Varietal/Artisan Honey Interview with John Wright
I had the pleasure of interviewing John Wright, owner of Bee Wild, about how Bee Wild produces raw varietal and artisan honey (This is our wildcrafted difference!).
QueenBee: John, I often hear you use the word, “varietal,” when you talk about Bee Wild raw honey. What do you mean when you say that?
John Wright: When I refer to varietal honey, what I’m talking about is the fact that many of our honeys are monofloral. That means that the bees feed on predominately one type of flower/tree/shrub during its natural season, and the honey’s subtleties and flavor notes depend on that particular food source. (See http://www.honeytraveler.com/single-flower-honey/ for an indepth discussion of monofloral honey.)
QueenBee: John, can you give me an example of one of our monofloral honey products and how it is gathered?
John Wright: Our sourwood honey is a prime example of varietal honey gathering. By the time the sourwood in the Appalachian Mountains is blooming in the middle of the summer, all of the early spring blooming trees, flowers, and shrubs have bloomed out, and the late summer and fall trees, flowers, and shrubs have not bloomed yet. So, during this short window of time, sourwood trees bloom on their own, so there is a potential to get a very pure sourwood honey.
QueenBee: Can you describe sourwood honey for us, John?
John Wright: People native to the Appalachians feel that sourwood honey is very special, perhaps the best tasting honey in the world. For one, it is light in color. Too, some people think that sourwood means that it is going to be sour, but it is sweet and complex.
QueenBee: What factors effect varietal honey flavor?
John Wright: Our beekeeper allows the bees to work with Nature, feeding from the flowers, trees, and shrubs that are in season in the North Georgia mountains. So, every year the various honeys have different characteristics and flavor notes depending on the rain patterns, amount of heat and sunlight, and other natural factors. In fact, we label all our batches with the date, conditions, flavor, color, and notes of a particular honey. Each batch is individualized and is characterized by by its color and flavor.
QueenBee: So, Bee Wild raw honeys are wildcrafted and, therefore, either varietal/monofloral or artisan honeys?
John Wright: Yes. Our Second 2012 Wildflower honey is a good example of the artisan-effect of wildcrafting honey when the bees feed on many kinds of wildflowers (multifloral). Because we had an unseasonably mild winter, we noticed that a lot of plants were blooming early and other things were blooming late. Normal timing of the blooming of flowers and trees was off. We were concerned about wildflower honey production. But, it turns out that the weather anomaly created the conditions where wildflowers bloomed twice and, therefore, the bees created a second batch of wildflower honey this year.
So, Nature decided that the bees were going to collect an extra batch of honey in June which beekeepers normally don’t get. (Wildflower honey usually collects in late April through the end of May. Another crop of wildflower honey came in early June this year.) There was a crossover of a couple barrels of honey that is mixed sourwood/wildflower (We could taste the cross.), which we retained and did not sell. Then, when we tasted the next honey gathered, we knew it was pure wildflower honey.
QueenBee: You used wine making as an example of how honey is wildcrafted, giving us varietal/artisanal quality honey. Would you please share that with us?
John Wright: A vineyard grows grapes, and every year the grapes are harvested from the same plants as the year before. But, there is a difference in the flavor and notes of a particular vintage of wine, even though the grapes come from the same plants, from year to year due to various natural factors such as wind, plant stress, sunlight, heat, water. It’s the same with wildcrafted, artisanal/varietal honeys. We don’t mess with Mother Nature. We taste and appreciate the differences in the variety of honeys the bees produce from year to year. But, it’s basically the same colony in the same hives that are producing the various honeys.
QueenBee: Is artisan/varietal honey different from what people purchase in the grocery store?
John Wright: Yes. Typical store honey producers go for consistency in flavor. They will mix several kinds of honey together in order to insure that the flavor of the honey is consistent from batch to batch. This is not the way honey is produced in Nature. With wildcrafted, artisan/varietal honey, the flavors and notes change from year to year. Just like a good wine, we appreciate each and every batch.
QueenBee: How would you describe Bee Wild’s Second 2012 Wildflower honey?
John Wright: It has rich malty flavor with a note of smokiness at the end. The color is darker than our other wildflower honey. Many times we recommend our customers to get the multi flavor pack so that they can train their palate to the appreciation of raw gourmet artisan/varietal honey.
QueenBee: Thanks for educating to appreciate the wildcrafted difference!