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Of the many questions Rick Harris fields about his business, the top one is this: “What is mead?”

And he expects to get that question even more starting on Thursday, when his Bootleg Hill Honey Meads, the Quad-Cities’ first meadery, opens its doors on East 2nd Street in downtown Davenport.

“This will be a place for people to learn about mead," he said. "And try it, probably for the first time." 

Mead, which is made by fermenting honey and often likened to honey wine, is a rather under-the-radar alcoholic drink, Harris said, though it is picking up buzz around the country.

In 2003, there were about 30 meaderies in the United States and that number soared to 300 as of 2016, according to the American Mead Makers Association.

“It is the fastest growing segment of the alcohol industry,” Harris said. “It is also, probably, the smallest.”

He is confident that the mead movement will take off in the Quad-Cities, perhaps following the path of the craft beer movement.

“It is something that’s just being introduced here and I think it will grow,” Harris said. “It is unlike anything the Quad-Cities has seen before." 

And when people try mead, they may just discover a new favorite.

That’s what happened to Harris, a former banker and homebrewing hobbyist who first tried mead in the mid-2000s.

“With mead, you have the ability to take on an unlimited amount of different flavors,” he said. “You can really do anything with it. That’s what I like about it.”

So, he became a mead maker and converted his East Moline basement into a production room.

Over the last several weeks, Harris has moved most of his equipment to his new digs inside the historic building in the “Bucktown” area of downtown Davenport near the Government Bridge.

In the east side of the building, a restaurant is expected to open in 2019. Across the street is Great River Brewery and within a short walk are recent additions, Armored Gardens, Ruby’s and the Triple Crown Whiskey Bar & Raccoon Motel.

“With everything else around here, I am certain this will be a destination,” Harris said.

On opening day, Bootleg Hill will have 11 types of mead on tap in its cozy tasting room, which has a capacity of about 65 people. There is seating along a copper bar as well as high-top tables and a lounge area; all options come with a window view looking out to 2nd Street.

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Flavors include wildflower, orange blossom, blueberry, raspberry and coffee and range from sweet to semi-sweet to dry. Other options include mead slushies and mead mimosas.

And, it’s worth noting, this is strong stuff: Mead comes with an alcohol content of at least 14 percent.

That’s why mead will be served in 5-ounce pours at Bootleg Hill. Flights, featuring smaller pours of a variety of five meads, will also be available.

The bar will also serve four craft beers, a cider from Iowa City’s Wilson’s Orchard and wine.

Harris plans to soon offer daily tours through the back of the meadery, where mead will be regularly produced.

“I hope people have a experience here that they are not able to have anywhere else," Harris said. "That's what we're going for — a unique experience."


Amanda Hancock is a reporter covering food, arts and entertainment in the Quad-Cities (and beyond).