Honey Tasting: “BBQ Blend” smoked honey from the Bay Area Bee Company

Around Christmastime a box arrived in the mail from my friend Jane in California. In it were four raw honeys from the San Francisco area. Two were from the Bay Area Bee Company. One of these (the “San Francisco’s Finest”) arrived broken despite Jane’s thorough efforts to bubble-wrap it, but I managed to squeeze out a safe taste. It was wonderfully rich and cinnamon-like, as I remember it anyway. The rest was infused with shards of glass, so I had to put on a mopey face and toss it. The other honey, the subject of today’s post, is an unusual smoked honey called the “BBQ Blend”.

Bay Area Bee Company BBQ Blend Smoked Honey

I couldn’t find details on this honey, so I wrote to the apiary and received a very detailed reply from Kelli Armonas:

“We do backyard & rooftop garden beekeeping, partnering with landowners/homeowners with similar attitudes as us regarding using natural methods: no chemicals, no pesticides, no antibiotics (for the bees, n/a garden), etc. We look for environments where the bees will thrive & hopefully be stress-free. We have found that if we attempt to place hives in properties where the people are really difficult or unpleasant, not only do we regret it but the bees seem to act crazy and/or not do well.
 
All of our honey varieties are marketed based on the area/neighborhood they come from. The flora is sometimes a bit more specific but usually just what is in the area blooming and what the property owner & neighbors are planting in their gardens & around their homes. Those you received would all be from this Fall (Oct, Nov, early Dec harvests).
 
The Bay Area Blend is a blend of honey from our hives all around the SF Bay Area (SF, Oakland, Berkeley, Vallejo, Benicia, Mare Island Preserve, Napa, St. Helena, Vacaville, Lake Berryessa, Marin County). Each week when we harvest and/or are extracting, we blend them to get a well balanced flavor to tone down any high notes and lift any low notes but retaining the flavors of that season. The deeper tones could be a little eucalyptus, fennel or manzanita coming in to it.
 
The San Francisco’s Finest is the same as above but is comprised of only honey from our SF hives. This honey is a bit larger and less toned down with some eucalyptus and citrus, also a wide variety of ornamental flowers and garden blossoms.
 
The BBQ Blend is smoked honey from the cappings. When we extract, we place the cappings in a large bin with a metal slotted screen. The honey drips down and what is left is fairly clean wax with a bit of honey remaining. Rokas (my husband/beekeeper) then places the wax over an outdoor wood fire, heating just until the wax melts & rises to the surface, removes the wax for candle making, watches the honey closely until it looks & tastes right to him (if you cook, you understand what I’m saying), he then blends it with the raw capping drippings. I believe the color is in part from the honey but primarily from the heating. This honey is a blend of raw & partially cooked honey, which is the reason the label does not include the same verbiage as the others.”

Tasting

Bay Area Bee Company BBQ Blend Smoked Honey up close.You can smell rich and sweet smoke from this honey as soon as you take off the cap. The honey itself is very thick and viscous, and looks like mahogany wood stain that was accidentally left out. This is very fun honey to eat. It coats your mouth with a smokey-sweet waxy richness which reminds me of the pleasant strangeness of a horehound candy. The smoke is like that of a wood fire from your neighbor’s house when you go on a walk, but it’s not cloying like that of over-smoked Lapsang Souchong tea. This stuff would be great on ribs, or used sparingly as a mystery ingredient in a mixed drink. I have to imagine that chefs would go wild for it.

Where To Buy

I have no idea. Next time you’re in the San Francisco area, keep an eye out.

Climbing Trees For Honey

Here’s an article that is tangentially related to two of my interests, honey and primal fitness:

Did Lucy Walk on the Ground or Stay in the Trees?

The video embedded in the article sums up the main points, and you can see a person foraging for honey by climbing a tree in his bare feet:

Honey Tasting: Nooksack River Wildflower from Guilmette’s Busy Bees

A new honey brand has appeared at my local store: “Guilmette’s Busy Bees” from Bellingham, Washington. Their lightly golden and thoroughly crystallized raw “Nooksack River Wildflower” has quickly become one of my go-to honeys.

Nooksack River Wildflower honey from Guilmette's Busy Bees, Bellingham WA

This apiary doesn’t appear to have a standalone website but I was able to gather some information from the interwebs and from the Guilmette’s Busy Bees Facebook page. The label says Bellingham, but the apiary is actually northeast of there in Everson, WA. The Nooksack river cuts right through town. Besides producing honey for local consumption (the Nooksack and a lot of Raspberry honey), beekeeper Skip Guilmette provides pollination services both locally in in California.

About this honey, Skip says “we always have the wildflower on hand and it is pulled from different areas of the river at different times during the year. So one honey may be light and another may be dark and have a stronger flavor. The bigger contributors to the Nooksack River crop would be field clover, sweet clover, blackberry, and maybe some maple. There are numerous wildflowers in our area as well so it’s a pretty good mix.”

Tasting

Nooksack River Wildflower honey, close up.This honey doesn’t taste at all strange (quite the contrary) but has a flavor profile unlike any other honey I own. I’ve tried two versions of it: one a medium-gold color (pictured) and a darker version. The lighter version is rich like light brown sugar and jasmine, with a floral background and a touch of citrus fruitiness. The darker version is very similar in flavor but even more distinct, with an added dimension that one person I had try it described as “pepper” or “spiciness”. I wouldn’t pass up either version, but given the choice I would go for the darker one.

Lately I’ve been experimenting with mixing honey with good coffee and with black tea, and this honey is one of the few winners for that use. With most honeys there are two possible outcomes: one, the honey flavor disappears into the drink, making it a waste of good honey (I might as well be using sugar), or two, the honey overwhelms the drink flavors or otherwise throws the flavors out of whack. But this Nooksack River Wildflower enhances good coffee or tea; the flavors dovetail and seem richer altogether. Because it’s so solidly crystallized it’s also fun to eat straight and dissolve in my mouth. All this explains why, with so many honeys filling up my kitchen crevices, my first large jar of this honey is half gone already.

Where To Buy

  • You can call Guilmette’s Busy Bees directly at (360) 398-0873 to leave orders or a name and number for a return call. They will ship at a flat rate; about 9 pints fit into a large flat rate box and it’s around 12 dollars to send.
  • Guilmette’s has two roadside shacks where you can purchase honey directly: one in front of their operation on South Pass Road in Everson, and another on Noon Road just east of Bellingham.
  • Guilmette’s sells their honey to a distributor in Kent called Crown Pacific Fine Foods, who were nice enough to list where the honeys are sold in the Seattle area: Central Market (Shoreline, Poulsbo, Mill Creek), PCC (Kirkland, Issaquah, Greenlake, Seward Park, Edmonds, Fremont, View Ridge, Redmond, West Seattle), and Whole Foods (in Bellevue at least). I found mine at Central Market in Shoreline.
  • Outside of Seattle, several stores in the Whatcom and Skagit county areas sell Guilmette’s honeys: Bellingham Community Food Co Ops, Whatcom Farmers’ Co Ops, The Market stores in Bellingham, Anacortes, and Birch Bay, the Green Barn in Lynden, and several other locations.