Three places to enjoy mead in Alberta.
When one thinks of mead, visions of burly, bearded Vikings drinking from flagons may come to mind. While that may have been true, this mysterious liquor has been around for many millennia, has been part of several civilisations, from Mesopotamia to China, through Egypt, Greece and Rome, up to medieval Europe and beyond, and is enjoying a renaissance of its own in Alberta today. With three new local meaderies producing over two dozen varieties and more imports available, mead is creating a buzz here at home.
So, just what is mead? Simply put, it is alcohol produced from honey. Often called honey wine, the fermentable sugars of the honey are converted into what may possibly the oldest form of manufactured alcohol. Like wine, mead can be quite diverse, and be anywhere from sweet to dry. There are several types of honey available and multiple yeast strains to do the work, and it can be aged in tanks or barrels anywhere from several weeks to several months. Some may even have spices, fruit and other additives added. Dry meads should be consumed at cellar temperature while sweeter meads are best served chilled.
Southern Alberta’s Meaderies
Immediately south of Okotoks lies the Chinook Honey Company. While they have been producing honey for some twenty-odd years, home-brewer Art Andrews started making mead about ten years ago. It was a novel idea back then, “not many how-to books on mead-making have been written since the 14th century”, Art jokes.
He went commercial in 2008 by opening up Chinook Arch Meadery and now produces about a dozen different varieties. In addition to traditional meads, they produce metheglins (mead with spices, one is named Ginger Snapped), melomels (mead with fruits, such as their Black and Blue, made with black currents and blueberries) and iced mead (Frosted Bliss). Art uses half a dozen different yeasts, which allows him to control fermentations. These meads have the pronounced honey flavour you’d expect, but are unique due to combinations of fruit and spices Art adds in.
Fallentimber Meadery grew out of the Ryan’s Honey Farm in the foothills near Water Valley, just north of Cochrane. While the family had been producing honey since the late 1960s, the meadery came about as a result of a hobby of the grandsons that “got out of hand”. After discovering mead made more profit than the notoriously low margins that come from honey sales, it justified buying more equipment. They now make ten meads including Cyser (mead mixed with crabapples), Pyment (mead blended with Naramata merlot grapes) and Cinnamon Mead. The Ryan boys continue to experiment by home brewing, and are buying more tanks, so look for more products in the future.
Spirit Hills, just southwest of Millarville, takes a unique approach to mead. Ilse and Hugo Bonjean started their honey winery from scratch with less than 100 hives and produce mead that is more analogous to table wine than dessert wine. Amongst their half dozen varieties (with more to come in 2015) are a dandelion mead named Dande, Saskwatch, which is made with Saskatoon berries, and Wild Rose Passion, made with our provincial flower. Tasting these wines,you would think you are drinking a white, red and rosé wine, respectively. Which is exactly how mead maker Hugo Bojean wants it. “We are trying to create meads which are less sweet, go with food and can be treated as table wines, albeit with a mead base. Many of the meads are aged in oak barrels, giving them even more flavour comparable to regular table wine.
Most of these local products are somewhat hard to find. They are available only in select liquor stores and farmers’ markets, so check their websites or liquorconnect.com for where their products are sold. However, it is certainly worthwhile to visit them. They all have tasting rooms, products to purchase, and the proprietors of these family-run businesses are great hosts who would love to show around their property. Mead is local, and as they say today, mead is trending. So search them out. You’ll be glad you did.
Chinook Arch Bochet – Vanilla: Made from a 700 year old recipe using toasted honey and spices, this dessert mead tastes like toffee and vanilla with a slight stone fruit finish. Rich and decadent. 375 mL bottle, 11.5% ABV, $25 chinookhoney.com
Fallentimber Hopped Mead – Their newest product is quickly becoming their best seller. Half way between mead and a beer, one quarter of the “honey bill” is caramelized honey for colour and body. This carbonated mead has honey in the foreground, but is capped by Cascade and Chinook hops for a slight bitterness in the end. Also available on tap in better beer bars. 500 mL bottle, 7.5% ABV, $9 fallentimbermeadery.ca
Spirit Hills Saskwatch – Made with Saskatoon berries and black currants, the berries are macerated with the honey and aged in oak for 6 months. The result is a dark red, dry, spicy mead, with only the slightest hint of honey that can go anywhere a dry red table wine can go. It is perfect for the dinner table and BBQs, but can also stand on its own. 750 mL bottle, 13.7% ABV, $25 spirithillswinery.com