Beyond the Wineries and Breweries, One Family Brings Mead to the Forefront.
Before people began raising their cups filled with wine and beer, mead was the drink of choice to accompany meals. One of the oldest alcoholic beverages known to man, traces of the simple combination of honey, water and yeast were found in ancient Chinese pottery vessels dating back to 7,000 BC, eons before making its way to modern meaderies here in the United States. Today, mead is making a comeback, and more than 250 establishments across the nation are known to produce this sweet libation.
Long appreciated in England for its medicinal value, mead is also regarded by many to be an aphrodisiac. This long-held belief is where we derive the term “honeymoon.” According to ancient tradition, if newlyweds drank mead for 30 days (a complete moon cycle), it would increase their fertility. It was such an ingrained belief that the father of the bride would often include a month’s worth of mead in the dowry.
In today’s world, mead drinkers are looking for something that has less to do with superstition and more to do with quality, taste and flavor variety. And that is just what Blair Housley, owner, CEO and master brewer of Etowah Meadery in Dahlonega, has to offer.
Housley was first introduced to the wine industry in Sicily, where he was stationed while serving with the Air Force. “I loved living amid the wine culture in Sicily, but after growing up with a farming background, I knew I didn’t want the responsibility of caring for a vineyard,” says Housley. However, he was intrigued by the possibility of making wine from honey. Returning home to Georgia, he decided to learn all he could about making mead, attending mead production seminars in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and California. It wasn’t long before he set about developing a business strategy for his own meadery. By October of 2017, the business was up and running.
Don’t Call It Wine
“Some call mead a wine,” Housley says. “Mead is a closely related to wine as wine is to hard cider or beer.” To make the tasty creations you can sample at Etowah Meadery, a process of diluting honey with water and fermented, Housley adds an array of spices, fruits and grains. The result has garnered the meadery awards, including De Soto’s Quest in 2019 and a gold and silver medal in 2018.
Housley, a lifelong resident of Lumpkin County, along with his wife, Sharon, named their meadery after the Etowah River flowing through the county. “Sharon and I both have fond memories of spending time on the river while we were growing up. It just seemed natural to name the business after a local landmark,” Housley says.
Entrusting local artists (the late) Grant Searcey of Dahlonega and Ollie Pruitt of Bad Dog Creative Foundry to create unique labels, each bottle tells a story of each individual mead, featuring a blue bear. The only exception is a Cane Break Bunny label depicting a rabbit that lives along the Etowah River. This particular mead is unique in that part of the proceeds from its sale are donated to various veterans organizations like Warrior Farms, a local venture run by Chris Dorsey developed to help veterans suffering from PTSD. Another recipient of the designated funds is Housley’s favorite charity, the Georgia House Rabbit Society.
The local connections combined with a passion for mixing unique beverages is what visitors enjoy most when popping into Etowah Meadery to sample several meads, including traditional, dry and sparkling varieties. These come in an assortment of flavors, such as blueberry, cherry, peach, apple, pear and a native grown favorite, Paw Paw. Along with these flavor sensations come imaginative names: Got the Blues, Stone Pile Peach, Rainier Cherry Deluge and Spiced Pear-Licious, to name a few.
Housley says that with the business up and running, he is looking to the future for expansion. One project includes brewing his own IPA beer. “Before I opened the meadery, I had some success in brewing beer at home,” says Housley. “After entering several competitions, I won a couple bronze medals, a silver and a Best of Show award. While concentrating on the mead, I put the brewing activity on hold,” says Housley. “But now with the meadery well established, I think I would like to begin brewing beer again.”
When visiting Etowah Meadery, you can also find honey, mead jams, gift baskets and recipe books. In 2020, Housley plans to open a small restaurant within the meadery to enhance the overall experience for guests in the tasting room, making Etowah Meadery the first in Georgia to serve both “wine” and beer produced on site by the same company.
Whether you head to Etowah Meadery before the beer arrives or not, a visit is a must for anyone looking to sample something unique. Housley promises a honey of a time, but a word of caution: Meads can range in alcohol content — some up to 20 percent! — so be sure to have a designated driver on hand after an afternoon of imbibing.