Honey Tasting Party

Last spring a group of friends came up to my house and tasted twenty honeys with me. Ever since we’ve been planning to do it again with more people and more honeys from my considerably inflated collection. On Saturday afternoon this finally came to pass, and it was a very good time.

Lori Kane, writer of Different Office and Collective Self, had the perfect venue: her house, which features a giant round solid-wood table. I packed sixty-four honeys in cardboard boxes and drove down trying not to imagine what would happen if I were rear-ended. Five of the sixteen guests contributed special honeys, bringing the total to sixty-nine! One of those guests was Brad Hole of Honey Hole, who brought some of his latest honey, collected right here in Seattle. All of the honeys were raw (though in a few cases I could not verify it) and none were flavored.

I had spent some time preparing in order to make the tasting work smoothly, and the effort paid off. Guests were given a ten-page worksheet with all the honeys, categorized by type and numbered. The honey jars were likewise numbered and were laid out in order in a spiral on the table. This way tasters could use the worksheet to find particular honeys and take notes on them.

Besides my collection of honeys, I’ve lately cleaned out four thrift stores of teaspoons. Even with 125 of them, we still needed to wash and dry spoons numerous times during the course of the evening, since no double-dipping of spoons was allowed.

A number of palate cleansers were provided, such as bread, nuts and soda water, but even so I didn’t come into this expecting anyone to try every honey. To help people know where to start, I made shortlists of my favorites and of certain categories like “pronounced floral aroma”, “light / soft sweetness” and “strangest”. These lists turned out to be helpful for those who didn’t try them all, but as it turned out, most tried a good number of honeys, and two of the guests tried every single one and took extensive notes as well. Impressive!

My favorite thing about the tasting was learning from the flavors that other people picked up. An example was Danual immediately thinking of black licorice when tasting the Tiaca honey from Chile; I had only ever noticed its intense floral aroma, but I tried it again and the black licorice flavor was obvious under the flowers. The thick black Buckwheat honey from Moses Lake, WA reminded Chris of Hoisin sauce.

Tizzy is a writer and had the best lines of the evening. When we opened that same Buckwheat honey, she exclaimed “it looks like hoof paste!” Then we all had to know what hoof paste was. She described tasting Zambezi honey as being “like French-kissing an elephant that has been on a bender drinking Scotch for four days”.

While the strong or strange flavored honeys attracted a lot of interest, a few of the guests had no interest in those and enjoyed comparing the lighter ones instead. Maple Tree honey and Seattle honey from Honey Hole ranked highest for these people, as well as the buttery Kiawe Tree honey from Hawaii.

Narisa and Danual, who each tried all sixty-nine of the honeys, had a food focus, in that for each honey they talked about what would pair well with it. Narisa would think of the pairing immediately upon tasting. Brazilian Comapi honey produced the words “oatmeal honey!”, meaning that it would be perfect in her morning bowl of oatmeal. I can imagine that, as I have consumed a lot of Comapi honey in Irish Breakfast tea. Danual went into a food fantasy state while thinking of using the Peruvian Mesquite honey with carmelized onions (yes, please). I love food but tend to enjoy honey on its own, so this kind of input is invaluable to me. I wonder what would happen if I let professional chefs loose on a table-full of honeys…

Here are some example favorites, in no particular order:

Danual’s Favorites:

  • Silver Sage   (Cougar Canyon Apiaries, Malott WA)
  • Christmas Bush   (Tasmanian Honey Company)
  • Comapi   (Brazilian, imported by Glory Bee in WA)
  • Bergamot Tree   (Solmielato, Italy)
  • Maple Tree   (Pixie Honey, Olympia WA)

Narisa’s Favorites:

  • Maple Tree   (Pixie Honey, Olympia WA)
  • Rata Tree   (Wedderspoon, New Zealand)
  • Lavender   (L’Abeille Occitane, France)
  • Tupelo Tree   (Smiley Apiaries, Florida)
  • Mesquite Tree   (Peru, imported by Z√≥calo Gourmet)
  • Silver Sage   (Cougar Canyon Apiaries, Malott WA)
  • Bergamot Tree   (Solmielato, Italy)
  • Chestnut Tree   (Solmielato, Italy / Al-Andalus, Spain)
  • Avocado Tree   (Al-Andalus, Spain)

Tabitha’s Favorites:

  • Maple Tree   (Pixie Honey, Olympia WA)
  • Seattle Wildflowers   (Honey Hole, Ballard WA)
  • Mediterranean Heather   (Apicoltura Dr. Pesca, Italy)
  • Bergamot Tree   (Solmielato, Italy)
  • Orange Tree   (Smiley Apiaries, Florida)

 
Notice the overlap. I have now identified some “sure thing” honeys.

EDIT: Here are some more photos taken by attendee Chris Abbas:

Honey Tasting PartyHoney Tasting PartyHoney Tasting PartyHoney Tasting PartyHoney Tasting PartyHoney Tasting PartyHoney Tasting PartyHoney Tasting PartyHoney Tasting PartyHoney Tasting PartyHoney Tasting PartyHoney Tasting Party

Honey Tasting: Barnaby Thistle from Cougar Canyon Apiaries

While traveling in search of late fall honey in the Okanogan area of Washington State I visited Cougar Canyon Apiaries. I already had a few wonderful honeys from this producer, and wanted the Silver Sage honey that beekeeper Ron Hull had told me about. That honey turned out to be amazing and will be the subject of a future post, but at the same time I picked up a number of other honeys Ron had available, including this Barnaby Thistle honey, harvested on August 15th 2012 from a place called “Fox Mountain”.

Here is Fox Mountain on a cold late fall day (the hives had sat somewhere up at the base of the hills):

Ron is able to get a number of different honeys from this area, depending on the time of year and the weather, which conspire to encourage the blooming of different wildflowers. Also, a wildfire swept through this area a few years ago, and different things have bloomed each year since then as the area has recovered.

The Barnaby Thistle honey has lots of pollen floating at the top, and I swear it has a slight greenish cast. As usual, Ron cautions that it’s mostly from Barnaby Thistle nectar, because it was in bloom, but that the bees were free to add in nectar from whatever else was around. Like other Cougar Canyon honeys, this one came straight out of a single hive (it’s not a mix of honeys from different hives) and was never subjected to heat warmer than the natural temperature of the hive.

Tasting

In one word, this is “candy”. It’s very thick and viscous in a way that makes it a joy to eat, since you have to press on it with your tongue to melt it. That viscosity makes its sweetness come on soft and round, but it is very sweet. Its flavor however is subtle and hints at caramel, toffee, butter and apple. If you wanted to pair this with food, it would have to be something that wouldn’t overwhelm it, such as herbal tea or ice cream. I just eat it straight, a little at a time. I’m glad I have a big jar.

Where To Buy

The Hulls sell their honey through Okanogan / Methow Valley area stores and in farmers markets. One good bet is the natrual foods store in the town of Twisp. Keep in mind that next year’s honey will be different. If you find any kind of Cougar Canyon Apiaries honey, just buy it.