Besides being a trailblazer in the world of Ontario mead because of their approach towards “session mead,” they also sell raw honey, a fantastic array of local food, as well as offering hands-on experiences. Backed by Bees wears many different hats, and the response from Ontarians suggests they should keep doing precisely that.
Meeting Vincent Sowa, known on their website by the title of “The Meadmaker,” you get the sense that there’s no one more passionate in the province about mead. We had the opportunity to do some tasting while at Backed by Bees, and were offered a plethora of styles of mead to try.
This is not your grandfather’s mead.
Well, we don’t know if your grandfather even sipped on mead, but if he did, it would likely have been a very sweet, almost syrupy concoction with a high alcohol percentage – meaning you’re really only going to want a small glass. They do make that mead, too, of course, but it’s not the only cards they’re playing with.
Backed by Bees happens to be Ontario’s first meadery that’s dedicated to the production of session mead which, in layman’s terms, is simply mead that is typically quite light in body and colour (sometimes almost entirely clear), and has a lower alcohol percentage (often akin to beer, so somewhere around 5%). Ultimately, It means that you can have a couple of bottles of mead without needing to be carried home by your pals. It’s actually shockingly drinkable and refreshing.
As we’ll note below, Backed by Bees is more than just mead. They’re got raw honey out the wazoo, and whole local food that people drive far and wide for.
We can tell you from visiting – this place was humming with interest, so they must be doing something right! Speaking of doing something right, Vincent was quick to bring up how conscious they are about being sustainable. He even described mead as probably the most “sustainable alcohol” around. We thought that was worth sharing!
The Story of Backed by Bees
Vincent (again, “The Meadmaker”) told us a story of tiring of the corporate and urbanized word, and teaming up with David Stotesbury (“The Beekeeper”) to try to do something different and interesting.
Around two years ago, they bought 4 acres, established around 400 bee hives, built some buildings to work out of, and off they went. They specialized in raw honey that came straight from the hive. They started to build walking paths for people to use, and then decided to really get rolling on what was one of the first established meaderies in the province.
At Ultimate Ontario, we write a fair bit about Ontario cider, and have featured great little spots like West Avenue Cider House in Freelton, and BUSL Cider in Mallorytown. Vincent contends that mead is kind of like cider back in the day in that it’s slowly becoming more popular and common place, and it’s now something people are actively seeking. There’s probably about 10 spots producing mead now, he noted, and 5 of them who seem to be all in.
To our surprise, while we were walking, he even mentioned that mead is currently the fastest growing alcohol in the States! How’s that for a fact?
Vincent’s background was as a home brewer, and he’s brought his skills in brewing to the world of mead. Take, for example, the session mead called “Bee Hoppin'” which, you guessed it, features ample hops. It’s like beer meets mead, and it’s worth a try!
As far as their name is concerned, they note on their site that:
We spent a lot of time reflecting on a name that would connect people to nature. And when we thought about our business we realized that our foundation is build upon millions of bees that create our honey and pollinate our food supply. Without the honey bee we wouldn’t have a business and neither would much of the worlds food supply look the same. Hence we are all really backed by millions of bees. And so the connection to nature is very important for us to understand, to find balance in all our daily decisions.
With fond memories of growing up in rural Ontario, with countless hours spent conversing and connecting around kitchen tables, we invite you to Nature’s table. To dive a little deeper, to journey along side us, to learn, taste and do, to live a healthier, balanced life.
The Apiary at Backed by Bees
So, the apiary portion of the business is rather multifaceted.
On the one hand, they offer beekeeping consultations, equipment to rent, native pollinator nests, and nucleus colonies – all things to help you on your own bee keeping adventures.
On the other hand, they sell an incredible array of products that they make such as raw honey, fermented honey, smoked liquid honey, beeswax, beeswax candles, and more! Vincent mentioned that they’re the only one he knows of in the province that is producing fermented honey, and having got the chance to taste it, we’d definitely recommend you pop by and buy some, or order some online (they do local delivery).
To help keep up with demand, they have some urban hives as well in places like Brampton, but much of what they create is also from the bees on site.
Beyond that, they also are very focused on experiences. You can see their bee experiences here, but they range from sponsoring and decorating a hive, to joining the hive club, to the famous “bee beard experience.”
The Meadery at Backed by Bees
So, Backed by Bees is particularly known for their session meads, largely because they’re been trailblazers in that category.
All their meads are gluten free, with no added sugar, and they start with a base of fermented honey that comes from their farm. Last we checked, they’ve got 4 meads in production, all of which are worth trying. They’re all 4.8% alcohol, for reference.
As far as what’s on offer in the world of session mead, they have the Bee Haven, which is their classic session mead. They have the Bee Hoppin’, which as we explained above is essentially mead meets beer. Then they have Miss Bee Haven, a blueberry session mead, as well a cherry version of the Miss Bee Haven. Your best bet is to get “Mix Pak” and give them all a whirl.
They don’t only do session mead, of course. They also do traditional mead. It’s called Bee Sippin’ and it’s meant to be a “warm toasty drink for cool nights.” It’s a “bochet” style mead, which means that they use caramelized honey and combine it with blended yeast. They sell it in 375 millilitre bottles, as well as 500, but I do believe they may be sold out at this exact moment.
They also do a Barrel Aged Bochet.
If and when you do go in, be sure to ask about seasonals. They’re always experimenting with different flavours and getting creative. Right now they have a BeeBlue seasonal, which is a classic melomel crafted with fresh Ontario blueberries.
They also do mead and local cheese bundles that are heaven for charcuterie board lovers.
What Else Do You Need to Know About Backed by Bees?
The most important thing to note is that it’s not a property that has bees on one side, and then a closed off brewing space for mead. It’s very much a community hub, and that’s largely do to the large yellow shipping container that serves as their shop, and is hard to miss!
At the shop (which I’d recommend viewing online before you go just to see the sheer breadth of what they offer) you’ll find local products galore, as well as the best of their own products. They have preserves, fresh bread, maple syrup, pastured and grass fed meats, fruit and veggies, and even items for your pets!
In terms of hours, they love to note that their “online store is always open!” If you’re looking to visit in-person, the Appleby location (4214 Appleby Line, Burlington), where we visited, is open Wednesday to Sunday and they make local deliveries on Friday. Hours vary per day, so check their site.
You can check the Burlington Centre Pop-Up hours there as well but, as far as we know, that location is only open until the end of the year.
When we went, we purchased a bunch of things that quickly became new favourites for us. If you head there, we can only hope you have the same experience! As always feel free to let us know in the comments if you visit, and what you try – we’re always looking for an excuse to come back ourselves!
We want to humbly thank Hamilton Halton Brant and Attractions Ontario for hosting us as media. All opinions are completely our own.
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Christopher Mitchell is the Cofounder of Ultimate Ontario. He’s visited over 80 countries, and has lived on 4 continents, but now has his eyes set squarely on exploring this incredible province, and helping others do the same.