Monday, 26 November 2012

Monday Feature: Chinook Arch Meadery

I love reading. Ever since that fateful summer, when my mother gave me a reading challenge, (you know the kind, if you read this many books, you'll get that in return) I was hooked and have never looked back. To this day, I still love to curl up with a great fiction book, purely for entertainment's sake and a reprieve from the real world, if only for a few moments. A couple of my favourite genre's are historical fiction and fantasy (not futuristic fantasy, but in a way, historical fantasy, such as Lord of the Rings).

I bring up my love of reading for one reason. In these epic tales of war, victory, love and tragedy, sitting around the cook fires, in the vast, fire lit halls, and in the cheery pubs, no matter if during war or celebration, men and women raised their mugs of mead and drank to a brighter day. Vats of mead were prepared for festivities and it was mead that was praised for its perfection and noted for it's divine taste.

Molly and her bottomless Mead Mug 

With this ever in my mind, and Hayden's as well, for that matter, we longed to try this mythical "mead."  Was it just a drink of stories long past, or did mead truly exist. Our search was rewarded one evening, when Hayden stumbled upon a bottle of mead at one of our local liquor stores.

Now you may be wondering, what the heck is mead? Most people do. Unless you read the types of books that we do or historical books in any genre, most have no idea what mead is or that it even exists for that matter. When I would tell people, with jubilant excitement, at our discovery, I was met with a quizzical look and an astute reply of "you found what?" Mead is honey wine, made from the fermentation of honey and water. If you like honey, and you like wine, then there's a strong probability you will LOVE mead. :)

Random casks in a cellar

It was with great anticipation that Hayden and I opened our first bottle of mead, and although delightful, it did not live up to the expectations we had placed on this historic beverage. Having never tried mead before, it was sweet and delicious and quite pleasant, but yet I was still slightly disappointed. I had imagined a much more grandeur drink, worth singing about by the bards. Hayden and I have tried a few varieties of mead, as it is slowly gaining popularity and becoming easier to find, but none have ever sufficed or overtly impressed. That is, until this past summer.

During one Saturday, at the Millarville Farmers Market, Hayden was placed next to Chinook Honey Company. When I arrived at the market, it was then that Hayden told me, with much excitement, that they made and sold mead and were giving out samples...and it was incredible. Well, I had to taste for myself and I meandered over and proceeded to sample 8 different meads from Chinook Arch Meadery. In that span of 10 minutes, my life was transformed, as that liquid honey ran down my throat, as though I were drinking light itself. This mead was smooth, clear, and pure, with not a trace of after bite. Just a lingering, delicate, absolutely delightful sapidity, left to entice the taste buds for more. This was what I had always imagined mead to be. This was the drink that was so praised, loved, and prized in those beloved stories. We had found it at last.

Owners of Chinook Honey Company and Chinook Arch Meadery are Art and Cherie Andrews. When looking back on their journey to where they are today, Cherie recalls, "The development of Chinook Honey Company has been a life journey for my husband, Art, and myself. We were both working in the airline business when Art decided to buy a few bee hives to help pollinate our vegetable garden. The "hobby" slowly took over our lives - bees are that fascinating! So much so that we eventually took early retirement from the airlines in order to commit ourselves to developing unique honey products, one of which is mead (honey wine)."

"Mead was the natural extension of producing honey and it helped that Art had been a hobby beer maker for many years. Making mead is a challenge - it is so simple in concept - honey, water and yeast - yet can be so complex when trying to make a top quality wine. And we love challenges!"

The first challenge lying before Art and Cherie was being able to legally sell their honey mead. Thus, they spearheaded the Cottage Winery Licensing for Mead with the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission. After that was taken care of, the next challenge was to perfect their recipes, as there is very little written about commercial mead production and even fewer experts available (apparently there are no dwarves from Alegasia* here, though they are praised for their exquisite mead).

"Much has been learned by trial and error, with occasional consultation with specialists in various areas. The culmination of all our preparation was the grand opening of Chinook Arch Meadery in May 2008. Since then, Art has continued to develop his techniques and recipes and our mead sales have become a major part of our business."

Chinook Arch Meadery produced 14,000 litres of mead in 2012 and hope to increase that to 18,000 litres in 2013. That's A LOT of mead! "To increase our production capacity, we are planning a new fermentation area in 2013. It will be able to hold at least 8 tanks (compared to our current 4 - 2000 L tanks), an improved mead transfer system and a higher capacity bottling system."

Fermentation Tanks

Mead has three main styles - traditional, made totally of honey (my personal favourite), melomels, made with honey and fruit, and metheglins, made with honey plus herbs and spices. "Art loves to use unique fruit in his melomels, such as black currants in 'Bodacious Black Currant', and even combine a number of berries such as in 'Berry Blisssss'." Chinook Arch Meadery's meads highlight, not only Alberta honey, but often Alberta fruits as well. "We use Evans cherries in 'Cherry Mi Amor' and [Art] is experimenting with Saskatoon and Haskap berries. Of course, coming up with the mead names can be a challenge in itself. We like to have fun with them. They often reflect the nature of each particular mead, such as 'Buckaroo Buckwheat' (Hayden's favourite) and 'Ginger Snapped', or the history of mead as in 'King Arthurs Dry'" Or my personal favourite, 'Excalibur'. Oh yum!

Chinook Arch Meadery have also released Canada's first Iced Mead. Last year it was 'Raspberry Ice' and this year they are featuring 'Frosted Blisssss'. "Iced Meads are very rich and potent at approximately 20% alc/vol. They are quite labour intensive, so they are specially priced, but not as high as Ice Wines."

Filtering before bottling

Bottling 'Cherry Mi Amor'

In addition to their love of creating and perfecting their mead, Art and Cherie also have enjoyed teaching people about mead. Like I mentioned earlier, many people have no idea what mead is. "In spite of the fact that it is the oldest alcoholic beverage in the world, it is relatively unknown in most of North America. It may take one person at a time, but we're making progress! The number of people who have taken our Meadery tour and purchased our meads has increased at least 25% every year since we started. Also, we have a number of chefs in the Calgary area who are taking interest, not only with mead food pairings, but also to cook with."

In 2010, Chinook Arch Meadery's meads were featured in the prestigious Calgary chef's competition 'AGC Cooks'. Next year they will be highlighted in a program on Discovery Channel's 'Chef's Domain' with Chef Hayato Okamitsu.

"As an Alberta cottage winery, our mead distribution can take many channels. Our primary sales point is our on farm store, where we have a boutique setting which, in addition to our mead, also features our honey, honey made jams, jellies and sauces, beeswax products, apitherapy items and even a honey bee learning centre." The store is open year round and is located only 20 minutes South of Calgary.

In addition to their store, you can find Chinook Arch Meadery at two seasonal Farmers Markets - Millarville Market on Saturdays (from June till Oct) and Hillhurst-Sunnyside Farmers Markets on Wednesdays. They are also able to deliver their meads directly to liquor stores, instead of having to "depend on the ponderous, carbon hungry liquor warehousing & distribution centre, Connect Logistics, in St. Albert, AB."

Chinook Arch Meadery has their meads available in Calgary at Willowpark Wines and Spirits (Willowpark), Inglewood Wine Market and Highlander on 16th Ave W. "We obviously have limited production, so we are careful not to overextend ourselves. As well, mead still needs an advocate, so it sells best where it can be sampled and explained." Hopefully this feature helps with that as well.

Chinook's next special event is just around the corner! 'Christmas at the Hive' is Saturdays, Dec 1st and 8th. This event is free to attend and is a fundraiser for World Vision Beehives. There will be free tours of the meadery and apiary available, with plenty of tasting! woot woot. They will also be featuring their 2nd release of 'Fire 'n Spice' (a metheglin mead), which will be 10% off for those 2 days only. "It'll be a great family day in the country as we have 'Christnas Critters' to enjoy, snow candle crafts, horse drawn wagon rides and much more."

"So our life journey continues! It's all about learning and teaching and we've never regretted leaving the comfort zone of mainstream occupations."

I, for one, am oh so thankful that Chinook Arch Meadery ventured into the world of mead, to bring to my palate the very taste I always envisioned with every word ever read, in all those beloved stories.

For more info, please visit Chinook Honey Company's website (Chinook Arch Meadery has a tab within their main website) at and take a look at the different varieties of mead available at this time as well as a plethora of other information for the gleaning.

If you have any further questions, would like to book a tour or inquire about some mead, please feel free to call 1-403-995-0830 or email at

Please go to Chinook Honey Company's facebook page and "like" it here.
Follow Chinook Honey Company on twitter @chinookhoney.

As a special for my Growing Green readers, give the PROMO CODE Mead me @ Chinook Honey and receive 5% off a bottle of 'Fire 'n Spice' during the month of December, 2012. Don't delay! Go experience this heaven in a bottle!

For those of you who have tried mead, what did you think? I'm curious to know what kinds/brands other people have tried and your thoughts on the world's oldest alcoholic beverage.

Next week's feature hint: Hot and spicy

*Alegasia is the land found within the "Inheritance cycle"

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