By MICHAEL FRETT
St. Albans Messenger Staff Writer
ST. ALBANS – Should the winds of national politics align and the government shutdown end, the St. Albans Industrial Park could welcome a new meadery in the coming months.
Colchester’s Groennfell Meadery, which produces mead under both its Nordic namesake and as Havoc Mead, purchased a building in the town’s industrial park to serve as its production hub in what would be a permanent move.
Their Colchester meadery, currently nestled into a warehouse behind Costco, was originally set to close in February before the federal government’s shutdown disrupted owners Ricky and Kelly Klein’s plans.
The move hinges on several applications sent to several federal agencies: the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and Federal Business Administration. The latter is providing a small-business loan, and the production of alcohol at a new facility requires both the other permits.
All three agencies were deemed non-essential during the ongoing government shutdown, stripped to skeleton crews for performing their most essential functions, leaving standard permitting applications – and business plans – for people like the Kleins in limbo.
The Kleins have delayed both their move to St. Albans and plans like opening a “mobile” or permanent mead hall, where they could serve their arsenal of meads alongside the locally sourced, Viking-inspired fares Groennfell currently serves at its Colchester front.
The shutdown has upended the Kleins’ timelines. The meadery planned to close in Colchester in February and begin brewing in St. Albans this spring.
“We have absolutely no idea where we are in the queue,” Ricky Klein said Friday morning. “Even when the government reopens, we have no idea when someone will look at my application. All of my quotes outstanding are for a move in February, and now there’s no chance anyone will even look at my application until February.”
Mead is a catchall term for alcohol brewed from fermenting honey with water. More traditional meads may resemble wine, but Groennfell’s meads take on a more beer-like flavor and style.
The Kleins are now ramping up production to make sure they’ll have enough product to reach their expanding markets while they balance their disrupted move.
The Colchester taproom will remain open in the meantime, but only on Fridays and Saturdays. Food selections will be trimmed to “only what can be cooked on a grill,” Klein said, like sausages.
“I consider us really lucky,” he added. “Imagine you’re a new brewery… like, new brewers who can’t even release a product because they need label approval … and all of that is a joke compared to people who may lose SNAP benefits.”
Troubles with the shutdown aside, Ricky Klein is excited for the move to St. Albans, a decidedly closer commute from the couple’s home on the St. Albans Town – Swanton line.
The Kleins sought to rent a new location in either Colchester or Milton, but Klein said there wasn’t any available space.
When their real estate agent brought a quiet corner of the St. Albans Town industrial park to their attention, where a building was “move-in ready for a brewery,” Klein said he and Kelly saw a chance at their meadery’s “forever home.”
The new location won’t have a taproom or abutting mead hall, a difficult decision the Kleins accepted after a back-and-forth with St. Albans officials: “It’s industrial. I don’t want people driving into an industrial park for a pint,” Ricky Klein said.
Still, it was difficult to shut their doors at the Colchester brewery.
“I love the mead hall,” he said. “The mead hall is important to me.”
It was apparently important to others, as well.
“When we announced the mead hall was closing, I got personal emails saying, ‘My daughter has never known a Vermont without a mead hall,’” Ricky Klein said. “We had people come in and cry to our bartenders. It’s not a restaurant that’s closing, but it’s one of Vermont’s safe spaces for people of all genders and nerds. It’s one of those last places where welders and professors can meet as equals.”
Meanwhile, the federal shutdown remains unresolved, stalled by President Donald Trump’s insistence on $5.7 billion to build a border wall with Mexico; Democrats have refused to budge.
Trump has said the shutdown could last “months or even years,” with no realistic reconciliation between Republicans and Democrats in sight.