Mead Master Looks to Localize Libations

Of all the volunteers, business owners, and other non-farm members of Georgia Organics, few are as passionate about helping the good food movement thrive as Mike Lorey.

 

That’s a somewhat hokey statement, more fitting for a letter of recommendation, but gosh darn it it’s the truth.

 

Mike’s background in marketing and graphic design was instrumental in establishing the Georgia Organics Facebook page and Twitter feeds. He also serves as a valuable advisor on our Communications Committee.

 

Not to mention he’s a co-founder of Crop Mob Atlanta, the self-described “group of young, landless, and wannabe farmers who come together to build and empower communities by working side by side.”

 

Nowadays, he’s making waves with another of his passion, brewing beers and mead with local, seasonal, and medicinal ingredients.

 

His 2010 Montaluce Wildflower Mead (which, by the way, debuted at the Georgia Organics 14th Annual Conference and Expo) won a Double Gold Medal at the 2011 International Eastern Wine Competition that took place June 14-15, 2011 in Sonoma, Ca.

 

Double Gold is a unanimous gold medal judgment from the panelists. So yeah, it’s a big deal.

 

Mike, working with Montaluce Winery, planned, produced and promoted the mead. A little more than 2,000 bottles were produced. In July, Deborah Geering profiled him and the mead in an online column for Atlanta Magazine.

 

He’s been a home brewer for years. Winning awards, producing intriguing flavors, and teaching mead making and beer brewing classes.

 

Now, Lorey is planning to make a major leap forward. He’s in the process of planning a small 5-acre meadery, which is kind of like a winery. In addition to the mead, he plans to produce a portion of the fruit, herbs, flowers, honey, and other mead ingredients on site.

 

Besides obstacles like cash flow, zero infrastructure, and licensing, Lorey is on the hunt for land that’s got access to clean and plentiful water, decent soil, and is relatively affordable.

 

Sure, there are some hurdles, but if anyone can do it, Mike Lorey can. We’ve seen his enthusiasm and talent firsthand, and success has always been a part of his track record.

 

You can contact him at mike@folksybrews.com and learn more about his brewing here: www.folksybrews.com.

We recently asked Lorey some questions to learn more about his plans for the meadery, and his brewing back-story. Read on!

How did you learn to make mead and how is mead different from beer?

I learned to make mead by reading everything I could find online about it, pouring through several books (both modern and historical), and then trying to forget a lot of the conflicting information and make something that just felt and tasted right to me. I continue to learn a lot from both winemakers and beer brewers to apply to my meadmaking.

Mead gets the sugar required to make alcohol from honey instead of malted grains like beer or grapes like wine. Technically it is a wine because it does not contain malted grains.

 

 

What are some of the meads and beers you’ve made and what makes them special, or intriguing?

Everything I make ranges from a little bit unique to way out there but they are all delicious. Meads that utilize seasonal fruit and herbs (Strawberry Lavender, Elderberry, Peach Ginger, etc.). Meads that are made using medicinal herbs. An unhopped beer flavored with elderflowers, peppermint and rose petals. Rosemary Rye Pale Ale with hefty doses of rosemary and rye for a nice spicy flavor. Honey Basil Belgian Ale with lots of basil and a blend of yeasts that love Georgia summers. Beers using traditional African grains and processes.

 

 

You mentioned making beer production more local. What do you mean? What’re your ideas on that?

There are a growing number of craft breweries making beer here in Georgia but pretty much all of their ingredients (besides water) are coming from other places. Barley grown and malted in the Northwest being the main ingredient. Barley doesn’t grow so well here in the South since it likes cooler weather. Other grains much more suited to our growing conditions can make some great beers. Grain sorghum, millet, rye, amaranth, and several others. We grow these grains here now but there isn’t an infrastructure to malt them so brewers can’t use them to make beer.

 

 

What’s the biggest impediment to an all-local beer?

Other than availability of the malted grains and hops, the biggest impediments are probably a price premium over cheap barley malt and lack of exposure to beers produced with these types of grain. Gluten free beers are now being produced with some of these grains but I think their biggest downfall is trying to copy traditional beer styles. They won’t ever taste the same so why not work with it and make something uniquely delicious? If you can find the right formula of malt production, brewing, and marketing there is an almost guaranteed opportunity for a successful business

 

 

What kind of health benefits could one expect from some of your medicinal brews?

Obviously I cannot make any health claims for an alcoholic beverage for many legal reasons but the process of fermenting wines and beers with medicinal herbs in them date back to ancient times. The fermentation process is used to metabolize the sugars present in plant tissue, releasing medicinal compounds from the cell walls. I am by no means an expert on this process and am just starting to explore the possibilities.

 

 

In what part of the state is the soil best for your farm, and why?

I would not be growing traditional wine grapes so it would not be limited to regions favorable for them. However, I would be producing various fruits, herbs, flowers, and honey for the production of mead. Perhaps significantly more important than the soil would be the quality and quantity of water available. Water is a vital ingredient in mead production and can make an astounding difference in the finished product.

 

 

You’ve volunteered with Georgia Organics for years. You co-founded Crop Mob Atlanta, and now you’re aiming to be the only all-local brewer in the state. What’s the deal? What’s with the amazing amount of dedication and passion?

All my life I have felt a strong connection to the Earth and nature. I started gardening early in life and spent most of my time outdoors. Eventually I grew up and received a few degrees in marketing and have worked in marketing and graphic design fields ever since. However this work never fully satisfied me.

I started searching for something more…something to get me back in touch with nature. This led me to Georgia Organics. I mean, what can put you more in touch with nature than eating food grown in harmony with natural processes? You consume this amazing food and it becomes a part of you.

 

It just snowballed from there. Perhaps it was my Eastern European and Viking roots that drew me to fermentation and mead but I just love the process and working with the best that nature has to offer.