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Jul 21st 2021
The Blend
Australia

Why should hospo be there for the bees?

Terroir, unique Australian honeys, and the wholesale collapse of civilization are at stake.

Honey. It’’s one of the oldest ingredients humans have using.— we’ve been harvesting bee-products since the time of the pharaohs. Egyptians were already moving theirs hive up and down the Nile River to follow the flowering season. 

The nectar of the Gods, “Ambrosia” as it was called by the Greeks that they were believing in the Aphrodisiac power of the Honey wine.

There is no honey without bees, and their future is increasingly under threat. That has consequences not just to produce honey, but for the way the whole world works.

How does honey get its taste?

Honey, like wine, is a product that can speak to the place it was made — there’s as much terroir in honey as there is in wine.

Though Australia does have native bees, it is the European honey bee from which the vast majority of honey is made. The honeybee was introduced to Australia with colonisation.

This doesn’t mean Australian honey isn’t unique; the flora from which the honeybees collect pollen and nectar is what honey is made from, and results in some incredible honey only found in Australia. There are, in fact, more than 700 native species from which the honeybee can make the good stuff.

Honeybees usually travel around 200 to 300 metres from their hive, but can travel as far as 10 kilometres  and more away if they need to. Once the scout bees identify a floral source, the bees will continue to go back to flowers of the same variety. 

Professional beekeepers often take their hives on the road to move their bees closer to new sources of pollen, and play a big role in the pollination of agricultural crops for farmers.

A sample of Australian honey

Thanks to our unique flora, there are some distinctly Australian flavours of honey that come from specific parts of the country. Here’s a sample.

Banksia: honey made from bees that visit the flowers of the banksia tree, which are found up and down The Australian eastern seaboard of Australia.
    
Blue Gum: you’ll find blue gums in forests in Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia, and the honey tends to be light amber in colour.

Karri: the Karri gum is native to the south-west of Western Australia. The honeybees that visit the Karri in old growth forests have got to get their timing right — the trees only flower every seven to 10 years.

Leatherwood: the Leatherwood plant is a large shrub native to the forests of Tasmania; bees make a honey from the nectar of these flowers that has an intense aroma, a little spicy, and with a creamy texture.

There are many Australians flavours of Australian honey, many made with the assistance of a variety of eucalyptus trees — red gum, yellow gum, stringybark honey.


Sugarbag. Sugarbag?

What about those native Australian bees we spoke about before? There are some stingless Australian bees that make a wild honey called sugarbag. This is often found in the hollows of trees, and is made from a number of floral sources. The resulting honey tends to be rich, darker in colour than the honey from European honeybees, with each hive producing a different flavour owing to the range of flora the bees visit.

Why should anyone in hospo care about the bees?

Why should you care about the plight of the bees? Well, for one: honey is delicious. 

Honey is a key component in classic cocktails like the Brown Derby (bourbon, grapefruit, and honey); the Bee’s Knees (gin, lemon, and honey); and the Airmail (rum, lime, honey, and champagne).

In more recent times, the Beeswax Old Fashioned from Ryan Chetiyawardana — which uses a bourbon infused with beeswax — has become something of a modern classic.

Honey is also probably better for you than regular sugar. Honey is lower on the glycemic index than sugar, and depending on which type of honey you use, is perceived as sweet as sugar or more so, which means you can use less and still get the same effect.

But there are bigger picture reasons to care.

Bees are key players in the ecosystem. We need bees to pollinate agricultural crops as well as wild flora; without them significant cost would be added to our food production systems, and the order of things in the natural world begins to break down.

And bees are under significant pressure. Modern agriculture has resulted in a decline in biodiversity, which in turn affects the kinds of food bees can live on, which results in a less diverse microbiome — leading to a poorer immune system and further pressure on bee populations.

The use of insecticides straight up kills bees, and herbicides reduce the availability of wild flora for them to feast on.

Finally, the changing climate means that where bees live is changing, too, with some types of bees only able to survive within narrow temperature ranges; the warmer it gets, the higher these bees will need to live, and the higher they go the less area there is to survive within.

So what can you do?

For a start, when you’re buying honey, buy it from small producer and local. This helps to support Australian beekeepers, and with the right demand will support the bee community More respect, healthier hives, more good honey to harvest.

In your own life you can put away the pesticides and herbicides — maybe just avoid the ‘sides alll together?

And you could get into the beekeeping game yourself. Charlie Parker ‘s in Sydney is one bar that has 2 behives as part of their bar setup. This allows bar manager Giacomo Franceschi access to their hives of honey, from which he's fermenting mead, all the while adding 80,000 or so bees to the area.

Looking to add a fresh spin to your cocktails? Consider shelving your simple syrup in favour of the sticky sweetness of honey? |

Check out Giacomo Franceschi's recipes using Maker's Mark and Laphroaig 10 Year Old for his workshop during The Scholarship: 'Bee Aware', by CLICKING HERE.
 
They are worth the buzz!