‘The Meading Room’ experiments with age-old drink

Author: Angela Gervasi. Reprinted by permission of Nogales International. Photos by Angela Gervasi.

Kylie Daniels co-founded The Meading Room with her mother, Barbara Christianson, in 2019.

When Barbara Christianson embarks on a road trip, she looks for one souvenir in particular: honey.

That search, according to Christianson, can give way to a world of flavors: Some are light and delicate. Others, dark and complex. Some honeys are made with wildflower nectar; others with pearly white buckwheat flowers or pale green avocado blossoms.

“They vary so much in taste and color. Most people don’t realize that,” Christianson explained, speaking to the NI earlier this month. “(People) just are used to the little honey bear jar that they had as kids.”


Kylie Daniels, who founded The Meading Room with her mother in 2019, pours a flight.

In recent years, honey has become an increasingly ever-present part of life for Christianson and her daughter, Kylie Daniels. In 2019, the mother-daughter duo founded The Meading Room, a meadery, farm and tasting room that sits along a gently sloping hill in Sonoita.

True to its name, the business specializes in mead – a honey-based concoction that dates back millennia. Often associated with Renaissance Fairs and Medieval Europe, the drink, Daniels pointed out, has a longer and richer history. The Meading Room explores the drink beyond its syrupy, sweet version – exploring lighter, drier, and even carbonated variations.

“Every culture has made some version of mead. And they’re all completely different, and there’s so many different styles,” said Daniels. “From lower alcohol to higher alcohol. From dry to sweet.”

“You can do any kind of fruit, any kind of spices, all different kinds of honey,” Christianson said.

On the menu, drinks range widely, incorporating local delicacies ranging from freshly harvested prickly pears to roasted pumpkin to peppery chiltepin.

Space Cowboy – a mead named after the Steve Miller Band song – incorporates raspberries and raspberry blossom honey.

“For us,” Christianson chuckled, “it’s like a creative nirvana.”

More than three years after opening The Meading Room’s doors, Daniels and Christianson walked through the spacious tasting lounge on a recent Friday afternoon. Soft sunlight illuminated bottles of the fermented drink, its colors ranging from a pale gold to a fiery crimson. Books and board games lined a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf built by Christianson and Daniels themselves. Outside, young fruit trees flecked the landscape and a wide lavender field spread across the cool ground.

When the two set out on starting The Meading Room, “there was nothing here,” Christianson said. “There was just a well.”

For decades, Christianson worked as an engineer – often canning and fermenting fruits and honey as a side hobby. Then, she retired. Daniels, meanwhile, was living in Patagonia and working at a winery.

Both had been craving a new creative project. And with local wineries peppered throughout the Sonoita-Elgin area, they decided to focus on a different product altogether.

“We thought, ‘well, mead, cider, fruit wine is totally different than what’s already done out here,'” Christianson said.
‘I love this land’

Growing up in Sonoita, Daniels gravitated toward her surroundings: spending time outdoors, riding horses and participating in 4-H. When cows wander onto the grassy field surrounding The Meading Room, Daniels is the one who chases and gathers them.

“I love this land,” Daniels said. “I think that it’s really special that you can be here, and you’re in the grasslands, and you can drive just up the road, either direction and then it’s oak trees, and then you drive to Patagonia, and it’s a little wetter and greener.”

And while crafting mead, cider and fruit wine, Daniels and Christianson dip into those surroundings – constantly searching for complimentary flavors through local spices and herbs.

“When we have a certain fruit, we’ll be like ‘Hmm, what will go good with this?’” Christianson said. “We don’t want to just do apple. We’ve got to do the apple (and) something interesting.”

When faced with a batch of apple wine, for instance, Christianson and Daniels searched for another layer of flavor, ultimately choosing pale-pink manzanita blossoms, which grow in Arizona.

While brewing a cider made with fresh grapefruit, the two researched possible pairings and came across timur pepperberries – known for their citrusy, spicy flavor.

“It smells and tastes like grapefruit-pepper,” Christianson said. “And we’re like, ‘perfect!’”

“But it also has this weird mouthfeel where it gives like a tingle on your tongue,” added Daniels.

And while working on an agave-based hard seltzer, the two paired the beverage with vibrantly red ocotillo flowers – which not only grow locally, but can impart a tangy flavor.

Periodically, Christianson and Daniels work with a couple of local foragers, who comb the area for edible plants like littleleaf sumac, a berry with a sharp, sour taste; and gordo lobo, a leafy plant often brewed as a tea.

By using fresh and local ingredients, the work can be daunting: To make a crisp fall cider, Christianson harvested and roasted pumpkin after pumpkin, a process that took weeks. Daniels, meanwhile, finagled a way to peel five bananas at once to cut down prep time.

“It took so much work but it’s so important to us to use only fresh, natural ingredients,” Daniels explained. “Anything on the menu here, you know that it’s just going to be honey, fresh fruit, herbs.”

Mother-daughter duo Barbara Christianson and Kylie Daniels started The Meading Room, a meadery in Sonoita, in 2019, crafting the signature drink from locally sourced honey and other fresh ingredients.

And the business is growing. Initially, Christianson said, the team was producing mead in 40-gallon containers. These days, they’re working with 400-gallon tanks.

As the growth continues, Daniels said, The Meading Room’s founders constantly troubleshoot and problem-solve – a skill she learned from her mother.

“I think I definitely learned independence from her,” Daniels said, gesturing toward Christianson. “Like, I know how to figure things out. And we both do.”