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With plenty of bees and time, Billings couple turns to ancient drink mead

Crowned MontanaFair Best in Show in 2022
Wanda and Donovan Sauter
Posted at 4:38 PM, Aug 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-17 10:16:56-04

BILLINGS — Donovan Sauter has been a home brewer for 30 years. But when craft breweries started popping up like wildflowers across Billings, he had to adjust.

"I couldn't compete with the real brewers," Sauter said. "Their beer was so good."

So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Donovan and his wife Wanda pivoted their hobby to a much older drink - mead, which starts with one key ingredient.

"We’ve had honey bees for 10 years," Wanda said. "I got tired of trying to sell honey, bottle honey, market honey, so this was a lot more fun."

Wanda Sauter mead
Wanda Sauter pours honey she harvested from her own honey bee colony into a pot of warm water as she makes a new batch of mead.

Mead is a fairly simple concoction. You mix the honey in warm water, then add yeast and another nutrient, and then it sits, wherever you have space for it. For the Sauters, that's usually a bathtub in the back of their Heights house.

"There it will sit for several months," Wanda said while depositing a newly made batch.

Wanda got the idea from her sister who started three weeks before her. Now, they compete every year inside the MontanaFair Heritage Arts building.

"About 1997 is when it came to a big start," said Marie Smith, the MontanaFair superintendent of Heritage Arts. "We used to have fights over who was going to get to clerk and work the books because it was popular."

mead in bathtub
Wanda and Donovan Sauter let their mead age in a bathtub in the back of their Billings house. They say each batch needs to age at least a year before drinking.

The 2022 competition was the first year the Sauters felt their entries had enough time to mature.

"Now I have a much better product to present," Wanda said, "and I still want to beat my sister.”

This year’s Best in Show winner: Wanda’s traditional mead. Mission accomplished.