George Woodward has a sweet job. As the beekeeper for Rogue Ales, he manages 100 hives to ensure the bees can pollinate crops like pumpkins, jalapeños and hazelnuts—and, most importantly, to produce honey.
The sweet nectar is an ingredient in farm-to-bottle beers like Honey Kolsch and Marionberry Braggot. The bees also pollinate crops that help make Pumpkin Patch Ale, Chipotle Ale and Hazelnut Brown Nectar.
“Raising bees was a natural step in the Grow-Your-Own revolution we live by at Rogue,” says Woodward.
A growing number of breweries are establishing relationships with beekeepers or installing their own hives. Service Brewing Company has a small apiary at its brewery in Savannah, Georgia, sourcing honey for Old Guard Biere de Garde.
In Abingdon, Virginia, Wolf Hills Brewing works with local beekeepers to make one of its signature beers, White Blaze Honey Cream Ale. Even President Obama is in on the trend; White House Honey Brown Ale was among the bee-inspired beers brewed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The color and flavor of honey varies depending on the pollinator plants where the hives are located. It can be floral or fruity, spicy or nutty, which influences the beer’s flavor.
“The honey these honeybees create showcases the terroir of Rogue Farms,” Woodward says.
At New Jersey-based Kane Brewing Company, the idea to make a honey-based beer came from a beekeeper who frequented the brewery. The beekeeper connected founder Michael Kane with a local beekeeping group to source small amounts of honey from several members. When the first batch of Apiary was brewed in 2012, it became an instant hit.
“We could buy honey from a food service company, but we were intrigued by the idea of adding local character to the beer,” Kane says.
Brewing with local honey has its challenges. A combination of Colony Collapse Disorder and winter die-offs can make it difficult to source enough honey. Brewers with their own hives face steep learning curves in caring for bees and harvesting honey.
Despite the challenges, beekeeper Tom Wilk is a big fan of the honey beer trend.
“When I walk in, everyone says, ‘The beekeeper is here!’ ” Wilk says. “A lot of people come outside to watch me work the bees.”
In 2014, Finback Brewery released its first honey beer, Wilk and Honey, a nod to the beekeeper. Wilk believes the honey-based beer benefits bees, too.
“Having hives at the brewery gives people a chance to see a beekeeper in action,” he says. “We can answer questions and raise awareness of how important bees are.”