Honey Tasting: Fall Honey from Rockridge Orchards

In my (probably futile) attempts to try everything, I’ve tended to focus on pure varietal honeys, ones that can be ascribed to the nectar of a single type of blossom. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I’ve learned a lot so far, but the fact is that bees don’t care. They will forage for one type of nectar at a time, but then when that runs out they will switch to whatever else they can find. According to beekeepers I’ve talked to, bees also have preferences, and will pass over nearby flowers they like less (like blueberry blossoms) if they find something they like better nearby. “Wildflower” honeys are often mixed by the bees this way, unless it so happens that the entire countryside is covered with one type of flower and whole hives get filled with one kind of honey. If you are really into local small-batch honey, you will find out pretty fast that you cannot automatically know from the brand what you’re going to get, and that the mixtures can result in wonderful flavors that can’t be predictably reproduced. Beekeepers get different results from each place they sit down their bees, from different times of year in the same places, and from year to year. Even so, when I get my hands on a good honey, I’m going to grill the beekeepers anyway, hoping to find out what flowers were involved. Such is the case with today’s honey, a fall 2013 honey from Rockridge Orchards.

Rockridge Orchards fall honeyRockridge Orchards is a farm in Enumclaw, Washington owned by Wade and Judy Bennett. You can find them each week at the West Seattle Farmer’s Market. I called up Rockridge and talked to Judy about this honey. She guesses that this batch is roughly 50% wild blackberry from the bushes growing along their 40 acres of fenceline, but that the rest is probably a mix of what she called “yellow stuff”: Goldenrod, Japanese Knotweed from two parcels away, and perhaps some Buttercup. The Bennetts use their bees for pollination on their farm and don’t keep records of everything that’s blooming, so I was lucky to get this much information.

Tasting

I opened this honey to taste with my friend Jane and we both let out an “ohhhh” at the flavor. It’s viscous and dark, looking rather like a Scottish Ale. If you put your nose in the jar you can smell the propolis. The flavor is rich and complex, its sweetness offset by a bit of pleasant sourness. Jane said “sour cherry”. I also sense bitter chocolate in the background. Pure blackberry honey on it’s own is not deeply interesting; it tends to be genial but one-note, a classic sweet honey taste with some subtle round berry character. But here that cheerful berry-ness is mixed with the funkiness of Knotweed (probably responsible for the chocolate / cherry notes) and who knows what else. It seems to end dry (well, as much as any honey can anyway). So good!

Where To Buy

I go this honey at Sugarpill on Capitol Hill in Seattle. When I bought this last week they had some bottles left. If they still do, you might want to run and grab yours. Throughout the year you can also visit the Rockridge table at farmer’s markets in West Seattle, the University District, Columbia City and Bellevue.

Judy Bennett said that in the spring they get a honey the bees mix from the nectar of Maple and Asian Pear trees on their farm. She also said that they sell out of their honey so fast that even regular customers are often disappointed. If I cut in line in front of you, so sorry.

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