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This article was published 30/11/2019 (503 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
One of the world’s oldest alcoholic beverages is set to create a bit of a buzz in Manitoba, as the province’s first dedicated "bee-to-bottle" meadery prepares to launch its honey-based wines in the coming days.
Bee Boyzz Winery & Meadery has shipped its first two meads — the Harvest Sunset traditional honey wine and the Prairie Moon Saskatoon honey wine — which should land at a handful of Winnipeg Liquor Marts and private wine stores this week.
While a handful of Manitoba craft breweries, fruit winemaker Rigby Orchards, as well as Shrugging Doctor, have produced mead in the province over the past couple of years, Bee Boyzz is the first local producer making mead with its own honey.
While many might typically think of mead as being overly sweet, Bee Boyzz’s initial offerings are made in a more off-dry style — it’s more of a table wine.
Owners Kon and Julie Paseschnikoff have been working with bees for some time at their Oak Bluff-based operation. As a child, Kon caught the beekeeping bug from his father (also named Kon), who owned around 50 hives and grew and sold vegetables at area markets. In the late 1970s, the honey market took a tumble, leading the senior Kon to sell the hives.
In 2000, father and son began talking about getting back into beekeeping again, with the pair hashing out a plan to bring bees back to the family business. "He talked about it every day," the younger Kon recalls of his father. "I ordered some bees... he kept asking me when the bees were coming, and I kept saying I didn’t know."
The elder Kon died in April 2004 — just days before the family got the call that their bees had arrived. The Paseschnikoffs now have about 175 hives located throughout Manitoba. "I couldn’t cancel the order — I’m a man of my word, and if I say I’m going to do something, I do it," Kon says.
After a bumpy start in the beekeeping business, Julie began working with Manitoba’s Food Development Centre on exploring the possibility of adding natural flavourings to add to the Paseschnikoffs’ creamed honey, and Bee Boyzz Honey launched shortly after.
"My background is medical; I learned how to taste with them, which was really helpful," Julie explains. Bee Boyzz honeys, which include flavours such as coconut, jalapeño, strawberry and chocolate, are available at many Manitoba grocery stores including Safeway, Sobeys and Co-op.
Around Christmas two years ago, Kon had an idea for the couple’s next project — mead. The pair began researching options, including visiting (and being mentored by) meaderies in B.C., and taking a dedicated mead production course in California, where local producers were impressed with the honey they had brought with them.
"I gave them some of our Canadian honey — it’s white, lots of flavour," Kon says. "The first thing one guy said to me was ‘I guarantee you bleached it.’ I told him I had taken it right from the hive and put it in the jar. Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta aren’t known for our honey — but we should be. It should be putting us on the map."
The Paseschnikoffs brought on budding local meadmaker Dmitry Ershov to help create the inaugural Bee Boyzz meads, while Julie and her sister Debbie set about tackling the most difficult part of starting the meadery — the required paperwork involved in setting up a facility that produces alcoholic beverages.
Once that paperwork was signed, sealed and delivered, the Paseschnikoffs set out selling their meads earlier this fall at St. Norbert Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, and at the Downtown BIZ farmers markets in Cityplace every second Thursday, where they offer 375-millilitre and 750-millilitre bottles of their Prairie Moon and Harvest Sunset meads for $11.99 and $17.99, respectively.
The biggest question mark — and the cause of the most stress — for the Paseschnikoffs was whether the product would end up in stores before the holiday season.
On that front there’s a veritable beehive of activity; the first order of Bee Boyzz mead has been shipped to the Liquor Marts headquarters, and a "coming soon" note appears on the Liquor Marts website, meaning the product should land on select Liquor Marts and private wine store shelves this coming week.
Future plans for Bee Boyzz include the creation of an on-site tasting room, collaborations with fellow local producers and friends, such as Patent 5 distillery, and experimenting with new styles and flavours of mead, including cooling honey right down before fermentation to make an icewine-like sweet mead.
In the nearer future, Ershov and the Paseschnikoffs will be adding a smaller-run pear mead as well as a strawberry rhubarb mead called Prairie Kiss and a Christmas blend called Country Fireside to their lineup.
All the ingredients are locally sourced, an aspect of their mead to which the Paseschnikoffs are especially committed.
"I’m so passionate about Manitoba," Kon says.
"I try to promote Manitoba... if you want jobs to stay in Manitoba, you’ve got to promote local. If someone comes out here from B.C. and they pick up our mead, I want them to say ‘this is from the Prairies.’
He pauses, then adds: "I’m born and raised here. I think of myself as a bee — a bee won’t go two miles past its hive."
Wines of the week
These meads should be landing at select Liquor Marts and private wine stores very soon; in the meantime they can be purchased at the St. Norbert and Downtown BIZ farmers markets (where a 375ml bottle of each is also available for $11.99).
Bee Boyzz Harvest Sunset traditional honey wine (Oak Bluff - $17.99)
Medium gold in colour and clear, there’s a pretty floral note that goes along with the fresh honeycomb, clover honey and subtle spice aromas here. It’s a viscous, medium-bodied and off-dry mead, with those fresh honey flavours and bright yeast notes persisting through to the medium-long finish. At 14 per cent alcohol it’s more of a table wine than most meads in our market — drink with milder cheeses, salads, hors d’oeuvres or even a turkey dinner. 4/5
Bee Boyzz Prairie Moon Saskatoon honey wine (Oak Bluff - $17.99)
Medium pinkish-orange in colour, this mead is infused with Manitoba saskatoons; aromatically it retains that pure honey core, but adds a dark berry skin component that’s charming, especially with the subtler yeast note here. It’s also medium-bodied and just a shade off-dry; on the palate the honey and yeast notes are slightly more muted than on the Harvest Sunset due to the saskatoon infusion — and it all works well together. It also clocks in at 14 per cent alcohol, and is a more approachable, less intense mead for neophytes; food-wise it would work with milder fish dishes, pork tenderloin or not-too-sweet fruit-based desserts. 3.5/5