Less than an hour’s drive from downtown Victoria are dozens of unique farms open to visitors for sampling and learning.
Take Tugwell Creek Meadery and Honey Farm, for example. My husband and I enjoyed the tree-lined, oceanside country road drive to the Sooke farm on a recent Saturday afternoon. When we arrived, co-owner and bee-keeper Bob Liptrot launched into a tasting of mead, a honey-based alcoholic beverage.
“We’re the first commercial meadery to open its doors to the public in Western Canada,” he told us. Liptrot runs the farm with partner Dana LeComte. His family has kept honeybees for 85 years, more than half of those in the Fraser Valley. Too much development and air pollution led them to a rural property in Sooke. “We prided ourselves on natural and clean honey, so we decided to move to the Island.”
As Liptrot poured samplings of their mead line, he spoke about an increasing awareness and interest in the ancient libation from wine and cocktail enthusiasts alike. “There’s a big cross-section of interest, because of Shakespeare and Lord of the Rings,” he said. Called “the nectar of the Gods,” some historians date the origins of mead to 20,000 years ago.
“Mead was also safer to drink in the Middle Ages,” Liptrot said. “You didn’t want to always drink the water.”
We tasted everything from a prize-winning Kickass Currant mead, made with wildflower honey and aged in French oak barrels, that rivals a light red wine, to a tart, 14 per cent apple quince cyser and the spicy, herbaceous award-winning Solstice Metheglin, to the sweet berry Wassail-blush mead. The farm’s wildflower, field blossom and blackberry honey is also available to taste.
Outside, honeybees buzzed around aromatic lavender and flowers at the farm, which also has a garden, chickens, sheep and ducks. Liptrot said the majority of their bees were busy pollinating further into the woods. He offers beekeeping courses and tours by appointment, as well as through Royal Roads University.
Visitors can also take a self-guided tour of the grounds at 8750 West Coast Rd. in Sooke. The tasting room is open Wednesday to Sunday until Oct. 1, and then Saturday and Sunday only, from noon to 5 p.m. For more information, go to tugwellcreekfarm.com.
Other unique farm ventures in and around Victoria include:
- Victoria Spirits: Check out the copper pot still, meet the distiller and taste spirits from the makers of Victoria Gin, Left Coast Hemp Vodka and Twisted Bitters. 6170 Old West Saanich Rd. Tours and tastings on weekends and holidays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (through September) and by appointment after. victoriaspirits.com.
- Oldfield Orchard and Bakery: An excellent destination for the whole family, the farm has fresh produce, baked goods, animals, a summer berry-picking festival and a popular Oktoberfest pumpkin event. 6286 Oldfield Rd. in Victoria. For information, call 250-652-1579.
- Merridale Estate Cidery: Tour the orchard, cidery and distillery at the stunning Merridale estate. Try a tasting and have a brick-oven pizza on their massive deck or in the bistro. 1230 Merridale Rd. in Cobble Hill. Open seven days a week. merridalecider.com.
- Salt Spring Island Cheese: Watch the handmade goat and sheep cheese process, wander the farm and taste the popular company’s full line of cheese (also on sale) from white truffle chevre and chili-infused feta to hard aged cheese and their style of Camembert. Cheese-making classes are also available. 285 Reynolds Rd. on Saltspring Island, open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. saltspringcheese.com.