A tour of a meadery at a honey farm in southern Alberta
Chinooks Arch Meadery in Okotoks, Alberta, Canada is part of the Chinook Honey Company. It was the first meadery in Alberta. I toured the Meadery on a recent visit to the area.
Chinook Honey Company started as a beekeeping hobby in 1995. Art and Cherie Andrews’ apiary quickly expanded. In 1999 they built a Honey House to store equipment and extract the honey crop. In 2004 they opened a small retail store in the Honey House. The store was a place to learn about and observe bees as well as a place to buy raw honey. The store expanded a few times after that.
Chinook Arch Meadery worked with the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, the body which controls liquor sales in the province, to get the commercial sale of mead approved in 2006. In 2007 the Meadery was opened. They now make about 30,000 litres of mead a year.
Mead is made from honey and is therefore sometimes referred to as honey wine. Mead is often associated with medieval times, but it has a history that stretches farther back than that to as long ago as 7000 BC. All that is required to make mead is honey and water. Live yeast in the honey will feed on the sugars in the honey and cause fermentation. However, in order to control the fermentation and the taste, commercial meaderies such as Chinook use cultured yeasts, typically a champagne yeast. Making a yeast starter is the first step in the mead making process to make sure the yeast is active enough to overpower the wild yeast. Each batch of mead at Chinook is made with 1200 pounds of honey and 1800 litres of water.
The meadery operates under a cottage winery license. Their product must contain 75% of their own honey. They pay 78 cents a litre tax. If the percentage of their own honey is less than 75%, they would be taxed $3.50 a litre.
Chinook Arch Meadery makes three styles of mead. Traditional mead is made with honey, yeast and water. Melomel is a traditional mead fermented or flavoured with fruit. Typically, Chinook Meadery adds 400 pounds of fruit to a batch of melomel-style mead. Metheglin is a traditional mead flavoured with herbs and/or spices.
The tour included a tasting of 13 Chinook meads. I’ve always thought of meads as very sweet, but I discovered that sweetness varies and there are meads on the dryer side. King’s Arthur Dry was crisp and reminded me of a dry sherry. Melissa’s Gold was creamy, much like a good Chardonnay. Buckaroo Buckwheat, made with buckwheat and alfalfa honey, had an earthy taste. I found the fruit-flavoured melomel meads too sweet for my taste. But I could imagine many of them making a good base for a spritzer on a hot summer day. The sweetness of metheglin meads make them a good dessert wine. The Bochet – Vanilla would be delicious served over ice cream. The tasting ended with Fire and Spice, a mead best drunk warm as a mulled wine. Meads in general tend to be sweeter than other types of wine. I still prefer drier wines, but after the tasting I will be more willing to try different meads. I know not all are sticky-sweet and syrup-like, and I can find something at the drier end to my liking or something at the very sweet end to add to my dessert.
Most meads should be served chilled, at 10 to 15 degrees Celsius (50 to 60 degress Fahrenheit) with sweeter meads at the warmer end of the scale. Meads age well. Unlike other wines, an opened bottle can be re-corked and kept for a month or two.
Chinook Honey also offers tour of the bee keeping side of the operation, which cover the social structure of the bees, how honey is made, the role of the beekeeper, live observation of the hives, and honey sampling.
Chinook Honey Company is located just outside of Okotoks, 45 kilometres south of Calgary. They are open daily year-round, with the exception of January to April when they are closed on Mondays and Wednesdays. Check their website for exact times and directions.
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