The history of alcohol in Lacombe

Alcohol has been part of human culture since its euphoric properties were first experienced.

HOWARD FREDEEN

Alcohol has been part of human culture since its euphoric properties were first experienced.

That occasion was no doubt an accident but the propensity of alcohol to induce visions, and the simplistic interpretation of those visions as spiritual guidance, led to its adoption for that purpose by many different cultures.

It is still used for that purpose by some segments of some cultures. However, in ‘advanced’ societies it is more commonly employed in gatherings or celebrations as exemplified by the ‘wassail’ songs of Christmas.

The wassail beverage may be ‘Adam’s ale’ for abstainers; for others it is almost exclusively the product of fermentation of products as widely varied as mares milk (‘Kumys’ or ‘Airag’) in Mongolia, agave (tequila and mescal) in Mexico, sugar cane (rum) in the Caribbean, rice (sake) in the Orient or fruits and cereal grains (whisky) in Europe and America.

In the song “Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green,” the drink was cider, and the singers would wander through the apple orchard, bowl of apple cider in hand, blessing the trees and exhorting them to even greater production.

Earlier in days of the Norse the drink was mead, the product of fermented honey. There is archeological evidence honey was part of the earliest known fermentation, roughly 11,000 years ago, while written references to mead date back about 4,000 years.

The first opportunity to explore this product in Central Alberta came in 1913 when apiculture was added to the role of the Lacombe Experiment Station.

Bill Cranna was an early beekeeper. Bees were overwintered in 1914 (in the basement of the new office building) and by 1918 there were seven colonies with average yields ranging up to 120 lbs per hive.

The enterprise expanded and by 1930 and 40 hives were overwintered successfully.

The best production year was 1934 with an average of 217 lbs produced from 34 hives. The record for a single hive was 348 lbs.

The storage of quantities of honey was required to provide food for the overwintering colonies. On one occasion the honey fermented – a serendipitous accident — and the beekeeper in testing the product before use discovered it had unexpected ‘cares be gone’ properties.

A product of such excellence could not be kept secret and as demand grew he had to investigate techniques for initiating and managing the fermentation process. Needless to say there were many fellow employees who applauded and enjoyed his efforts but records for the station revealed this experiment was never covered by a duly authorized project.

Indeed it appeared that the station boss, an abstainer, was kept in ignorance of the whole affair.

When this beekeeper retired he took his recipe with him. His successor Joe Lahiff did not savour this product until two years later when he discovered two well-aged bottles while cleaning out the bee house.

Only after sampling the contents did he appreciate the great expectations that had accompanied his initial employment. Apiculture was discontinued in 1939.

Local beekeepers viewed that as a retrograde step but none lamented its passing more than those who had savoured the product that had helped to lighten the winter months.

Memories of this episode encouraged the lads employed in the dairy barn in 1948 to explore the feasibility of producing corn ‘likker’. They had not failed to notice the fragrant aromas wafting from the corn silage as it was fed during the winter. By springtime the residue that remained at the bottom of the empty silo smelled particularly enticing.

Perhaps if filtered and distilled that residue might be akin to the rum produced from sugar cane? To test the theory a filter in the form of an unglazed Medalta clay crock was sealed and placed at the bottom of the silo prior to filling the following June.

Enthusiasm for this project dwindled over winter but the jug was heavy when retrieved 11 months later.

The aroma met expectations but, alas, the promoters of the project had left for greener pastures and there were no volunteers to sample the contents. Shortly thereafter all temptation to repeat the experiment was removed by the change in research focus from dairy to beef cattle and the dairy barn was demolished in 1949.

 

Just Posted

Member Terry Parsons’ custom built track vehicle.
Forestburg’s Area 53 Racetrack gears up for action-packed season

Site will also host a portion of the ‘Miles of Mayhem’ event in July

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported five additional deaths Wednesday due to COVID-19. (File photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Red Deer at 169 active cases of COVID-19

Province set to move into Stage 2 of reopening Thursday

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Denmark’s Christian Eriksen receives medical attention after collapsing during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group B match between Denmark and Finland at Parken stadium in Copenhagen, Saturday, June 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, Pool)
Denmark soccer player Christian Eriksen collapses during game against Finland

Eriksen was given chest compressions after collapsing on the field during a European Championship

As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
2 sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the child welfare system takes Indigenous children from their families

Airport ground crew offload a plane carrying just under 300,000 doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine which is developed by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
1st batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccines won’t be released in Canada over quality concerns

The vaccines were quarantined in April before they were distributed to provinces

Grade 12 students at Wetaskiwin Composite High School took place in the annual water fight off school property on June 11, 2021. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
Graduating students in Wetaskiwin throw water fight after being told it could result in suspension

Students were told their participation could result in them being barred from graduation ceremonies.

The arrest south of Winnipeg occurred before Bernier was to arrive at a protest in the city. (Twitter/Maxime Bernier)
Maxime Bernier arrested following anti-rules rallies in Manitoba: RCMP

He’s been charged with exceeding public gathering limits and violating Manitoba’s requirement to self-isolate

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives for the G7 Summit, at the airport in Newquay, United Kingdom, Thursday, June 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Details on Canada’s vaccine sharing plan coming Sunday, up to 100 million doses

Canada’s high commissioner to the UK says details will come after the G7 summit

Conservative MP Tom Kmiec waves to the crowd during the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary, Friday, July 8, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Newborn daughter’s death inspires MP’s bill on bereavement leave for parents

Conservative MP Tom Kmiec says a day or two off not enough for some grieving parents

Most Read