Back in the early 2000s, living in Portland, Maine’s thriving arts culture, Eli Cayer used to throw a party or two. A beekeeper by day, by night he made company with artists and musicians. A creative person himself, Eli, with copious amounts of honey on his hands, dabbled in making mead. A beverage of storied history, mead is so old mention of it dates back to 1700 B.C. Mead is created by fermenting honey with water. In Eli’s specific case, the mead was created with Maine’s beautiful and pristine water.
“I brought the mead to an art party and it immediately went to a different place,” Eli remembers. “It elevated the experience.” No stranger to the science of fermenting, Eli is well aware of the possibilities of this ancient process. “There’s wild yeast in the air and wild yeast in the honey. It might not turn out to be good, but it could be magical.”
The experience inspired him to start his own meadery, where he, along with a couple of business partners, crafted larger batches of mead. This was the rare alcoholic beverage that was “lost in the renaissance,” Eli’s admits, half-jokingly.
The meadery business turned out to last only three years. But Eli’s passion for fermentation never wore off. A cultural shift was afoot – and people were becoming increasingly aware of what they put into their bodies. Natural was in. The time was right to start anew. He created the Urban Farm Fermentory in the summer of 2010.
Using seasonally available ingredients, the fermentory makes cider, Kombucha, and yes, mead. Keeping it pure, each beverage uses only the base ingredients and one more added in. If you want a hybrid drink you are welcome to come to the tasting room and mix and match. As for getting the ingredients, Eli’s road trips west towards New Hampshire offer a fruitful picking; he takes his time, stopping off to pick what he can. In other words, if you’re road tripping with Eli and he spots some Sumac, be prepared for a bit of a detour. “You’ve got to forage when it’s popping,” he says.
Eli and his crew comb the coastline, wander the trails and even climb trees when they must (wary of the occasional thorn, of course). They harvest chaga (their chaga chai is quite popular), elderberries, calendula, spruce tips, rose petals, and even dandelions to create their signature and wholly organic drinks. In wintertime, they harvest roots. As for the quality of their product? They attribute it to – you guessed it – Maine itself.
“When we walked out this morning and the sun was rising from the ocean, I thought, this is five minutes from my house. Rose tips, sumac apple trees, bayberry – all things that can be used that most people have no idea about – all the things that could be used to become a delicious beverage. It’s constantly a reminder that we are lucky and fortunate,” Eli says.
Eli believes in the medicinal – and magical – qualities of the ingredients he puts into his product. And, if you stop in to the Urban Farm Fermentory, he’ll be glad to walk you through all of them. “You can’t put it on the packaging,” he says, “but it’s something I believe in.”
© 2019 Maine Office of Tourism