Seeking out locally crafted goods is a no-brainer when it comes to reducing your carbon footprint. In the case of honey—the product of a pollinating insect population that, in recent years, has increasingly come under threat—shopping close to home is especially important.
But reaching for jars of raw, unpasteurized honey at your neighbourhood grocer isn’t the only way to support beekeeping efforts, thanks to the release of two local sips that use Canadian honey as a primary ingredient.
And though Vancouverites will be unsurprised by their handcrafted, small-batch natures—a given at this point in the game—the beverages themselves are relatively new to the B.C. market.
“You get the honey taste, but it’s very balanced,” Jamie Lee Mock, founder of Moonbrew Tonic Co., says of her honey-infused jun, by phone. “It’s kind of like a really beautiful, almost Champagne-like tonic.”
A kissing cousin of kombucha, jun (pronounced “June”) is a fermented tea made from a symbiotic culture, green tea, and honey. It’s known for its supposed probiotic, antioxidant, and digestion-enhancing properties and has been described by some as more palatable or delicate in flavour than kombucha.
Mock, who has a background in holistic nutrition, began home-brewing the beverage in January after making her own kombucha for some time. Interest soon grew among her friends and family, prompting her to move shop to a commercial space along Main Street, where she now produces three varieties of jun under the moniker Moonbrew Tonic.
The Vancouver native sources her honey from Jane’s Honey Bees in Surrey. She combines it with healing herbs and botanicals—many of them foraged locally—like sage and West Coast reishi, as well as ingredients such as Ambrosia apples and chai spice.
“People aren’t only responding to the wonderful medicinal flavours we’re coming up with,” Mock shares, “but also the overall taste.”
Having resurrected mead—an ancient, winelike beverage made with water and honey—from the pages of Old English lit and episodes of Game of Thrones, Jeff Gillham and Pierre Vacheresse, founders of Humblebee Meadery, are finding that people are pretty keen on the drinks they’re peddling, too.
“It’s a more approachable style, as opposed to a sweet-wine style you find in traditional meads,” Gillham says of Humblebee’s sips at a South Granville café.
“We’re trying to reinvent an old drink and kind of bring it to a 21st-century palate,” chimes in Vacheresse, “so it’s more like the profile of a cider or beer.”
The long-time friends officially launched Humblebee Meadery—a project born of a mutual love of “honey and drinkin’ ”—in July and, at the moment, produce two flavours in Strathcona: the Bee’s Knees, which uses green tea and makrut lime, and Champion of the Sun, a supremely crushable, Southeast Asian–inspired blend of saffron and orange.
Unlike conventional meads, which are often likened to boozy dessert wines, Humblebee’s bevvies lean more dry than sweet—similar to kombucha—and maintain a light carbonation and low ABV. They’re also packaged in cans, which enhances their easy-drinking, designed-for-sunny-afternoons-spent-on-the-patio-or-golf-course vibe.
Gillham and Vacheresse obtain their honey from a family-owned farm in Manitoba, though they hope to partner with B.C. apiaries over the next year to help showcase the assortment of honeys produced in the area. (The boys have lavender-and-vanilla, hibiscus, and elderberry-and-lingonberry cans in the pipeline.)
“You can do anything with mead,” enthuses Vacheresse. “Because when you start with fermented honey, you can infuse so much flavour. You can take it to such different spectrums.”
Honey’s malleable character has also made it a star ingredient in other locally crafted drinks, like O5 Tea’s Hoiji Cha kombucha and Sons of Vancouver Distillery’s No. 82 amaretto, a citrus-tinged liqueur sweetened with Demerara sugar and B.C. blackberry honey. Mock hopes to see more Vancouverites make use of regionally harvested honey in the future.
“I think, by supporting that, we’re really pushing the movement and showing and educating people that what we have is abundant,” she explains. “And we don’t have to search outside of home to get everything that we need.”