Day Trip

Mead Me in Round Top

By Raequel Roberts / Photography By Raymond Franssen | June 25, 2015
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Even between antique fests, this charming town is well worth a visit

To many, Round Top is synonymous with its twice-yearly antique festivals—bacchanalias of bargain hunting, when pitched tents litter local pastures like a church revival on steroids and quiet country lanes transform into I-10 at rush hour. But once the throngs of antique shoppers pack up their pull carts and go home, this tiny hamlet of 90 residents takes on its appealing small-town rhythm that can be a balm for harried urbanites—and a destination well worth the drive from Houston no matter the time of year.

One destination in and of itself is Rohan Meadery, located a few miles outside town.  John and Wendy Rohan have been brewing mankind’s oldest libation on their 30-acre farm since 2009.  Mead is wine fermented from honey, and can be crafted in innumerable variations depending on the ingredients.  The Rohans started operations slowly, producing four varieties of their honey-based wine. As their reputation grew, so too did their offerings. Today, they produce 14 varieties. Several, including the Blackberry Melomel, Cranberry Honeywine, Apple Cyser and Peachy Keen, have won medals at wine competitions.

Wendy, a former high-school science teacher, credits their success to the local food movement and the resurgence of craft beers.  “If people weren’t caring about where things come from, or what’s the story behind what they’re putting into their bodies—whether that’s food or drink—we wouldn’t have been able to do what we’re doing,” she said.  The Rohans’ meads are fermented in 11 shiny stainless steel tanks, on view in the meadery’s tasting room.

Because it takes 400 to 600 pounds of honey to make 150 to 200 gallons of mead, the couple augments their own honey supply, produced from 28 hives scattered throughout the farm, with honey harvested from hives maintained by local beekeepers.  We’d need 500 to 800 hives to produce the meads we’re producing,” says John, an IT professional who still works one day a week in Houston. “Raising bees is all we would be doing.”  Fermentation takes four to six months depending on the variety, with the popular cranberry mead being the fastest.

The Rohans have made a visit to their meadery a destination and an education. During visits, guests can learn about the history of meads, raising bees and the role each bee plays in a hive.  First-time guests often start with the sample of five meads for $5. With each sampling, John, Wendy or General Manager Ashley Gaas explains the nuances of the mead’s mixture and making.

Guests can also order meads by the glass and spend time on the patio enjoying the company of Rohan’s gregarious flocks of chickens and guinea fowl. They may also be greeted by the family’s Pyrenees/ Anatolian dogs named Ford and Edsel. The furry duo guard the couple’s dairy goats and sheep.  The Rohans offer cheese plates and on many weekends La Grange–based restaurant Broken Drum Provisions serves fare from their food truck. Live music is also featured on the patio with regularity.

Back in the heart of Round Top food lovers can satiate their sweet tooth at Round Top’s Royers Cafe, famous for its sumptuous pies, bursting with fruit and other ingredients. Royers sells its pies from Royers Café and at Royers Pie Heaven, located in the town’s Henkel Square, a quant collection of old buildings housing art galleries, gift stores and specialty shops.  One such boutique, Lark, stocks a number of specialty chocolates, coffees, hand-screened bar towels, cookbooks and a selection of vintage barware and silver.
 
Barbara Samuelson, who owns the store with her husband, jewelry designer Russell Smith, said they endeavor to sell products whose sales benefit the community.  They are partial to chocolates that are bean-to-bar.  “That is where are heart is,” Barbara said of their chocolate selections. “Every one has a story.”
 
Their Askinosie Chocolate, for example, is made by Shawn Askinosie, a former lawyer who built his business in a poor neighborhood in Springfield, MO. He pays more than fair trade for his beans and supports the local community, including sponsoring an educational program for students called Chocolate University. The Twenty-Four Blackbirds chocolate is handmade and all organic, and the chocolate from Austin chocolatier Steven Lawrence is so beautifully infused with nuts and fruits, you are tempted to frame rather than eat it.
 
Wine lovers will also want to check out Prost, a wine bar and shop housed in a stone cottage built in the mid-1800s. Twenty-year Round Top residents Penny and Michael Cies opened Prost in July 2014 and today offer a range of wines from daily drinkers to vintages you would save for only the most special occasions. “We do a lot of research on the wines we stock and all of them are highly rated,” Penny said.  Guests can enjoy wines by the glass or bottle inside the cozy confines of Prost or on the large patio overlooking nearby pastures. A variety of artisanal cheese and olive plates are available and if you want to stock up for your trip home, Prost also sells wine by the case.
 
If possible, combine your visit with a concert at Festival Hill, Round Top’s renowned music institute. In addition to its summer Music Festival, the Institute has performances and seminars throughout the year. Theater lovers should take in the summer performances at Shakespeare at Winedale.
 
Rohan Meadery (rohanmeadery.com) also sells by the bottle and can be purchased from two locations in Houston: Growlers at 1005 Waugh Dr. and D&Q Mini Mart at 806 Richmond Ave.
 
Shakespeare at Winedale (utexas.edu/cola/progs/winedale) celebrates its 45th edition this summer. An initiative of the University of Texas English Department, throughout the summer Shakespeare is performed in the Winedale Historic Center, just outside of Round Top.
 
If you plan to spend the night, Round Top boasts a number of small inns and B&Bs. Visit the Chamber of Commerce website at roundtop.org.
 
Raequel Roberts is a longtime freelance writer and marketing consultant who still longs to one day own a small farm.
Article from Edible Houston at http://ediblehouston.ediblecommunities.com/things-do/mead-me-round-top
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