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How sweet it is: Albertans have plenty of reasons to love this local Meadery

Give it up for the honeybee: the folks behind Fallentimber Meadery do.

It's not a stretch to see the third-generation beekeeping family behind Fallentimber Meadery as the honeybees and hives they have tended to in the southern Alberta foothills since the 1960s. Just as the bee is a critical pollinator for crops and flowers, working as part of a community devoted to the cause (colony) and queen, Fallentimber is a one-for-all family operation finding success with impressive value add-ons for their beloved honey crop.

There's the growing commercial operation (with about 20 employees) that includes retail and online sales of traditional and modern meads - a handful of each type - that has made Fallentimber the province's, and Canada's, largest meadery. Then there's the expanding Agri-tourism element of the business, focused on educational tours and tastings at the property an hour outside Calgary (now even featuring wood-fired pizza sales). If this Alberta family are the worker bees, their honey is the queen, from which all things flow.

“Around 2010 we seriously looked at how to refine the honey, to put it in a different state and find ways to potentially employ more than one person and make it a viable business,” says Dan Molyneux, a company founder who left the hospitality world to help create something beyond the apiary. Dan spent much of his youth (with brother Chris, now on board as sales manager) at his aunt and uncle's 160-acre farm/apiary near Water Valley, so he says it felt natural to join the beekeeping side of the family (Kevin and Pat Ryan, and their sons Dustin and Nathan) and jump into the unknown world of mead-making.

Though it's always been a labour of love, there have been some growing pains too: a necessary expansion in 2018, a learning curve about distribution and government regulations, and even sourcing more high-quality honey when their own supply wasn't enough to meet growing demand. And then there's the challenge of getting product in front of customers, which is where craft beer festivals, markets and the tasting room comes in. Still, Dan says these are good problems to have, adding the founders have a "palpable passion," to see the meadery fulfill its potential. “We don't feel like there's a lot of direct competition with mead; we know we've got something special here.”

"We just love to surprise people; to have them try our products and watch their faces explode."

Most of the core crew have harvested honey, experimented with recipes, and offered samples at farmers' markets (and continue to be a presence at markets in Edmonton and Calgary). While retired beekeeper Kevin still helps son Dustin (head beekeeper and Fallentimber CEO) manage the bees and about 1,000 hives, Dan and Chris handle retail/wholesale sales, business development and product distribution. Alberta remains Fallentimber's core market, with product in over 60 per cent of the province's liquor stores and some restaurants too.

“At a beer festival a few years ago, a North American pioneer of craft brewing sampled our cocktail meads and said, 'I thought I'd seen everything, but you have the most innovative product in the room, and in the industry,” said Dan of the memorable moment. “We just love to surprise people; to have them try our products and watch their faces explode.”

“I've always been a cheerleader for Fallentimber, and to be part of it here in the honeypot of North America. This is such an interesting product and I could see the potential,” adds Chris, who took a science degree at university and then left a thriving restaurant career to join the family business in 2018, as its modern meads were starting to take off. “Even though there's more awareness than ever about mead, it's still a constant education game. It's not a wine, not a beer; it's fermented, not distilled. It can be dry or sweet - a bottle to go with dinner, or somewhat rivaling the ciders and sour beer products on the market.”

Indeed, while traditional mead holds a mythical allure at medieval or Viking-themed events, (the company doesn't shy away from that aspect), Fallentimber's bottled lineup comes in varying levels of sweetness and can work like a dry dinner wine too.

Though old-fashioned mead accounts for over ten per cent of sales, there's no doubt where the market is headed: the lion's share of last year's 300,000-litre mead production went toward Fallentimber’s new-fashioned sparkling meads. After creating the province's first bubbly mead, consumer reaction led the way. “The public was ahead of us on this one; they ask for it, and some come from outside the province to get it,” Dan says. “It's what we're known for now.”

“I take credit for creating the meadjito - that product alone keeps the lights on,” he says, adding the honey, mint and lime cocktail has found broad appeal. “It's a great choice for sipping on the patio, or at a backyard barbecue.” The modern mead lineup also includes a pineapple and coconut honey colada, a honey ginger lemonade, an apple/raspberry mead - even a radler and upcoming line of braggots - an ancient style of beer that is a marriage of malt and honey.

As for that golden liquid (created by the bees mostly from clover and wildflowers), Fallentimber produces some 300,000 pounds of it each year. The number seems huge but represents only about one per cent of the province's output as the fifth largest honey producing region in the world. And though it is just one of 1,400 beekeepers in Alberta, the folks at Fallentimber recognize they can be a vocal advocate for honey, which is an Alberta signature food (joining beef, bison, saskatoon berries, canola, red fife wheat and root vegetables).

It's that aspect of the business that really excites founder/cousin Nathan Ryan. While a bee allergy kept him off the field growing up, Nathan has found his place, overseeing facility operations and using his carpentry skills (plus enlisting a few friends) to build the new 3,500 square foot deck outside the store/tasting room. “It's nice to make money in your backyard,” says Nathan, the company's former mazer (mead maker, with a background in tourism) who's now busy running tours of a sample hive and the processing operation, and getting the food service into gear.

Nathan says part of his focus is on making the meadery a go-to spot for Albertans looking to spend an enjoyable day in the country, relax on a hammock, toss a ball around with the kids, go for a walk on nearby paths, or enjoy a pizza and picnic. Corporate events or private parties? Weddings? Why not? says Nathan of the property - a site at the end of a gravel road next to forested public land. Now that's value-added thinking.

“We have a massive honey crop in Alberta; as an entire community/region we could make more mead - Alberta could be to mead as champagne is to France,” adds Dan on the company’s sometimes out-of-the-box brainstorming. “We were thinking ahead when we expanded our own property too, building out in a way that we can grow and increase volume as needed.”

“A lot of tap rooms have a restaurant component, but they don’t have the bees,” adds Chris, who works with Travel Alberta's Open Farm Days, Cochrane Tourism, and Alberta Food Tours, among others, to spread the word about the importance of bees and honey to the ecosystem and Alberta economy.

“We just did a big push with new products and finished the huge deck to accommodate so many more visitors,” Nathan says. “Things are settled now, so it feels like a good time to get people out here to enjoy the space, have some food and drink. The mead is the catalyst that allows it all to work.”


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