“Bee” Charmed in Baltimore

Meet James Boicourt, an entrepreneur with a beguiling take on modern mead-making.

Photo by Charm City Meadworks
Austin Haynes, sales manager, savors the success of Charm City Meadworks.

When I turned off the overpass onto Biddle Street to find Charm City Meadworks, I had a direct view of the oldest penitentiary in Baltimore, Maryland — the Baltimore City Detention Center, a Gothic Revival-style stone structure that opened in 1859. Though this inner-city spot has a history of corruption and neglect, it’s nestled amid the many iterations of urban renewal that Baltimore has championed. Depending on your point of view, it’s a bit rough, or it’s ripe with potential. For one fermentation entrepreneur, this unique vantage point meant restoring manufacturing to a piece of urban real estate that, historically, was once Baltimore’s industrial hub.

Adobe Stock/jonbilous
View of the Washington Monument at night, in Mount Vernon, Baltimore, Maryland.

James Boicourt is a true alchemist when it comes to point of view. He saw opportunity in an odd chunk of history: an awkwardly shaped warehouse at the base of the historic Mount Vernon neighborhood, a few blocks north of the ominous penitentiary, flanked by the Jones Falls Expressway, and within walking distance of the nexus of city center. His Biddle Street location has allowed him to invest sweat equity into not only developing a business in a neighborhood in transition, but also changing perceptions with his modern mead-making techniques. I’m happy to say that his efforts are as successful as they are delicious.

Photo by Charm City Meadworks
Owner James Boicourt is shaking up mead-making in Baltimore.

Mead: Nostalgic Novelty

When Boicourt first discovered mead, the beverage tended to be a sweet, hard-to-find novelty item in liquor stores. His mead-making journey began with the realization that his engineering education had him, as he puts it, “destined for the cubicle farm, and that was something that just didn’t interest me, because I’m a very hands-on person.” He switched majors and ended up taking an entomology course in beekeeping. “I got really excited about bees,” he says. He found an interest in honey, and started making mead during college, which was a hobby that he didn’t intend to be a career. Nevertheless, in 2018, along with a small group of like-minded friends, he decided to rent space and experiment with mead, in particular to create “something lighter and refreshing with lower alcohol by volume (ABV) — something that folks would want to drink every day.” After a few career shifts, this college-curiosity-turned-side-gig found its niche alongside Baltimore’s craft beer boom. As of June 2019, Charm City Meadworks has produced enough mead to have become one of the largest meaderies in the U.S.



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