By Kate Dranginis, The Sustainable Restaurant Association
On a sunny and warm Monday evening in July, there are many wonderful places you may find yourself Edinburgh. Climbing out of a window, on to a hotel roof, dressed in a full beekeeper’s suit, may not be top of the list or first to mind!
Aberfeldy Whisky has partnered with bee growing communities around the globe to help support them and to raise awareness for bees and beekeepers. I was lucky enough to be invited to one of their Barrels and Bees events hosted by their partner in Edinburgh, Eden Locke on George Street.
On top of the hotel roof, we were introduced to four hives and the eccentric, yet divinely mellow keeper, Meik (originally hailing from Germany and was previously a joiner). We learned about the type of bees in the hive, the workers, the drones and the queen, their hierarchy and lifecycles. The queen lays over 2000 eggs a day and will lay for a number of years. Meik was able to find the queen amongst all the other bees by eye quickly, but just in case he was ever to have an off day, she is marked with a blue felt-tip pen dot! Most impressive to myself was finding out the range bees have of around 7 miles, and they will only return to their own hive. But if the hive is rotated by a few degrees, they will no longer recognise it and will perish.
We were allowed to hold sections (pictured) of the hive to demonstrate their immense weight, due to the honey and the sheer number of bees, I’d estimate each section to be upwards of 10 kg. I also cut a section of the comb out for us to try the honey and the comb itself later (I cut a section about double the size of a credit card), Meik assured us in a few hours the section would be fully repaired.
After returning from the roof, and terrifying hotel guests in our suits, we were able to taste different expressions of Aberfeldy whisky. One of the prominent notes in Aberfeldy is honey, although no honey is added, the flavour comes purely from malting and distillation. We were then treated to tastings of different honeys. The two that stick in my mind are: a honey from Mexico where the bees feed almost exclusively on lychee flowers, the honey was light, delicate, sweet and distinctly tasted of lychee (delicious!). Also, a honey produced from Croatian wildflowers, which was buttery, creamy, unbelievably morish and the overall crowd pleaser.
The aim of the evening was to draw attention to bees importance in the ecosystem, which was most certainly achieved through Meik’s enthusiasm and respect for all the bees hard work. The other aim was to draw attention to the differences in honey and how the flowers bees feed on can produce vastly different honeys and to encourage bartenders to think more deeply about using honey as ingredient. Rather than just using ‘honey’ as almost throw away term on the menu, think about the characteristics of the honey and the provenance of it, using these to create more interesting and complex drinks.
Bees are the vital base for the majority of the foodchains, their numbers have plummeted in recent years so we should give a little more thought to honey and the bees that make it.
Of course, there was promotion for Aberfeldy whisky too, which is delicious and a greatly palatable whisky to try for anyone new to the Scottish water of life!