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In the age of craft beer and CBD cocktails, Dylan Sprouse is trying to make mead the next big thing.
You might remember Sprouse as the former child star who — along with his twin brother Cole — was the face of Disney TV for much of the mid ’00s. But today his output is aimed at a more adult audience. In 2015, the actor took a brief break from Hollywood to build a commercial brewery in the hipster heart of Brooklyn. The result was All-Wise Meadery, which opened in Williamsburg last winter. As one of the youngest master brewers in the country, Sprouse’s precocious passion is as improbable as it is infectious.
Despite the adventurous drinking habits of the millennial foodie generation, mead — brewed from honey as opposed to grain — remains relatively obscure. A relic of bygone civilizations, it’s associated more with Egyptian pharaohs and Viking quests than modern speakeasies. It was the ancient lore, however, that captivated an adolescent Sprouse — a lifelong mythology buff who still dons Thor’s hammer on a pendant around his neck.
“I was a pretty piss poor student in high school. I had ADHD and brewing was a way for me to pace myself. I picked mead because a lot of home-brewing books I read said that if you wanted to try something easy, start with mead.”
All the while, the nascent hobby fed an underlying enthusiasm for literature, history and fantasy. “I consumed media en masse about mead,” he recalls. “I kept brewing and brewing. Obviously my first batches were terrible. But we were 16, 17, so all of us drank the shit out of it anyway.”
Yet even back then, Sprouse demonstrated a serious desire to hone his craft. “I went to some home-brewing meetups, faking that I was 21. I don’t even know how I got away with that because I don’t even look 21 now,” admits the fresh-faced celebrity. When he moved to New York City to go to NYU, he set up his brewing set in his dorm room and soon began selling bootlegged mead to friends and classmates across the lower Manhattan campus. It was the beginning of a fledgling commercial enterprise.
Beyond satisfying his own creative urges — and providing some extra pocket cash — his side-gig was helping expose a neglected niche. “When I could finally go to the store and buy it legally, I just hated what was being sold,” he remembers of mass-market mead. “It was this sugary, sweet desert wine that was selling for $70 bucks a bottle.” He longed for a cleaner, dryer mead reflective of the raw ingredients used to make it. After graduating he set out to create just that.
It was an elaborate endeavor, as evidenced by the large fermenters and state-of-the-art filtration units that now populate his Brooklyn brewhouse. Sprouse navigates the space with ease, rattling off technical jargon like “terroir” and “lees cakes.” “If you ferment all of the sugar out of goldenrod honey,” he explains excitedly, “what you’re left with is a mead that tastes similar to if you were to actually take the [goldenrod] plant and chew on it. It leads to the herbal, grassy or wheat-y notes that surprise people a lot [when they try] dry meads.” (His Ali-Wise Show Mead, $30; and Oolong Mead variation, fermented with Chinese tea, $35, are available at his Brooklyn meadery or online, with shipping to many states).
Sprouse so far has no trouble toggling between his dual professions (he just returned from a six-month shoot for a star turn in the upcoming fantasy romance, Turandot). In fact, he sees a certain symmetry between the two. “Brewers are entertainers whether they like it or not, because they are creating an experience for people. Oftentimes the alcohol is the entertainment at any party you go to.”
Nowadays, even when he’s on-location, half a world away from his brewery, Sprouse is still thinking like a brewer. “I take it with me wherever I go,” he says, noting that downtime in rural China was spent exploring new flavors and local ingredients. The fruits of that labor eventually found a happy ending in mead: “I brewed a batch as a wrap gift for the entire cast.”
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