Ed Nowek

Ed Nowek

Planet Bee tapping into meadery

Planet Bee Honey Farm is abuzz with its latest venture. Customers might find themselves slightly buzzed if it proves to be a success.

Tapping into the ancient tradition of mead making, the Vernon-based company, located in Bella Vista, has launched a new line of the honey-based alcoholic beverage.

Ed Nowek, owner of Planet Bee, who moved the farm/gift shop to Vernon in 2003, has considered opening a meadery for years and finally decided the time was right.

He first had to renovate his building to accommodate the three 1,100-litre fermentation tanks that produce his mead. He can bottle around 1,500 bottles per batch.

As a finishing touch, he added a honeycomb-style bar to one side of the gift shop to display the product.

“It is something I have always wanted to do. But we had to wait to find a way to logistically do it,” said Nowek.

“I was lucky. I have a friend (Martin Dournovo) and he bought a U-brew. He and I started making some meads together, so he’s my mead master.”

After securing a land-based winery licence from the B.C. Liquor Board (BCLB), Nowek began fermenting his first batch last August and bottled in October. Known as Okanagan Delight, it is made from Okanagan wildflower honey. Also available are Blueberry Bliss and Apricot Elixir, the latter containing apricot juice concentrate.

Planet Bee’s meads have alcohol contents hovering around 13 to 14 per cent by volume and vary in sweetness.

“We really wanted to emphasize it’s not all sweet. It is something to use with a lot of different food options,” said Nowek, who plans to host a grand opening for the meadery on May 13.

“It’s not a wine where you just sit down and drink a couple bottles,” he added.

Planet Bee recently came home with a pair of medals from the Mazer Cup international mead competition in Boulder, Colo. Blueberry Bliss earned a silver medal and the Apricot Elixir merited bronze.

“We really learned a lot,” said Nowek, of the competition.

Like most wines, mead mellows with age, and Nowek looks forward to holding back a few bottles that he can savour.

“The Okanagan Delight that’s been bottled for over three months, I can tell an improvement almost every week or two. If we have any left after a year, it’s going to be a real treat,” he said.

“All of these (meads) love time. That’s the neat thing about bee products – honey never goes bad, and mead actually gets better.”

Ideally, Nowek would eventually like to have five to seven meads, using different floral honey varieties, production methods and even oak aging, to establish a well-rounded lineup.

Also known as honey wine, mead has archeological ties that date back to around 7000 BC in Northern China, making it one of the oldest, if not the oldest, forms of alcohol in the world. It also has links to ancient civilizations in other parts of Asia and Europe.

There are many methods of creating mead, each one imparting its own particular flavour. As an example, it is possible to add fruit or herbs and spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg to give a batch a distinct flavour.

Nowek said it took nearly five months to secure his licence from the liquor board. To uphold the permit, Planet Bee is required to produce a minimum 4,500 litres per year.

“We could probably double that capacity with our production within a year. All indications are this stuff is going to go. Let’s face it, people love wine. More than I thought actually,” said Nowek.

Rather than negotiate the red tape to distribute through the BCLB, Nowek is choosing to go the direct marketing route and will sell his product primarily on-site.

“Your overhead is more this way, but your return is substantially more,” explained Nowek, who also hopes to sell his product in cold beer and wine stores and local restaurants.

Planet Bee is hosting the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce Business After Five event, June 20.