Lowcountry beekeeper collects honey, brews mead

  • Wednesday, May 28, 2014

April Aldrich raises bees in the backyard of her Summerville home. Once the honey is collected she uses the honey to make mead, an alcoholic drink.

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While some might shoo away insects and call them pests, April Aldrich said bees are her passion.

“I cannot not be around bees,” she said.

She loves them so much she moved back to Summerville from Los Angeles, where it’s illegal to have bees in residential areas, just to raise them.

“My fascination was with honey. It’s nature’s medicine, people have been using honey in medicine for thousands of years, and that just fascinated me. I wanted to explore the infrastructure of the hive and how the bees even made it.”

Now the beekeeper has four colonies where she raises bees, collects and bottles the honey and makes mead, an alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey.

According to Aldrich, mead is the oldest alcoholic drink in the world and is known as the “nectar of the Gods.”

The word “honeymoon” even originates from a custom of drinking mead at weddings to bring the couple fertility during the following moon cycle.

Aldrich was a beekeeper first, but coincidentally was also a passionate beer home-brewer. It was only a matter of time before she discovered mead and started brewing it herself, she said.

“You brew it like a beer and drink it like a wine,” Aldrich explained.

Her house had several bottles and jugs set up brewing. Combine honey, yeast and water in the right bottle with a water lock, and four weeks later the mead is ready to be enjoyed.

With the home-brewing trend on the rise, Aldrich said she had so many friends asking her how to make mead that she started her own company, Must Bee Mead. The product – a kit for home brewing, which includes all the necessary ingredients and tools except water – is available in a few Summerville stores as well as the Savannah Bee Company store on King Street in Charleston.

The honey in the kit comes from Aldrich’s hives.

In the morning Aldrich goes to check on her bees. She suits up in her beekeeper’s uniform, including a straw hat with a mesh hood over it. Next she fills a metal canister, called a smoker, with pine straw and lights it on fire. As she approaches the hives she sprays the smoke, which masks the bees’ alert signals and keeps them calm.

First the lid of the hive is removed. Then slowly a tray is pulled out. At the beginning, the trays are black with honeycomb shaped indentations for the bees to get started on. As the bees fly through Summerville collecting pollen, they return to the hive and regurgitate it from the “honey stomach,” as she calls it, and store it in the hive.

This particular hive is reproducing and the bees are preparing many trays for the incoming babies, but after a while Aldrich said her colony will have grown enough she’ll install a screen to keep the queen from laying eggs.

Once a tray is full of honey, Aldrich harvests the comb from the tray and puts it on a device that spins the comb in a bucket to extract all of the honey.

Aldrich said everything in the hive can be repurposed and put to good use.

“All the ingredients from the hive are useful, and everything is good for you.”

Aldrich is a member of the Charleston Beekeeping Assocaition and suggests anyone interested in becoming a beekeeper contact the group for advice and resources.

A bee-fanatic, she of course recommends beekeeping as a hobby.

“My hope is to grow an apiary. What a great place to do it, too… It’s Flowertown, so why would we not want to have bees and grow more flowers?

“There’s no other thing in nature that offers food, medicine, wax, you can make ale – it’s amazing.”

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