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Alberta Meadery Combines Local Product with Old Country Values

Calgary’s Dritan and Albana Qose are a local success story, entrepreneurs focused on using local products at their meadery, Apollonia Honey Wine & Liqueurs. But though Alberta connections and ingredients are key to the business, it’s old country values that inform everything this couple does.  


Over 20 years ago, the pair, along with then three-year-old son Ani, came to Canada from Albania, a country in Europe’s southeast on the Balkan Peninsula. Both had grown up with large families, Dritan remembering time with his grandparents and the sheep, a few beehives and a winemaking pastime, creating fond memories.  


It’s no wonder family continues to be the focus of this determined couple’s fledgling mead business, one where siblings, in-laws, children, even grandma help develop and influence recipe creations in the kitchen, or package and promote fresh-made honey wine and liqueurs at local farmers’ markets. The journey has been an admitted roller coaster, but the couple says they wouldn’t change a thing. 


“When we needed help at the beginning, my whole family pitched in; we didn’t have a fancy lab,” Dritan says. “I am who I am because of my parents.” 


Growing up in Albania, Dritan and his family were no strangers to using the fruits of the countryside. But when the jack-of-all-trades arrived in this country, an interest in beekeeping and hobby farming took a back seat to practical things like paying the rent and raising a family. Over those early years in the province, Qose drove trucks for construction, transit, and even took turns as a limousine driver and for an airport shuttle service.  


“I’ve always had two jobs,” he says matter-of-factly. “But when I was driving a cement truck and needed stomach surgery, my wife (a civil structural engineer) finally talked me out of driving so I could be home more with our young kids.” 


Still, through night school, Qose earned a drafting certificate, and today he remains in that line of work for the oil and gas industry, putting in time for Apollonia on weekends. 

It was on one fortuitous weekend drive (pre-pandemic) that the couple stopped in Okotoks at Chinook Honey and the idea to run a few hobby beehives came back alive. Before long, Qose was taking a beginner’s beekeeper course in Calgary. 


Once more, Qose took on yet another job, weekend work at Chinook Honey where he routinely asked questions of owner Art Andrews. Over a couple of years, Qose learned how Alberta is the biggest honey producer in all of Canada (the value of Alberta’s honey industry surpassed $100 million in 2023, the most of any province). Needless to say, Qose was in the right spot in Canada to take on honey as a project. The two hives Andrews had gifted Qose soon turned into 50. 


“We were registered as Adria Honey but lost many hives to a bad winter in 2019,” remembers Qose. “With barrels of honey sitting around, we started heating it and putting it into jars, but made the big mistake of warming it too much. We didn’t know what to do with all that caramelized honey, but Art said, ‘why not make it into wine?’ And that was the start.” 


That caramelized honey mistake-turned-wine was entered into an amateur mead makers competition and ta da! Qose’s bochet mead, made with 100 percent caramelized honey, won best in class among 40 competitors. Shortly after that, Albana encouraged her husband to get a liquor licence to deal with the other barrels of honey still in the couple’s possession. 


“I listened to my wife. I made more wine; I’m the perfect husband,” he laughs. 


Andrews, who morphed his honey operation into Chinook Arch Meadery, (one of about seven in the province), says Qose is a natural for the meadery business - always curious and ready with plenty of questions. “Now we see each other at the wine/beer shows, or borrow equipment from each other,” says Andrews.  


Indeed, as Qose was already making wine at home (crushing his own grapes bought from the Italian Centre Shop) he had the basic equipment needed to start a meadery of his own. 


“For mead, it’s honey, hot water, yeast - only a little different, really,” Qose says, further upping his game in 2019 by getting a distiller’s certificate at a weekend class in BC. After that, he secured  warehouse space in High River and in 2019, Apollonia Honey Wines Inc. was born. 


For Albana, who was managing her own career and two young children, the new enterprise was a challenge too. “It hasn’t been easy. I never thought I’d be doing this kind of thing. It was tough during Covid, finding supplies and reaching customers. Plus I had my own career,” admits Albana who handles the books and finances and helps enlist volunteer help from the couple’s sons Ani, now 26, and Alex, 18. Though the kids are pursuing their own interests, they also help mom and dad with packaging, farmers’ markets - whatever needs doing. “Having two jobs runs in the family.” 


Though the company started with just a couple of recipes, a fortified honey wine blended with oak, the port-like Barrel #9 and a traditional mead called Alba’s Gold, the line has expanded to include a coffee flavoured mead (Blessings), and a peach and blueberry liqueur. 


“In Albania there’s a tradition of serving Turkish coffee to the elderly and they say ‘bless you my child’. So calling that one Blessings was Alba’s idea,” adds Dritan. 


With regular family help to work the Calgary area farmers’ markets all summer, Albana and Dritan are also getting the brand into a few Calgary area liquor stores, including Sobeys and a couple of independent groceries. 


“We’ve done wine festivals in Calgary and Edmonton and our product is in a couple of restaurants too,” Dritan says. “Education is definitely part of it. People familiar with mead say ‘Wow. Why is this different?” I think it’s because when I ferment, I treat it like grape wines I made in Albania. So it’s the same process as any other mead, but with my own twist.” 


Because they want the product to be fresh, Dritan and company make the mead craft-style, in small 500 litre batches. And production keeps rolling, as Apollonia sells boxloads at markets every weekend, especially the popular Barrel #9


“Before you run, you crawl,” Dritan laughs. “Even though I’d like to do this full-time we can’t afford to act like a big operation just yet.” 


“I never thought I’d be doing this kind of thing, it’s a lot of Dritan’s hope,” admits Albana, adding leaving their families when they were both barely 20 was already a challenge. “But we've been together for 30 years. Dritan doesn’t worry about failing or success. He’s a man who loves to learn and has the courage to start something.” 


“We don’t regret anything. There’s a lot of hoops to jump through in this business, but we’re organized; we’re making the most of it and we have a plan. We already say we’ve made it.” 


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