Is a North Carolina mountain town becoming the Napa Valley of honey?
Author Lindsay Taub Photography © Evan Sung (Nightbell)
Asheville boasts more craft breweries per capita than any other U.S. city. Now, North Carolina’s hipster hub is pollinating an even sweeter industry. From the French Broad food co-op, which keeps hives on its rooftop, to the 200 colonies nurtured by fourth-generation Biltmore Estate beekeeper Ed Buchanan, this town has gone honey crazy.
“We are Bee City, USA,” says J.D. “Ivar” Schloz, the owner and head mazer (meadmaker) at Bee & Bramble, which produces dry honey wine. It’s not just a nickname. With colony collapse disorder decimating the world’s honeybee populations, Asheville has become the first American city to officially ban harmful pesticides. “I am gratified by the increased interest in protecting these lovely creatures,” says Schloz. “Without their pollination efforts, many of the people alive today would starve.”
It seems you find honey everywhere here. It’s mixed into the Mountain Honey body wrap at the Omni Grove Park Inn’s spa, drizzled on biscuits at Tupelo Honey Cafe, and stirred into cocktails at the bar Sovereign Remedies. Katie Button of Nightbell uses local honey in her hush puppies with honey butter, while French Broad Chocolates infuses lavender truffles with Haw Creek wildflower honey.
The Asheville Bee Charmer sells more than 50 types from around the world, such as wild carrot flower honey from Italy, manuka flower honey from Tasmania, and Jameson-infused honey from Scotland. “People are usually surprised at how different honeys can taste,” says co-owner Kim Allen. “A blackberry honey from the Northwest, for example, tastes completely different from a local blackberry honey. That’s terroir, as the French would say.”
Beer too is getting in on the act. Wicked Weed Brewing makes a Melisseus Honey Lavender Ale and Mompara Honey Ale, while Burial Beer uses Haw Creek honey in its Keeper’s Veil Honey Saison and Reaper Tripel. Last fall saw the opening of Bhramari, a brewery whose signature offering is a black pale ale made with local sourwood honey. The brewery’s namesake? The Hindu goddess of bees. — LINDSAY TAUB