Bee to Bottle: Quality Forage

Mead is such a unique beverage because you are drinking from flowers, literally. Before fermentation or even collecting honey, the meadmaking process starts with the landscape where bees are collecting pollen and nectar.

When bees forage, they graze on flowers that are specific to a region. Here in San Diego, that means native California plants, California specialty crops, or any other nearby flowers. At Meadiocrity Meadery, we work with local beekeepers, farmers, ranchers, and residents to carefully place hives to provide our bees with the best forage throughout the year.

Native Forage

San Diego county is a great place to live, whether you love the beach, the mountains, or the desert. It’s a great place for bees, too. From the marine influence along the coast to the dry heat of the desert, each microclimate within the county offers unique blooms from native wildflowers. Upwards of 16 different plant communities exist right here in San Diego county! Our warm weather also ensures that something is blooming all year long, which is great for the bees and for us!

 California buckwheat, Erigonum fasciculatum, blooms throughout the late spring and summer giving a moderately intense honey with extremely strong floral characteristics.

California buckwheat, Erigonum fasciculatum, blooms throughout the late spring and summer giving a moderately intense honey with extremely strong floral characteristics.

Depending on the season, bees grazing in a single area will produce honeys with distinctly different flavors since different flowers bloom at different times of the year. In the early spring, there are more delicate flowers such as the native ceanothus, also known as California wild lilac. As spring progresses into summer, the forage changes into the native buckwheat, sage, and other more heat-tolerant wildflowers.

As we continue to sample honeys made from native forage, we find the earlier blooms in the spring tend to be lighter yet extremely floral. The resulting honeys make more delicate, refreshing meads, perfect for all the hot days we get. Nectars in the late spring and summer tend to be more full bodied and rich, concentrated by the warmer temperatures. Honey from this time of the year is very dark and intense, perfect for… OK, let's be honest. We drink mead all year long. It doesn't matter what the weather looks like.

An added benefit to the year-round blooms in San Diego is that we can place beehives in a single site for several months at a time. The specific weather patterns of that year create a one-of-a-kind bloom pattern and the bees build up a unique honey fingerprint of the land they are on as they graze on the ever-changing forage. Making meads from these regionally-specific bloom cycles is exciting because they are non-repeatable and expressly represent exactly what was happening on the land during the year. We will have an upcoming blog post on this topic, which we call mead terroir.

To provide our bees with native forage, we work with ranchers, farmers, or homeowners with large land parcels that include or border native habitat. If you would like to host hives on your property, contact us!

Farmed Specialty Crops

California farmers grow more crops for consumption than any other state in the US. Current agricultural practices commonly create blocks of specialty crops such as avocado, citrus, or alfalfa. By placing our hives in these areas, we ensure that our bees collect nectar and pollen from a single type of plant, making honey with a very specific flavor profile. This allows us to create meads with the distinct flavor profiles of the original crop.

 Citrus is a critical California specialty crop. Luckily for us, citrus crops such as orange, lemon, and grapefruit make delightfully light and refreshing meads and are prevalent in San Diego.

Citrus is a critical California specialty crop. Luckily for us, citrus crops such as orange, lemon, and grapefruit make delightfully light and refreshing meads and are prevalent in San Diego.

Our flagship mead, Foundation, is one such mead. It is made from 100% alfalfa honey. Now, you might be thinking that a feed crop like alfalfa might not make a very good mead, but just like beers made from grain, the full-bodied flavors from alfalfa honey create an incredibly rich mead that probably tastes like nothing you’ve ever experienced.

Since we do not personally own any farmland or large-scale specialty crops, we depend on partnerships with local farmers to place beehives in their groves during various blooming seasons. Farmers’ crops benefit from the extra pollinators on site, and we are then able to collect the varietal honeys we need to make delicious mead. If you are interested in partnering with us and having hives placed in your grove or field, contact us and let us know what you are growing and how big of a site it is!

Not all varietal meads turn out as great as Foundation, however. During our honey trials, we experimented with an avocado honey mead. Unfortunately, it tasted like guacamole (in the worst way possible) and earned itself the name Guacamead. On the bright side, served alongside some of our delicious local Mexican fare, it didn't taste half bad -- but don't expect any special-edition releases of Guacamead any time soon.

Regional Residential Blends

Backyard vegetable gardens, flowerbeds, and landscaping provide yet another unique opportunity for bees. California might be in a water crisis, but we still have landscapes that are watered. We want to live in lush neighborhoods with vibrant flowers, abundant vegetables and fruits,, and serene gardens. Where there are water and flowers, there are also bees.

 Bees in residential areas create hyper-local regional blends. This was taken in our front yard.

Bees in residential areas create hyper-local regional blends. This was taken in our front yard.

We do not currently place individual beehives in residential areas due to county restrictions and the difficulty of managing single hives scattered throughout many neighborhoods. But, we do keep a select set of our own estate hives. We will be releasing some very special meads from these hives in the future, so stay tuned!

Here at Meadiocrity, we love being able to use the natural resources of San Diego county whether it be native forage, specialty crops, or our backyards. Next time you are enjoying a bottle of our mead, sit back, relax, and know that you are drinking in local San Diego flowers, water, and sunshine.