September has been designated as National Honey Month, an opportunity for everyone to enjoy this powerhouse natural sweetener in its many applications, and to learn about bees, beekeeping, and why it is crucial to protect them.
There are many ways to help keep bees happy and healthy, with many organizations focusing their efforts on the task. Here are two food and beverage businesses that are going above and beyond to help, and how you can support them.
Drink up on Bees’ Knees Week
Running from September 22 to October 1st every year since 2017, Bee’s Knees Week has grown into the largest sustainability initiative in the spirits industry, and Vermont’s Barr Hill Distillery has been at the forefront since day one.
Named after nearby Barr Hill Nature Preserve and founded by a distiller and a beekeeper in 2011, Barr Hill distills gin and vodka using honey from their own hives. Each year, they invite the public to order a Bee’s Knees cocktail (or make one at home), snap a photo, and post on social media with the tag @barrhillgin and hashtag #beeskneesweek. For every photo, Barr Hill partners with a non-profit organization to plant 10 square feet of pollinator habitat to save bees and pollinators.
Last year, Barr Hill planted over 250,000 square feet of pollinator habitats and almost 2,500 bars and restaurants nationwide participated in the initiative. In the last three years alone, Barr Hill has created over half a million square feet of new pollinator habitat. Bees are responsible for one in every three bites of food we take, pollinating 90 different food crops and 90% of flowering plants annually.
Urban Beekeeping Hits The Mainstream
One might think that beekeeping only occurs in rural areas, but urban beekeeping, the latest trend in modern hospitality, is taking sustainability and locally sourced concepts to a new level. Blossoming at notable restaurants and hotels around the world, beekeeping and homegrown honey are all the buzz this year.
In Los Angeles, fine dining destination Providence has not only retained their coveted two Michelin Star rating since 2009 – they have also earned their first-ever Green Michelin Star in the 2023 California Michelin Guide. The prestigious award acknowledges restaurants at the forefront of the industry when it comes to sustainable practices, holding themselves accountable for both their ethical and environmental standards and working with sustainable producers and suppliers to avoid unnecessary waste.
The restaurant is one of the first in the city to add a flourishing onsite rooftop habitat garden, officially designated as a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. Longtime chef de cuisine Tristan Aitchison collaborated with bee expert Robin Jones, garden designer and curator of Honey Girl Grows, to source, seed, and custom-grow produce for Providence’s seasonally-driven, award-winning tasting menus. In addition, the garden hosts a prosperous set of Italian honeybees, re-hived through a local bee rescue.
“Re-hiving an already existing honeybee colony is best for the environment as it does not pose any threat to available food for other pollinators,” says Jones. “After re-hiving, we requeened the colonies with docile Italian DNA from a queen bee breeder to make them less defensive. The bees and the rooftop garden thrive together in a healthy ecosystem that is 100% organic and fully balanced, supports biodiversity in plant offerings and other species, has a rich fungal hypha living soil network, and produces food for humans and pollinators.”
Providence currently has 160,000 bees residing on the rooftop garden, which have generated over 100 lbs. of honey since last year. This homegrown honey is incorporated into all aspects of the restaurant’s menu, including the zero-waste pastry and cocktail programs. Pastry chef Mac Daniel Dimla uses it in chocolate truffles, while bar director Kim Stodel prepares a fun twist on the Bee’s Knees called the ‘Bee’s Sneeze’, made with gin, Lillet, Meyer lemon and tangerine, dusted with bee and fennel pollen and infused with harvested lavender honey.
‘Super Bloom’ Honey
A true synthesis of the surrounding neighborhood’s blooms (10 million surrounding flowers, shrubs, and trees in their ecosystem), Providence’s rooftop-sourced honey has a beautiful floral flavor profile that is slightly less sweet than most.
“Honey tastes different in every season, based on the types of flowers, and how many of them are in bloom,” says Aitchison. “This year’s honey will be a super bloom honey thanks to the long months of rain in California, supporting longer, more frequent blooms this spring and early summer.”
Despite California’s unpredictable weather—including having one of the hottest heatwaves on record and the coldest, wettest winters in years, Providence has managed to never miss a harvest and has never suffered a swarm or collapse. This upcoming harvest, Providence expects the bees to produce 5-10 gallons of honey.
Sustainable vs. Regenerative
“What makes Providence’s honey program unique is that it’s completely regenerative rather than sustainable, which ensures that they not only create a supportive ecosystem with 100% organic gardens but that the bees always come first, they stay alive and don’t spread disease, and the hive’s impact on other pollinators and competition for food is minimized,” says Jones.
At Providence, they make sure that the honey the bees bring in – which is nutritionally superior to fake food substitutes used by industrial producers- goes to the hives first, only harvesting when it’s safe and if there is excess. “They often freeze the excess nutritional honey to thaw and feed back to the hives in the winter,” says Jones.
At Providence, everything is special and bespoke in terms of the honey program, and how the honey is utilized across the restaurant menus, desserts, and cocktails.