Asheville – The 2nd annual Honey Festival will take place Sunday, June 4th, from 12–6 pm at Salvage Station on Riverside Drive. This festival is filled with all kinds of activities. There will be over 40 vendors,live music on stage in the courtyard (The Barsters, Queen Bee and the Honey Lovers, Chikomo Marimba, a Zimbabwean Marimba group, and Sol Driven Train), and food trucks, including soul food from Root Down Kitchen. In addition, there are many activities for the youngsters, including a kid’s scavenger hunt, face painting, an active bee hive for observation, and possibly even some stilt-walking bees parading. During the day, there will be a local people’s choice contest for local honey vendors. Costumes are encouraged by all.
This is the 12th year of the Black Jar Honey Contest, an international contest held by the Center of Honeybee Research, which asks a panel of judges to pick the best-tasting honey from samples sent in by beekeepers from around the world. Originally this event was held as a black tie evening at the Renaissance Hotel, but after COVID, the Black Jar Contest moved to be a part of the Honey Festival. The honey in this contest is judged solely on taste, not appearance, smell, or color. This contest is one of the few where the honey is judged solely on taste and not on visual characteristics such as clarity, foam, texture, or particles in the honey. The jars of honey are covered in black fabric, so the judges cannot see the visual characteristics or be swayed by the look of the honey. The judges are not allowed to talk to each other about the honey, so no one can influence or sway the others.
Containers of honey have been sent from all over the world to the Center of Honeybee Research, a grassroots, educational, and research non-profit organization founded to collect objective data for the benefit of researchers, beekeepers, and policymakers—to ensure the survival of the honeybee. Carl Chesick is the Executive Director, whose primary vision is to sustain pollinator survival as the Center searches for answers to understand the critical components of today’s bee decline. The endangerment of bees and the decrease in colony population is a major source of concern and has been for the past few years. The Center of Honeybee Research addresses this problem.
Contestants for the Black Jar Contest needed to have their honey arrive in Asheville by March 1st, so judging could begin. Alas, this year international postage increased considerably, so there were fewer than usual international jars entered. However, jars did arrive to enter the contest from the United States, Brazil, Canada, Australia, Uruguay, Israel, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Hungary, Turkey, Egypt, and elsewhere. This year’s grand prize winner will receive the amazing amount of $6,000, their name on a large Best Tasting Honey trophy, and publicity on the Center’s website. Of course, they then have bragging rights around the world for having been judged to be the beekeeper who produced the finest tasting honey in 2023, an impressive feat.
There are a number of judges chosen for this contest who taste the honey—some local and others from further afield. A few to mention are Bo Sterk from Florida, who has a non-profit organization that focuses on training and education in the Caribbean called Bees Beyond Borders; beekeeper Samantha Foxx Winship of Mothers Finest Family Farm in Winston-Salem; Kenyon Lake, founder of My Daddy Taught Me That; Jason Boyer, meteorologist; Kimberly King, both of WLOS; Peter Pollay of Posana’s restaurant; and Daniel Iyari, a fine art photographer from Mexico. From March until this festival in June, the judges have had to pare down the entries.
On June 4th, the honey of the 30 finalists is tasted by the judges on a slim black straw. A vote for the top ten is made. After approximately an hour, another tasting followed by a vote is taken. Then the 2023 Blue Ribbon winner can be announced. Winning this contest is considered quite an honor and achievement, which is well recognized by beekeepers throughout the world. Visitors who want to buy jars of these international honeys should be sure to get to the festival early. A few jars from the beekeepers, who have entered from around the world, will be available for sale, with the proceeds going to the Center for Honeybee Research. Last year, it was Genevieve and Richard Drutchas, a beekeeper in Worcester, Vermont, who had once been the first full-time bee inspectors for the state. In 2021, it was Hekenoa (Taawi) Te Kurapa (head beekeeper at Manawa Honey NZ) of Ruatahuna, New Zealand.
Any beekeeper will tell you that making honey is no simple task and can involve worry, sweat, stings, and sore muscles. But in the final analysis, the taste of that honey is what is decided here.This is determined by the flower the bee has visited to gather the nectar. Locally of course one hears a great deal about sourwood honey, but in other parts of the world the bees go to a different blossom. To have a most enjoyable day learning all about beekeepers, bees, and honey, be sure to go to the Salvage Station on Riverside Drive in the afternoon of June 4th from 12–6 pm. The entry fee is $15 for adults; children under 12, teachers and first responders can enter for free. For more information, go to centerforhoneybeeresearch.org or https://salvagestation.com/events/avl-honey-fest-feat-queen-bee-the-honeylovers-2.