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Thread: Honey terroir

  1. #1

    Default Honey terroir

    Looking at this season's honey crop coming in, and assessing the blackberry bloom in our area. It comes to me, honey very much has terrior.

    This year for example, is very cool and semi-wet during the bloom. I know from past years this will make for a very long bloom (larger honey yield), BUT the flavor of the honey will be very mild, gentle.

    Yet other years where the temps are higher and the rain is no where to be seen, the honey has a very floral flavor. But the bloom only lasts for 2-3 weeks

    Much like grapes, the more stress the bloom is put under the greater the flavor of the honey. But not to much stress or no yield.

    I would bet with much more time and work this would also show through in your meads. You would very much be able to show vintage and terrior. IF your honey source was from one area. Unfortunately it is very hard to produce that much honey and run a meadery that would produce a living income.

    So I would suggest more mead makers put a few bees in there backyards. To see the difference from year to year. Even the bees in town show terrior.

    Plus you would have complete control over the processing of the honey. Remember never above 100 degrees.

  2. #2

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    I remember posting on this subject years back, on the venerable Mead Lovers Digest. I'd pointed out that, in comparison, the terroir revolving around the wine grape is less variable than that of honey. The reason is that genetics plays a strong role in the final product of the plant whereas honey is not directly genetically controled. Hence, there are more variables at play.

    Terroir -- it's one of those wholistic ideas, involving every nuance of soil, weather, geographical location, etc., et. al., resulting in the final profile of the wine. Cynics call it a marketing technique, meant to pump up the value of a wine made at a specific location. Less cynical people know the value of location in agriculture.

    Honey, being what it is, has even more variables than the wine grape. You can talk about a specific varietal honey, but there will be vast differences between the varietal honey of one region of the country versus another. Buckwheat honey is a familiar one on these forums, also the MLD. Eastern buckwheat honey is very strong and dark, Western buckwheat honey milder in comparison.

    Wildflower honey -- that's more or less a non-varietal honey, made from the local flora of the area, in whatever combination the bees choose. A mead made from wildflower honey, gathered by a local beekeeper, would truly express a good terroir mead.
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  3. #3
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    The concept of Terrior incorporates the idea that wine grown/made in a certain place will have a recognizable character from year to year. The Masters of wine seem to have palates that can identify the vineyard from which some wines originate, and may be able to discern different vintage years as well.

    Since there are more variable that affect honey, I wonder if the honey produced in a single location can result in a beverage that can be identified as being from that area year to year. It would be very interesting to study.
    Lanne pase toujou pi bon
    (Past years are always better)

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    Yeah I think you have to separate the concept of seasonality from Terroir. To me terroir is about the climate of a place (soil, sun, humidity, wind, etc) but not so much the weather. When it is hot in Europe one year, everybody's wines will be riper and less acidic. That effect is layered onto the terroir of each vineyard, but is not specifically part of it (to me). I think the wildflower honey idea is a good one for the terroir of honey, since the local flower population is presumably going to differ from place to place. Again, a warmer or cooler year might result in more or less intense honey across the board, but each hive will still maintain the character of the plants nearby. Even varietal honey could do this, if it is not blended from a vast expanse. Orange grove A might have more clover around the trees than orange grove B, for example.

  5. #5

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    This is a fascinating subject, and makes me wish I lived further from town and had more land to house some bees and do some experimenting of my own!

    There are, of course, alot of unique conditions here in Alaska that I'm sure would be reflected in the Terroir of anything agriculturally produced here. Its a shame that we are one of the few states (maybe the only one) in the US where so far it has proved impossible to grow grapes, but everything from vegetables to marijuana that are grown here are known for their "unique" taste (or mind-altering properties as the case may be).

    We once had a local bee-keeper who spoke to our homebrew club and claimed that the US Olympic Committee conducted scientific testing and concluded that his honey contained something-or-other that made it the best for assisting in the health and recovery of athletes and that's why they buy their honey exclusively from him. I haven't verified this claim, but I'll admit his honey is very tasty and provides an invigorating feeling (unfortunately he charges an arm and a leg for it). He credits his "terroir" and careful all-natural/no-heat methods of handling the honey and the bees for giving him such a high-quality product.

  6. #6
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    I'm wondering how would you go about testing for "terrior" with honey/mead?

    I can envision something like this:

    1. Get similar varietal honey from more than 1 location. I'm thinking orange blossom for example; some from Florida, some from California, and some from elsewhere (Texas? Europe?).

    2. Ferment a simple dry mead with a starting gravity of about 1.100 using the same yeast (a clean fermenter like K1V maybe) with identical nutrients. No oak, or other flavors to clutter up the profile. By fermenting them all in the same location, you minimize the "fermentation contribution" to the results.

    3. Repeat this process over three consecutive years, so that you have 9 samples of mead to compare.

    4. Age the youngest batch at least one year (the oldest batch will then be 4 years) They'll have to be cellared properly (or refrigerated - that might make the age difference less prominent).

    5. Then taste the meads and see if you can match the meads that come from the same place together. This might require some folks with palates that have more acuity than mine, but I'm sure some of you've got that covered.

    Obviously you could do the same thing with other varieties of honey. The variability of wildflower might make it too easy; the difference between eastern and western buckwheat perhaps might as well. I'm sure there are other varieties that cover enough geography to make it possible.

    What else could we do to determine if such "terrior" can be documented in mead?
    Lanne pase toujou pi bon
    (Past years are always better)

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by Medsen Fey View Post

    Obviously you could do the same thing with other varieties of honey. The variability of wildflower might make it too easy; the difference between eastern and western buckwheat perhaps might as well. I'm sure there are other varieties that cover enough geography to make it possible.

    What else could we do to determine if such "terrior" can be documented in mead?
    That is a very interesting idea. What if several people each took on a differant type of honey? There would have to be a "secured" sourse for each varity to insure a multi-year supply.
    Al

  8. #8

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    I would think that wildflower honey would be the best representation of regional/climate differences since it takes into account the various flora of that region and is produced by healthier bees.

    By using only varietal honeys you would be more restricted what you could compare, but the differences would still be evident. California vs Florida OB honey would be an exciting challenge, by why limit yourself to a product that is by-and-large limited (in the US, at least) to those two states? Of course, it would cut down on your variability factors, but I guess that's why I'm not a scientist

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    Quote Originally Posted by beninak View Post
    I would think that wildflower honey would be the best representation of regional/climate differences since it takes into account the various flora of that region and is produced by healthier bees.
    You make a very good point. There is great variability in wildflower from region to region, and it might work very well to produce meads that you could tie to a location. After giving it more thought, it might be a great choice to demonstrate the "locality" of the mead.

    I guess the one question I would want to ask, "does wildflower remain consistent enough from year to year (if you collect at the same time of the season) in the same place for you to be able to pick it out? By choosing a single varietal, you'd have a bit more consistency, but even that is questionable.

    Perhaps some of the beekeepers can point the way as to what honey they think can be most consistently identified with their location.

    Al's idea to try more than one honey is probably a good one.

    Does anyone have any suggestions on how to organize such a tasting comparison to get statistically valid results?
    Lanne pase toujou pi bon
    (Past years are always better)

  10. #10

    Default honey types

    I can say that the urban hive (which would be wild I guess no single source) swings widely on what the honey is like each year.
    My guess would be to stay with single source like Orange, blackberry, meadow foam even, etc....
    Meadowfoam is grown from southern OR into CA.. those valleys are very different

  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Medsen Fey View Post
    Does anyone have any suggestions on how to organize such a tasting comparison to get statistically valid results?
    The tasting could wait, no?...we're talking years before the comparison.

    But say we got several people involved and each were to find a local apiary (that would eliminate the business that truck their hives across country). A small time apiary would be more likely stay in the same local and get the same regional honey year after year. Then the changes would be the result of "enviromental" effects for each honey.
    Al

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    Everything would need to be the same EXCEPT the location of the honey--the same recipe, the same brewing process insofar as it is possible, the same honey variety, early/late flow, etc. The only difference would have to be the geography, over a number of years. It would need to be a varietal available pretty much everywhere. Careful climactic records would need to be kept regarding temps, rainfall...

    We're all scientists at heart.

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    I'm obviously way to new to mead to be of much help in critical tasting, but this concept has me very interested. If other people would participate, I would be more than willing to conduct this experiment (keeping all variables but the honey as exact as possible obviously) over a few years, using honey from different local apiaries (assuming they can gaurantee that the honey came from the same places each year, ie: they are not renting out their bees all over the place) up here in Canada. The one problem with this would be that it would be unlikely that I would have similar flower content in the local honeys as you do down south (I have a lot of research to do yet, but Canada seems to have very little actual varietal honey - almost all of what we produce is "Canada white"... I have been unable so far to determin what the heck that is supposed to be...), so the comparison would probably be between different parts of Alberta/Canada, rather than between my meads and someone elses.

    3 or 4 years from now I will probably be thoroughly addicted to brewing enough to justify making a trip down south for one of these competitions/conventions I keep reading about, so I could drag some bottles with me and let some people with much better critical tasting skills than me do the testing. Or we could arrange something else.

    This seems like a fun and educational experiment, and if everyone does smaller batches it shouldn't cost much money or effort to pull off.

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    What is this "smaller batches" you speak of?

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    Quote Originally Posted by AToE View Post
    I'm obviously way to new to mead to be of much help in critical tasting, but this concept has me very interested.
    While I do recognize that one's palate can be trained, I don't know that that is needed for this. Your palate might be sensitive enough to distinguish those differences, and in fact, it would be interesting to see how many people can (whether experienced with mead or not).

    I'd like to see if I can do it - I know my palate is not the most sensitive - my wife's is much better. In fact it is kind of funny for someone like me without a great sense of smell and taste trying to become a mead maker. It may be a bit like a blind man trying to paint a masterpiece, or a deaf man trying to write a symphony (oh, wait...didn't Beethoven do that? There's hope after all). I just have to learn to "feel the mead."

    In any case, I'm willing to try with some orange blossom. I can get Florida from a source that I think will be here for the next couple of years. Anyone got a good suggestion for a California source? How about a third source?

    I did have another thought on how to test this concept. Take the same honey from 3 different places, and allow different people to each make 3 simple traditional meads starting at the same gravity using whatever yeast, and fermentation management approach they prefer. Then compare the samples between mazers to see if there is an aroma or flavor that allows you to group the meads from the same source together? This would not take 3-4 years, but could be done in one year. It would answer the question if there is honey terrior that can shine through the yeast and cellar operations. Would that be useful to try?

    Again, we're going need a statistician to tell us how to arrange the tasting.
    Lanne pase toujou pi bon
    (Past years are always better)

  16. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by AToE View Post
    (I have a lot of research to do yet, but Canada seems to have very little actual varietal honey - almost all of what we produce is "Canada white"... I have been unable so far to determin what the heck that is supposed to be...), so the comparison would probably be between different parts of Alberta/Canada, rather than between my meads and someone elses.
    "Canada white" that is produced in western Canada as near as i can tell technically a wildflower honey since the bees are constricted to particular nectar sources, however it is overwhelmingly dominated by white clover which gives it a mild taste.




    As for the tasting, naturally it would be entirely subjective since it will be based on different people's sensory perceptions. Also, if you are just judging the mead and not the honey, you will have to take into account the water source and brewing methods as well as any contaminates that might have crept in from the air, etc.

    It seems to me that laboratory analysis of the raw honey would be the most statistically valid way to determine the differences that terrior imparts to the honey....but what fun is that?

  17. #17
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    I've been thinking how to simplify this a wee bit, so that we can actually get testing underway sooner rather than later.

    We could narrow it down to honey from two different locations. Then take that honey and make two batches using the same water and yeast and so forth.

    Then do a series of triangular or quadrilateral tastings. You receive 4 bottles and are asked which ones are the same. You could get 2/2 or 3/1 and depending on how many folks can pick them out, you could perhaps tell if the location of the honey makes a consistently detectable difference. Obviously, following the testing, we'd have a better idea whose palates are more sensitive for subsequent rounds.

    We need someone to take on the chore of producing the 2 batches. We'll need at least 5 gallons each (10 would be better) to have enough for testing now, and comparison with subsequent years it we keep the testing going. Ideally we need someone with a good cellar for storing it in.

    I don't mind organizing the funds for the project - so if there is a volunteer it will be no cost to you other than your time and carboy space. We can call it the "Great Terrior Taste Test." If there is anyone interested in volunteering to make these batches, PM me. Anyone interested in putting your palate to the Terrior Taste Test as one of the participants, please PM me. In order to participate, tasters would be expected to foot the cost of shipping to their localities.

    So do we have anyone interested?
    Lanne pase toujou pi bon
    (Past years are always better)

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by beninak View Post
    "Canada white" that is produced in western Canada as near as i can tell technically a wildflower honey since the bees are constricted to particular nectar sources, however it is overwhelmingly dominated by white clover which gives it a mild taste.
    Thanks, I've actually been having a terrible time figuring that out - but this makes sense because white clover is probably one of the most common flowering feild plants up here.

  19. #19

    Default honey

    I am willing to kick in the honey for a batch.
    That is if you go with blackberry honey. that is the only single source I have,
    I fit the bill, bees don't move and come from the same area every year. (ribbon ridge ava) in oregon

  20. #20
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    I like it. Does anyone know another reliable producer of blackberry honey from another location of the country that will be producing it from the same location for the next couple of years?
    Lanne pase toujou pi bon
    (Past years are always better)

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