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Meet Jeff & Jen Herbert of Superstition Meadery in Prescott

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jeff & Jen Herbert.

Superstition Meadery was founded by Jeff and Jennifer Herbert in 2012, and they have built a company that is known as a world leader in the craft beverage business. Mead or Honey Wine is defined as an alcoholic beverage where the majority of the alcohol in the product is derived from honey. Fruit, herbs, spices and barrel aging are common additions to the defining ingredient of honey. Mead is the world’s oldest fermented beverage with scientific analysis of ancient vessels dating mead back to at least 9000 years ago in China, and references to mead appearing throughout ancient texts like the Indian Vedas, the Welsh Mabinogion, and in oral histories passing down legends of mead from Scandinavia to Mesoamerica. Superstition’s mission is to reintroduce the world’s oldest fermented beverage to mankind.

Legally, Superstition is a winery, and in just five years, they expanded production from being the smallest winery to the largest winery in Arizona, and they don’t even make wine, they make the best mead and hard cider in the world. This is evidenced by standing in competitions, on Untappd.com, on RateBeer.com, on social media, and most importantly, in sales of ultra-premium mead. To put their products into perspective that would be under 1000 barrels of craft beer that they made last year, so they are still very much a small family owned business, but they are growing. Jeff and Jen love all craft beverages, but they have always focused on making the very best mead possible, and the same goes for cider. Their approach to cider is also unique in that instead of trying to compete with the many outstanding traditional cider producers in France, Spain, and even the US, they have decided to make the most flavorful hard ciders anyone has ever had by using both apple juice and other complementary fruit juices. This means that Superstition cider is expensive to make, but you don’t have to use your imagination at all when it comes to the flavor. They have mastered the new style of full-flavored American Fruit Cider.

As a company, they value innovation and collaboration and have worked very hard to grow the category of mead through serving on the board of the American Mead Makers Association, introducing legislation to Congress, distributing business to business in 10 states, shipping business to consumer in 38 states and Washington DC, and their products are available in 36 countries. They conducted the first meadery to meadery collaboration in history, and they have made mead and beer collaborations with many of their industry friends such as Arizona Wilderness, Bottle Logic and Mikkeller San Diego. Their dedication to the craft is profound and they are very excited, as the best is yet to come.

Jeff and Jen have lead full lives and many of their personal and professional adventures have defined how they run Superstition.

Jen received a BA in Public Health from the University of Massachusetts in 1992, an MS in Technology from Arizona State University in 1998 and spent a successful career working in public health, risk management, and environmental health and safety as a public sector employee for 15 years and as a self-employed private consultant for 12 years, prior to founding Superstition Meadery in 2012. Jen has won State and National level awards both in her first career and as a role defining female business owner in the craft beverage industry. Jen is responsible for the financial health and policies of Superstition Meadery, overseeing all aspects of business management such as banking, accounting, compliance, human resources, and financial planning. Jen also began working with the US Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in 2015, and in 2017, her work was recognized when Superstition Meadery was named one of the top small businesses in Arizona winning the 2017 SBDC Success Award. When Jen isn’t setting the bar professionally, she is competing in 100-mile endurance horse races.

Jeff received a BA in Anthropology from Arizona State University in 1998 and an MS in Technology from Arizona State University in 2008. Jeff also studied Thai, Spanish and Mandarin to complement his interest in culture and international travel. Jeff started his career in firefighting as a US Forest Service Hot Shot in 1999 and has worked as a structure firefighter for the City of Phoenix since 2001. Jeff is an Engineer/Paramedic, served as a paramedic preceptor, and was a lead brush fire instructor who founded the Phoenix Fire Department Wildland Fire Team, and has worked with the Cancer Prevention Task Force to affect positive change in hot zone assignment procedures and decontamination policy. Jeff is a published author and photographer in both firefighting and craft beverage magazines and websites. Jeff will retire from firefighting in 2019, but along the way, he focused his passion as an award-winning homebrewer into a bold transition by founding an industry leading business. Starting with a course at Chicago’s prestigious Seibel Institute, Jeff developed an obsessive dedication to creating new flavors and techniques that have changed the competitive landscape and shaped a new sector of the craft beverage industry. Jeff is responsible for production, sales, and marketing at Superstition Meadery and his efforts have resulted in Superstition being named a top 100 brewer in the world out of over 36,000 craft beverage producers. Jeff has worked to make Superstition products available in 38 states and 36 countries while winning top industry awards every year since 2013.

Jeff and Jen have lead Superstition to be named the 2019 Master Success Award winner for the State of Arizona by the US SBDC, and a few weeks later the US Small Business Administration named Jeff and Jen the 2019 Arizona Small Business Persons of the Year and invited them to Washington, D.C. to compete for the title of 2019 National Small Business Persons of the Year with the top business leaders from 53 US states and territories. On May 6th, 2019 Jeff and Jen were given the highest honor in the Nation for small business owners, they won the National Award.

Jeff and Jen have not only excelled in their professional lives, advanced degrees, and entrepreneurship endeavors, but they have been a husband and wife team for 20 years. Jeff and Jen credit much of their success to the lessons learned from being married for 2 decades and raising two boys. They knew from the beginning of starting Superstition Meadery that they would have to divide and conquer through establishing precise and separate roles in the company. Jen runs the tasting room and Jeff runs the production facility. Jeff is in charge of graphic design, but Jen pays the bills when they order new labels. This doesn’t mean that they don’t work together on projects such as the Superstition Meadery Phoenix location in planning, but one of them always has executive decision-making authority on any significant aspect of the company. By defining their roles and taking advantage of each of their strengths, Jeff and Jennifer Herbert have worked hard to create a world-renowned business.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Superstition Meadery began with maxing out a single credit card in 2012, and with the founders, Jeff and Jen Herbert as the only staff. They were able to repay that first credit card bill in year one, and shortly after founding the company they decided to work on their first expansion. All revenue was reinvested in growing Superstition and they took advantage of any credit available to them until they qualified for their first SBA loan. They have been profitable each year since beginning Superstition and sales have grown incredibly.

They realized that they needed to operate a retail outlet in an area with a high walkability rating so Jeff and Jen began planning to move operations from their remote winery in Skull Valley, Arizona, to downtown Prescott, Arizona. Nearly 1 million tourists shop in the businesses located on two sides of Prescott’s historic courthouse square, and they moved to a location right in the middle of the very busy Gurley street. In concert with their mission statement and the ethos of the company, they undertook the challenge to renovate a vacant cellar space in a building dating to 1901. The authenticity of the space was honored by the noble building materials they chose to complete their tenant improvements. Jeff and Jen turned this vacant space into a beautiful tasting room and production facility. They knew that they would be open 7 days a week so they started hiring employees prior to opening their doors in September of 2014.

Prior to opening the first tasting room nearly all of Superstition’s sales were through wholesale at local restaurants and bottle shops. In 2013 they began working with a contract sales rep who had won the top national sales award from Whole Foods Market for his work in the wine industry. Their wholesale sales were increasing but it took opening their place to really make some waves. As soon as they opened for business in downtown Prescott, they realized that they could not make enough product fast enough to meet the demand. They focused on maintaining the best selection possible at their headquarters as they continued to slowly increase Superstition’s footprint across Arizona. They were careful to grow organically so that they would not lose valuable shelf space or tap handle placements.

As revenues increased throughout 2014 and 2015 Jeff and Jen paid off all of their debt and began saving money for a down payment on their first SBA loan. They began a site search in the summer of 2015 and by December of 2015, they had secured financial approval and submitted plans to the City of Prescott to build a state-of-the-art production facility on 1.1 acres of commercial property located in the Prescott Airpark. Construction began in March of 2016 and they opened one year later. The facility was designed by Jeff and Jen, using the information they gathered from extensive industry research.

As they were planning and building the new production facility, they were also finding creative ways to increase production back on Gurley Street. In 2016 they were able to produce 6,800 gallons of mead and hard cider in about 600 square feet of space. This is amazing. At one point they had 34 oak barrels in service, even three of which were in their tiny office. This level of production allowed them to meet the demand in their tasting room and increase wholesale accounts in Arizona to nearly 100 locations before production was able to commence in the SBA funded production facility.

2017 allowed them to produce more product in a single year than any other winery in the history of Arizona. Their financial health is directly related to making and selling bottles and kegs of mead and cider. The boost in productivity, combined with training and increasing the numbers of excellent staff members, made it possible to begin distributing out of state in significant numbers by 2017. Prior to this period, Superstition began exporting, especially focused around being invited to pour at the world’s best craft beverage festivals, but the new facility changed everything. They launched their brand in California in October of 2017 and continued to add an additional nine domestic markets throughout 2018 and now sell via distribution in 15 states. They also launched a successful webstore in 2017 and created relationships internationally making their products available around the world.

Jeff and Jen both acknowledge that their path to success has been full of intense challenges, late nights, and very hard work. They attribute their growth to several factors including an ongoing and profound belief in their concept, their staff and their policies. They focus their attention on the rapidly evolving trends in the craft beverage business to remain flexible in product development, marketing and sales. Every individual who works at Superstition is encouraged to contribute to the vision of the company with new recipes, training initiatives, and marketing concepts. This “Think Tank” style of management is evident during every weekly Tasting Room, Production, and Sales meeting. The challenges faced by aggressive growth require strong leadership and an inspired group of men and women with great ideas and honed skills. These components working together have made Superstition rise above each obstacle it has faced.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Early on Superstition was recognized through winning awards at the world’s largest commercial mead competition, The Mazer Cup International. These medals were complemented by high ratings on the most important websites and social media outlets, and this trend continues in 2019. This attention has resulted in Superstition receiving invitations to the most prestigious craft beverage festivals in the world. In 2018 and 2019 Superstition owners or staff members personally poured at events in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, England, Tokyo, Taiwan, and Shanghai. In 2017, Superstition also traveled the world for events and hosted the first mead, cider, and food pairing event in Asia at the Michelin star awarded restaurant Upstairs Mikkeller Bangkok.

Superstition has been able to export to so many markets because of the relationships that are being built by attending these international events, and because of the stellar reputation that the brand commands. In addition to international events Superstition also engages in collaboration brews. This is a unique method of companies working together to introduce each other’s customer base through marketing, branding and in each other’s tap rooms. Superstition has participated in over 50 collaborations, many of which were hosting brewers or mead makers from other countries, or via attending as a guest producer in places such as Wales, Taiwan, Sweden, Denmark, and England. Collaborations are about exchanging new techniques, using interesting local ingredients, and growing an international brand in a very cool way. Superstition even has sent a barrel to Belgium which is aging a very unique beer in a brand new brewery.

Jennifer and Jeff both contribute money, time and resources to their community regularly. Most recently, Jennifer partnered with the Ecosa Institute to host a fundraiser in support of conserving 47 acres of the Granite Dells forever. They donated 25% of the proceeds from food and drinks to the Forever Dells campaign to protect a very special natural area of Prescott where people enjoy hiking, climbing, kayaking, mountain biking, bird watching and relaxing from commercial development.

Additionally, Jennifer and Jeff both contributed to the following local non-profit or charitable organizations in 2018:

The Komen Foundation
Arizona Search Dogs
Prescott Farmer’s Market
CASA for Kids (org. that works with abused, neglected or abandoned children in Yavapai County)
BASIS Prescott (charter school)
Whiskey Row Homebrew Club
The Good Shepherd Ranch
The Sierra Nevada Resilience IPA project to raise money for forest fire victims

Jennifer is currently serving a three-year term as a Board Member on the local Prescott Downtown Partnership (PDP). The PDP is a merchant’s association formed to provide a voice for stakeholders in historic downtown Prescott and to coordinate all events that happen in the downtown area. The PDP works closely with retail, hospitality & professional businesses, as well as property owners, residents, representatives of government & other non-profit entities to advocate for downtown businesses by coordinating & promoting events, creating partnerships, providing leadership and keeping downtown Prescott vibrant.

Jeff and Jennifer are both founding members of the US mead industry’s national organization, the American Mead Makers Association. Jeff served as a board member on the organization for 2 years, was the author of the National Mead Industry Report for 5 years and edited the only mead industry trade publication, American Mead Maker, for 3 years. As an AMMA board member, Jeff also contributed to writing the Mead Equality And Definition Act of 2016 or the MEAD Act, introduced as H.R. 6000, aspects of which were implemented into law with the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act of 2017. Additionally, Jeff served as a board member of the local homebrewing organization, the Whiskey Row Brew Club, for 2 years and remains involved as a member with this organization which brings together local craft beverage professionals and community members to promote skills and awareness related to craft beverages, and multiple charitable efforts.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
No one achieves success on their own. When Jeff and Jen first told people that they were planning a business most people they spoke to would make up statistics about how most small businesses fail. At this point, they would have responded, “No kidding!” Establishing and maintaining a top performing brand is incredibly challenging, and they realized that none of the naysayers had actually accomplished what they were about to embark on. The people who inspired Superstition’s founders offered real-life expertise and advice. They started talking to people who had small businesses before they wrote their first business plan. They told them things like, “Work in or at least get to know and master your field” and “Believe in your vision above all else, have great credit, and be ready to work harder than you ever thought possible.” Things like that, real down to earth advice, have proven to be true to this day.

They also have some of the most amazing staff in the industry. Jen reiterates, “You need to hire and support great people who believe in your vision and contribute amazing ideas that they can execute.”

And in their industry, they have so many amazing friends who have really helped them out and offered inspiration like Mikkeller, Arizona Wilderness Brewing, Bottle Logic Brewing, B. Nektar Meadery, Rabbits Foot Meadery and so many more. Jeff says, “Through collaborations, festivals, and sharing leads on distribution and financing, we wouldn’t be where we are today without great friends and support from our craft beverage family.”

Keep an eye on Superstition because they are picking up speed with the recent purchase of a very cool historic brick building at 11th Street and Washington in Phoenix. Superstition Downtown will be the first mead and food pairing restaurant in the world, and we can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Here is a great video for being named the best small business in America by the SBA:

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Image by Luke Herbert

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