to mead – the drink of choice for medieval lovebirds celebrating their new union.

The origins and basic components of mead are fairly straightforward, but brewers like Tracy have pushed the drink to new heights. Mead’s simplicity is its greatest strength, as slight changes in the type of honey, the fermentation process and any extra ingredients can completely transform its taste and finish.

For Tracy, mead’s adaptability has allowed him to experiment with plenty of different flavors. He has lost track of the number of flavor combinations he has developed over the years, but the Mead Mason business plan features upward of 30 different recipes.

Tracy’s flavors are broken down into several different categories of mead. Standard meads are roughly 12 to 14 percent alcohol and are carbonated, while session meads feature a lower ABV (alcohol by volume) and are still, similar to wine. Within those categories are several subcategories of the drink, including pyments (mead fermented with grapes), melomels (mead with fruit added), capsicumels (mead with peppers added) and others.

Mead Mason meads are mostly based on desserts, with Tracy’s childhood baking ventures in his grandmother’s kitchen serving as inspiration. Mead Mason incorporates flavors inspired by everything from the aforementioned lemon bars and apple cider to oatmeal raisin cookies, caramel apples, Dreamsicles and many more.

“If there’s a dessert you can think of, he’s probably made it,” said April Tracy, Kevin’s wife and business partner.

Tracy’s dedication and experimentation have not gone unnoticed. In addition to his growing following at Lot 50 and around the state, two of Tracy’s submissions to the 2019 Mazer Cup International Mead Competition earned first and second-place finishes in their respective categories.

Whether a customer has the seasoned mead palette of a Viking or is completely new to the experience, Tracy’s creative catalog of fruity and unique flavors can be enjoyed by anyone of drinking age.

With production in full swing, Tracy and his crew, composed of his wife and several of his co-workers, are excited to share their work with the world.

“I hope it takes off, I hope people enjoy it,” said Tracy. “I just want to be able to share it with people and turn them on to something that they’ve never tried… It’s very fulfilling, very rewarding.”

Perhaps the only things more rewarding than the product Tracy makes are the friends who have joined him on the journey. Tracy voiced his appreciation for his cohorts and his partners at Lot 50.

“We’re a family business. We’re all very close-knit, everybody who helps me are not only my employees, but I care about them. They’re part of my family,” said Tracy, adding, “Bruce (Young) really believed in me and really wanted me to get going, and talking to some of the industry guys gave me a lot of encouragement to get started.”

For more information, follow Mead Mason on Facebook and Instagram. A website is currently in the works as well. Prospective customers can also stop by Lot 50 to try what is on tap or see what Tracy and his crew are up to.

Tracy teased new additions to the Mead Mason family of flavors are on the way, including plum, coffee fudge and caramel apple, with more expected to follow.

Kevin Tracy, Mead Mason, Lot 50