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Mead is one of the world’s oldest known alcoholic beverages and in the not-too-distant future you’ll be able to find locally produced mead, and its close cousin honey-wine, on local shelves.
Fourth generation beekeepers Annmarie Boehm-Tapley and Ross Tapley have begun a new venture—Muskoka Mead—to produce mead and honey-wine from the honey produced by their hives. If you frequent Muskoka’s farmers’ markets, you may already be familiar with their honey company, Muskoka Honey Bee Products, which sells honey and beeswax products like candles, lip balm and soap.
For the past few years, they’ve been testing out recipes for honey-wine and mead and recently received a federal manufacturing license to produce them for sale.
The idea began on a trip to Germany to visit relatives. Mead and honey-wine are a common product of beekeepers there, but they haven’t yet achieved mainstream popularity in Canada.
“I’ve had people ask me if we have honey-wine or if we’re making mead, and why not?” says Boehm-Tapley. “If we even mentioned that we were playing around with recipes, they’d say ‘put me on the list’.” Local chefs have also expressed interest in using honey-wine in their kitchens.
As established beekeepers, they well-exceed the minimum 100 hives needed to be manufacturers. Now, they just need to build a manufacturing facility. They plan to do that at Logging Chain Lodge Cottages, the cottage resort that they own, using shipping containers so that “if we get as large as I think we’re going to get in the first couple of years, we can take those containers, pick them up, and move them to another site,” says Boehm-Tapley.
They’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign to help raise the funds needed for manufacturing equipment. “We have enough funds and skills to convert two shipping containers into a manufacturing area with a wine-aging space, tasting area, and climate-controlled interior,” says Boehm-Tapley. “What we are not able to completely afford at this point is the wine-making system. That is why we are looking to raise $25,000 of the $35,000 price to purchase a full winery system that will quickly jump start the manufacturing and fermentation process of our honey wine and mead within a few days of installation.”
Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, mead and honey-wine aren’t quite the same thing.
Both are fermented beverages with honey as their main ingredient. Honey-wine is fermented for a longer period—after a five-to-six-week initial fermentation, it is bottled and aged for at least a year. Muskoka Mead will offer two varieties of honey-wine to start: a traditional honey-wine and a Bochet, which begins with caramelized honey.
Mead is fermented for a shorter period of time—four to six weeks—and is often flavoured with spices. Its alcohol content is closer to that of a session craft beer at four or five per cent. Muskoka Mead will initially offer two varieties of canned, carbonated session mead.
Muskoka Mead hopes to begin manufacturing in the spring of 2020, and to be in a position to start hiring additional staff within two years to help with mead-making and other parts of the manufacturing process.
They also want to train new beekeepers. “There’s not enough,” says Boehm-Tapley. “There’s a lot of the senior generation that are now retiring. And there’s not the numbers coming into the industry that we need to sustain it. So as fourth-generation beekeepers…we really want to take the knowledge that we have as a family and hire students, for example, through the summer employment programs [and] it will also allow us to hire other more senior beekeepers to help us with our apiaries because we just keep getting bigger. As far as I know, we’re the largest commercial apiary in the district. We want to create opportunity for the new people to come in and learn those skills. That’s really important for us.”
The several hundred Muskoka Honey Bee hives are thriving—they haven’t experienced the same troubles that have plagued many others. “The best part of having bees in Muskoka is there’s no commercial farming to the scale of, for example, Orillia and Southern Ontario, where they’re using neonicotinoids and where there’s mass bee deaths,” says Boehm-Tapley. “We don’t have that here, so we are very fortunate. We get through rough winters, we have to deal with wildlife, that’s our biggest issue.”
To support the launch of Muskoka Mead, visit their Kickstarter campaign here. Pledge rewards begin at the $5 level, all the way up to $2,500 which gets the supporter a variety of swag along with a two-night stay for two at Logging Chain Lodge, complete with a half-day session as a beekeeper and another half-day in the meadery.