SATURDAY night. So ToM’s in a railway arch with whatever’s the collective name for a group of urban beekeepers. The bees themselves have the copyright on swarm. The reason we’ve descended on Runaway Brewery in the Green Quarter? The debut of a unique Smoked Braggot collab between Wild Beer and Runaway.
They describe their joint effort as “a medieval Honey Beer recipe remade for our modern times”. We’ve certainly never tasted anything quite like this smoothly delicious cross between ale and mead made with raw and unfiltered local honey, supplied by beekeepers and apiaries from Greater Manchester. Pollen and floral notes of the region’s summer and autumn flowers are in the braggot, which was fermented with Belgian yeast.
Previous collaborations between Brew Wild (an extension of the Grow Wild community project) with RedWillow and Blackjack breweries respectively have been more conventional – Honey and Herb Ale and Manchester Honey Pale Ale Like its predecessors the Smoked Braggot will be on sale in the shop at Manchester Art Gallery, one of several iconic buildings hosting hives (notably Manchester Cathedral and The Printworks). The Gallery’s honey is wittily called ‘Bee-Raphaelite’.
For extra measure, the smoked malt brewer Mark Welsby used in the fermentation is to invoke the chimney stacks of industrial Manchester and Salford. Great play is made, too, of the industrial back story of the River Irk Valley, from Runaway all the way up to Harpurhey, source of some of the honey.
How many knees do you get from bees?
A genuine connection is being made here at a a time when every new bar/eaterie on the block has jumped on the bee bandwagon. Dirty Martini cocktail bar on Deansgate launched with a ‘Manchestini’ special consisting of bee pollen, liquid honey, dried lavender, lemon juice, coconut water, Kalani coconut rum liquor and Manchester Gin, garnished with a mini honey dipper, encrusted with honeycomb.
Another newcomer, Alston Bar & Beef, in the Corn Exchange is offering ‘Cathedral Bees Knees’ made with local gin and honey from Manchester Cathedral across the street, while Impossible on Peter Street’s new cocktail menu promises its own ‘Bee’s Knees’ featuring gin, Manchester honey, egg whites, lavender and lemon juice.
A different tack over at the Malmaison. Challenged along with 14 fellow hotels in the group to come up with a cocktail appropriate to their city they created ‘Be Have’ (Hendrick’s Gin, Cointreau, honey, lemon, egg white, ginger ale). Meanwhile, high above the bee line, Cloud 23 summoned up their Bee On Time mocktail. Think bee pollen, lemon sherbet, apple juice and sage in the mix. Brewers are in on the act, too, but most honey beers skimp on the ‘pollen count’ and lack the intensity of the Braggot.
Meet the Mead Makers at Beer Nouveau
Horwich-based Lancashire Mead Makers keep their honey booze simple, properly fermenting honey to make traditional mead (not that monkish tourist stuff). There’s a chance to taste their range at a tasting at Beer Nouveau brewery tap on Sunday, December 10 (2pm-5.30pm). They'll be bringing eight different sorts of meads, all bearing suitably pagan names – Dragonsbreath Mead and Thor Mead –because their creator Gordon Baron is a druid. It’s free to reserve via eventbrite and costs £15 on the door at 75 North Western Street, Manchester, M12 6DY.
Honey that’s truly Heavenly
Popping into Salvi’s Corn Exchange the other day to purchase a couple of their mozzarellas (those you carry away in a bag of liquid like goldfish home from the fair) we couldn’t resist acquiring a jar of Manchester Cathedral’s Heavenly Honey off the counter. Its availability is limited but Salvi’s owner Maurizo Cecco is putting his allocation to good use on the menu in the likes of Parma ham with figs and honey and beetroot ravioli filled with ricotta and honey in a roasted pine nut, honey and pancetta sauce.
The Heavenly Honey is sold to raise funds for the Cathedral’s volunteer project, Volition Community, which supports the long-term jobless in Greater Manchester to gain employment. Helping with the beekeeping on the Cathdedral rooftop is a start.
Invasion of the Giant Honey Bees
Just sculptures, thankfully, but should create quite a buzz. The ‘Bee in the City Trail’ will see more than 80 of the super-sized insects installed across public landmark sites. Each fibreglass creation will stand 1.5 metres high with its own unique design created by artists from around the region. Organisers were also behind CowParade Manchester back in 2004. They really milked that one. Follow @BeeInTheCityMCR.
A bee is not just for Christmas…
If you are as fascinated as ToM by the work of the urban beekepers of Manchester this beautifully illustrated new book’s for you. Alongside a pot of local honey the perfect Christmas stocking filler. All proceeds go to Manchester Charities. Available from @MCRbeeQuest