At the end of August, Jenn and I took a trip to southern Alberta and Montana. Day one, we drove down to Water Valley, Alberta, to visit and take a tour of Fallentimber Meadery.
I’d first heard of them back in June, at the Edmonton Craft Beer Festival. I took an interest in them right away, given that Jenn and I started brewing our own mead about a year ago. I sampled their products and chatted with Nathan Ryan, whose family owns and operates the meadery. I was excited to learn that they do tours, and since we were heading that direction ourselves knew it would have to be added as a stop along the way.
Fallentimber Meadery is situated in the beautiful Water Valley area of Mountain View County, just a short drive off the scenic Cowboy Trail.
On entering the meadery, you can sample most of their available products (alongside some cheese and crackers), and peruse the mead, honey, and beeswax products for sale in the store while waiting for the tour.
The tour takes you through the meadery as it is laid out, but it is not the order in which the product is made, which is how I will present it to help make sense of the process.
First, you start with bees.
The honey business, Ryan’s Honey, was started in 1969 by Blake Ryan, who built the first hives and started the honey farm. Today, Blake’s son Kevin runs the farm, which supplies the honey to Fallentimber.
Kevin was on hand to teach us all about bees and the honey they produce, including how the honey is extracted from the beehives.
The honey is combined with water and yeast and left to ferment in large stainless steel tanks. Other ingredients may be added to feed the yeast, or to create different variations; for example adding apple juice to create a cyser.
The alcohol content can be controlled by different variables, such as fermentation time. Here, a hydrometer measures the specific gravity (relative density) of the liquid; comparing the SG of the liquid before and after fermentation helps to calculate the alcohol content of the finished product.
After the fermentation process has completed, the mead is typically aged, and may be infused with other flavours such as hops (a specialty of Fallentimber) or oak. Here, some mead is being aged in a steel keg and an oak whiskey barrel.
Once infused and/or aged, the finished mead is bottled, corked or capped, labelled, and packaged for sale. The above bottling machine was hand-made for Fallentimber, as explained by Nathan and Colin.
At the end of the tour, we bought nearly a case worth of mead for ourselves and for friends, and headed back to the Cowboy Trail, to Cochrane.
When in Cochrane, of course one apparently must try MacKay’s Ice Cream. We did.
It was really good.
We stayed the night in Cochrane, which is where I will leave this post. Up next: Waterton!