When Cherie Andrews started Chinook Honey Company in 1995, her modest aim was to produce honey from just two hives. Look now. Andrews, who operates the Okotoks, Alta. farm with her husband Art, has grown in step with consumer and chef appreciation of pure, natural Alberta honey.
Today, many Albertans are also fans of a product that was almost unknown in 1995: mead or honey wine. Chinook Arch Meadery, part of Chinook Honey, makes a wide variety of flavored and traditional meads. Once a small-scale, fingers-crossed experiment, mead is now a mainstay for the farm.
“The mead business has been quite a good step for us and has come a long way,” says Andrews. “Mead now accounts for about half of our total honey production.”
Most of the other half goes into a range of Chinook Honey products, including honeys, preserves and personal care products, sold at the farm, online and at selected retailers. If you’ve seen the Chinook Honey name in other places, perhaps you’re someone who enjoys an artisanal adult beverage from time to time.
“We supply honey to craft brewers such as Village Brewery and Fernie Brewery, and to Eau Claire Distillery,” says Andrews. “We focus our bees on local foothills alfalfa, clover and wildflowers. So in terms of flavor profile, our honey isn’t overpowering, it just enhances the flavor of the beer or spirits and it’s why a lot of chefs like our honey too.”
Take a short drive west from Andrews’ farm and you’ll find one of her craft beverage customers. Caitlin Quinn is Head Distiller at Eau Claire Distillery in Turner Valley, which includes a popular Saskatoon Honey Gin among its products.
“The fact that the honey comes from just down the road is important to us,” says Quinn. “That’s part of our connection to agriculture. We also farm some of our barley with horses and we try to source local ingredients as much as possible.”
Eau Claire Distillery gin features a botanicals-forward flavor. To make the Saskatoon Honey Gin, Quinn steeps the gin in saskatoon berries and a dash of Andrews’ honey for three to four days. That gives the final product a taste and color that Quinn’s discerning customers enjoy. Each spring’s limited release of Saskatoon Honey Gin is typically snapped up fast.
“We think their Alberta Multi-Floral Honey from local flowers works well with the botanicals in our gin,” says Quinn. “It tastes like honey but it’s not overly sweet.”
Just this year, Eau Claire Distillery launched a barrel-aged Manhattan cocktail product. Once again, Andrews’ honey earned a spot in the recipe.
It’s just the newest example of how Chinook Honey Company has grown over the past quarter-century: from two hives’ worth of honey, to a range of value-added products, to its own mead, to partnerships with creative chefs, brewers and distillers. Next on Andrews’ drawing board is a more focused push into honey tourism. After that: who knows? The possibilities are as limitless as Alberta honey and the province’s entrepreneurial spirit.
“To think that we’d be doing all this 25 years later,” says Andrews, “I never would have forecast that.”