Honey to the bee - hiving off new flavours for local gin
- Credit: Becky Alexander
The things I do for you, dear readers. In my pursuit of delicious new things to tell you about, I put on a beekeeping suit and set off to meet 40,000 bees…
You might have spotted the distinctive gold bottles of Cardona & Son’s honey gin in on the shelves in Cellar Door Wines, The Fleetville Larder, The Beer Shop and Flagship Wines. I noticed that the honey came from hives in Hertfordshire, and knowing that our readers do love gin, went to find out how it is made.
I met Andre Cardona (you might recognise the name as Cardona & Son; they also run a food truck at local food festivals) in a meadow just beyond Wheathampstead.
We put on our beekeeping suits and masks, Andre checked that I hadn’t left gaps around my ankles, and off we went to meet the bees.
Andre’s hives are in a quiet, protected spot, surrounded by fields of wildflowers – bee heaven. At this time of year, the bees are mostly getting ready for winter, collecting pollen from the meadows nearby, and the air was heady with the buzz of busy bees as Andre lifted the hives to inspect how the bees are getting on.
He showed me how to spot the queen bee, and explained how the bees lay their eggs, cover the cells with wax, and that about a 1,000 bees are born each day in his hives.
Honey collection mostly takes place earlier in the season, when there is more to spare, but even at this time of the year, there was plenty to see. Andre checked the hives for disease and explained that they fed the bees a syrup solution if needed. He also looks after hives around the area for others, including, further afield, on the roof of Kensington station!
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Raw honey is then taken to the distillery, and blended with a London Dry gin, to produce Elderflower & Borage Honey Gin and Lavender Honey Gin.
Andre and his partner Jane spent months testing the gins to get the right flavour, to make sure the natural floral flavours of the honey shine through.
We tried the gins from the back of Andre’s Land Rover, and I was expecting a fairly sweet gin, but the honey flavour is incredibly subtle, adding a delicate warmth and floral notes, that worked very well with tonic. In fact, it was so smooth, that you can actually sip this gin – there was no harshness at all.
Made in small batches, the gin retails at under the £40 mark, placing it with other premium local gins. It is now also being sold in some high end local restaurants, such as Paris House in Woburn.
Rum is having a moment, and Andre and Jane have just released Honey Spiced Rum, which is a five-year aged with spices including pink peppercorns, star anise, cloves and cinnamon. It would be an excellent autumn buy as you could use it in a warming hot toddy.
If you are interested in bees, you can book on to a beekeeping experience at www.thehoneybeeman.co.uk. Next spring would be best, as the bees will be having some down time soon. You can also head to their website www.cardonaandson.co.uk for free recipes using gins and rums, to see local stockists, and to order for home delivery.
And if you were thinking about it… no, I didn’t get stung. It was a first time for me, meeting bees so close up, and a reminder how rural Hertfordshire is, when you travel just a short way from St Albans!