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Jason and Jody Dookie offer samples of Norseman Honey Mead at their Friday Night Market booth.

Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jason and Jody Dookie offer samples of Norseman Honey Mead at their Friday Night Market booth.

Somewhere during the Neolithic period, or likely in a few somewheres across the globe, people figured out how to make mead. Traces of the simple fermented honey drink are found in pottery from all over the ancient world. But the mead you might sample from the fellow with braided hair, Renaissance fair vibes and leather arm braces at the farmers market originates in Norway. Specifically from his grandmother's house.

Norseman Honey Mead is a two-person operation run by Jason and Jody Dookie on their homestead near Shelter Cove. There, they tend to their garden and beehives, and use his family's strain of yeast to ferment around 40 cases of mead per month. The couple began selling $25 bottles of traditional and sparkling Norseman Honey Mead — each with a playful illustration of toasting Vikings on the label — at the Arcata Farmers Market and Friday Night Market in July. Now you can find their mead at both branches of the North Coast Co-op, the Madrone, Redway Liquor and Chataqua Natural Foods.

Jason has been beekeeping for some 15 years and maintains six hives, each of which he estimates produces about 150 pounds of honey a year. "I was hoarding honey like a doomsday prepper for years," he says, laughing. And while there have been no successful raids, he "and the bears have had lots of run ins."

Jody is a wine lover but, says Jason, they believed it was making her ill. So he dipped into his stockpile of homegrown honey and started experimenting with his family's mead recipe using the "family strain" of yeast his grandmother mailed from Kveik, Norway, a region known for its brewing yeast. The mead recipe and yeast were passed down from Jason's great-great-grandmother, and his grandmother makes it every year for Christmas. "I have no experience with anybody else's mead," he says. At least none that he likes.

The process, as he describes it, is simple enough: They mix the honey with spring water, warming it before pitching in the yeast. Once they've transferred the liquid into large glass carboys, "You stick a regulator on there and then you taste it every week until it's done." What constitutes "done" is both personal and subjective, but generally takes a matter of weeks. "I do it to my taste, to my palate," Jason says, "so I have to taste every batch." The result is a pale gold and lightly sweet mead with 10 percent alcohol by volume.

Originally from Ventura, Jason moved to Humboldt 15 years ago,"to grow weed and make my fortune and find my wife. My passion was farming, so I figured I could make a living at it growing weed." And for a while he did so under the business name Dookie Bros., winning the 2016 Emerald Cup with his cannabis. "It took me six years to get my license and by that time I'd diversified out of it," he says. "From weed to mead."

He says the work ethic and skills he developed in the cannabis industry have transferred to this new venture. "If you can make something clean and organic with the highest quality ingredients, I don't see how you can go wrong," he says. But with cannabis, he didn't feel he could scale up and maintain a level of quality he felt good about, and he still has resentments about the costs and red tape of coming into legal compliance. Making mead allows him more freedom. "I don't even make a batch if we're not in a good mood because I know water transfers energy. So, I put on reggae music while I make it."

It might seem incongruous with the reggae but Jason says the Viking outfit is not a gimmick. "We're into the whole lifestyle. We celebrate solstice instead of Christmas." After moving away from the Dookie Bros., he says they leaned into a "Nordic take" on homesteading, from dress to farming — with a little cannabis growing between the vegetables. And he jokes that he's always been a bit of a Viking. "I did come here from another county and I did pillage the village a little bit," he says. "In true Viking fashion, I came in and pillaged Shelter Cove's village."

The Dookies have plans to sell in Santa Rosa and to expand their offerings, once they tackle a current problem with bottles that leak when not stored upright. (Let them know and they say they'll happily swap one out for you.) Among the planned varieties are spiced blueberry, blackberry mead, cherry and even pineapple.

"We're not trying to make a killing off it," says Jason, but so far, the business is paying the bills. And compared to applying for a cannabis cultivation permit, the six-month process of getting a license from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control "was a piece of cake," he says.

After a beat, he laments, "I don't want you to tell people this. Everybody's gonna start making mead."

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill (she/her) is the arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at (707) 442-1400, extension 320, or [email protected]. Follow her on Instagram @JFumikoCahill and on Mastodon @jenniferfumikocahill.

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About The Author

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor of the North Coast Journal. She won the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s 2020 Best Food Writing Award and the 2019 California News Publisher's Association award for Best Writing.

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