I never meant it to end this way, but the red mist just sort of descended… I felt that I had been insulted and I took it personally. To be fair, they put up a good fight – I was exhausted by the end of the duel. But I just didn’t know my own strength. By the time I came to my senses and realised what I had done. It was too late.
I was stood there. Dripping from head to toe in crimson. It was like a crime scene, the evidence of the brawl etched across the walls and ceiling, each scarlet streak the teller of its own tale. There was no way out of this…it was a situation of my own making and I was going to pay the price. It was something I would have to live with for the rest of my life, with constant reminders.
I should at this stage point out that this story is far less sinister, and far more middle class, than the introduction may have had you believe. Despite the intimidation factor of my 5ft11 frame, well educated demeanour and aversion to confrontation (I am well ‘gangster’) this wasn’t the bare knuckle fight to the death that I may have portrayed…
In fact. I was in the midst of trying to open a stubborn bottle of red wine, reluctant to share the tannins it bestowed. My wife had spent several minutes attempting to remove the cork to no avail, when came the call that we men folk all secretly dread; ‘can you just open this?!’. ‘Just’, she says. I’m now in a situation where failure is not an option. To this day, despite having been together for 17 years, I see any invitation to remove the lid from a jar as a test to prove my worthiness.
One of us was going to lose this battle; and it wouldn’t be me.
I adopted a stance befitting of a professional strong man and adjusted my grip on the corkscrew. After what seemed an eternity of struggling, I refused to ‘bottle it’ (if you’ll excuse the pun). With one final yank the cork came free!
The explosion that followed, supported by the vacuum of a bottle determined to have the last laugh, is not to be underestimated. Though we hadn’t anticipated decorating the kitchen, the volume of red wine that fountained from the bottle had other ideas.
I stood there, in a state of shock, almost afraid to move. I looked up at my bemused wife, whose jaw by this point was almost on the floor. I was more than a little red faced – not least from the unruly vintage.
The scars of that event lived on the kitchen walls for the next three years, before we eventually conceded to the need to apply a lick of paint if we were ever going to sell the house! But no amount of emulsion can paint over the cutting jibes still dished out by my wife to this very day, whenever a bottle of red wine lays in wait. It still ‘stings’.
Unsurprisingly, I tend to opt for a screw top these days…
Speaking of a ‘sticky’ situation, with a ‘sting in the tail’, this leads me nicely on to the subject of my latest review; The Apiarist.
A family business, an environmental project and an award-winning producer, this husband and wife set up are located near my old stomping ground of Lichfield, and have turned a hobby into an obsession and passion.
Having started out with an interest in honeybees, The Apiarist are now making some incredible spirits with the infusion of honey. And perhaps most intriguing of all, and the subject of this review, is the latest expression in the line up, ‘Propolis Gin’, which uses ‘Bee glue’ as a key component (don’t worry…I’ll explain shortly).
I was ‘buzzing’ to learn more…
The Apiarist; Honey to the Bee
Meet the Conti’s. Founded in 2020, Alex and Natalie Conti managed to find some positives during the depths of the pandemic restrictions (not an easy feat!). Having become accustomed to spending time out on the road and away from home for their ‘9 to 5’ business venture in the travel industry, the Covid outbreak suddenly meant that the family were back home together with a little more time on their hands.
With the day job being put on hold, and wanting to use the opportunity to spend more time outdoors educating their children amongst nature, the keen beekeepers decided that a lockdown extension of their apiary (a ‘bee yard’ full of Bee Hives to you and me) was just the ticket.
With their honey production subsequently reaching an all time high, thanks to both the physical expansion of the apiary and a well received incentive programme introduced by Alex (offering the bees a financially attractive package in return for meeting strict quotas) the Conti clan found that they were left with a surplus on their hands.
Alex and Natalie’s thoughts naturally turned towards booze (to which I can certainly relate…). More specifically they started to ponder how they could incorporate their honey in to the production of spirits.
Rather than initially invest in all of the kit, equipment and licensing needed to set up a distillery from scratch, the team turned to the expertise of local Greywood Distillery, makers of Lichfield’s Fifth Spire gin, to launch their flagship creation.
Taking a more stripped back gin base of juniper, coriander, orris root and lemon peel, the original Apiarist expression features the post distillation inclusion of their raw honey and Da Hong Pao tea (which is incidentally the most expensive and rare oolong tea grown in the Wuyi Mountains in China – it’ll certainly leave a ‘sting’ in the wallet).
In explaining more, Alex says;
“Our little apiary, in the shadows of the cathedral city of Lichfield, is where all that magic happens…As our bees forage around the Lichfield countryside, we are proud to know that some of that goodness is going to make the perfect gin & tonic”.
With the plaudits rolling in, and local bars & restaurants taking a keen interest (including the Michelin-starred ‘Purnell’s’ in Birmingham), Alex & Natalie knew they were on to something.
The Apiarist; Creating a Buzz
I was lucky enough to meet Alex and Natalie at a local Christmas market last month (yes in November, what of it?!) and had the pleasure of sampling the range and to hear some of their inspiring story.
The Apiarist team are now armed with an impressive core range of three gins (the aforementioned Apiarist Gin, Foragers Edition Gin and Propolis Gin), a delicious rum, jars of their signature raw honey and even a soap (though the latter is not for ingesting…).
The teams flagship distilled gin carries a bold juniper feel, with pangs of citrus lemon peel and earthier notes of dry tea, against a backdrop of sweetness from the honey that provides a luxurious golden haze.
And I had to raise my eyebrows in impressed recognition of the ‘Foragers Edition’, with its more floral character and hit of elderflower delivering a sweeter and more fruit forward offering.
But perhaps most intriguing of all was the London Dry Propolis Gin, using what can only be described as ‘Bee Glue’ as a key botanical…
Determined to expand the breadth of their expressions in to more classic territory, the Conti’s decided it was time to launch a London (Lichfield) Dry. Key to their process was finding a way to still incorporate their passion for honey, without needing to go down the post distillation additions.
Now, I should clarify at this stage that we’re not talking about miniature Pritt Sticks here. Though that’s would have clearly been amazing!
So what exactly is propolis?
Bees combine the resins they collect from trees and plants with their saliva (gross!) to create propolis, a dark brown, sticky substance that they use to coat the inside of the hive & seal any gaps or holes. It’s antibacterial and anti fungal properties mean that beehives are potentially one of the most sterile places on earth! (unless you’ve experienced the atmosphere at Birmingham City Football Club…don’t @ me!).
The Apiarist: Propolis Gin to Taste
So the question on my lips was “can the bee equivalent of ‘No More Nails’ really deliver the goods when it comes to the taste profile of a gin?”
Luckily for me, Alex was willing to indulge my curiosity…‘Stick’ with me folks and let’s see what all the buzz is about.
On the nose, there is a really unique character that becomes immediately apparent; it’s unlike anything I’ve stuck my face in to before. The aromas feel fruit heavy and delicately perfumed. Think sweet notes of succulent pear, freshly sliced Pink Lady apples and ripe melon, alongside greener vibes of herbaceous coriander and a softer suggestion of eucalyptus. The biggest surprise? Other than the coriander, the other ingredients noted are nowhere near the botanical lineup. In reality, the propolis brings a sweetness and plays tricks with the senses.
Left to evolve in glass, and the citrus oils of the peels grow in confidence and present a more lemon forward experience, appealing to my personal taste preferences when it comes down to classic gin making.
The juniper is mellow and harnesses the pungent pine profile in a balanced and measured way; reassuringly present, whilst not overpowering the other points of interest.
The first thing I’m struck by on tasting neat is the softness of the mouthfeel and smooth nature of the spirit. Once left on the tongue for a while, a warming mid-range longevity develops, but make no doubt about it that this could easily be enjoyed as a sipping gin with next to no alcohol burn to speak of.
The fruited characteristics from the nosing are less evident to taste, with the more classic haze of lemon citrus stepping forwards, which is heartily complemented by the leafy coriander.
The gin is a little more savoury to sip than I had expected. But that said, an element of sweetness is retained, with the propolis bringing a truly different spin on the classic London (Lichfield) Dry. It may just be because I know the background to the brand and the origins of the propolis, but there are hints of honey that can be picked out on the palate.
There’s a resinous, earthy edge to the neat gin, with subtle spicing across the tastebuds. There’s a very faint medicinal whisper on the back notes, which isn’t unpleasant in the slightest – more a reminder that this is a grown up spirit, doing some very clever things indeed.
As a G&T, this really is a delight. I filled the glass with enough ice to embarrass the iceberg that sank the Titanic and garnished with a slice of fresh apple to accentuate the soft fruit profile of the aromas.
The addition of tonic brings forward a more recognisable suggestion of honey sweetness, and also pleasingly bolsters the strength of the juniper. Soft and vibrant flavours of lemon zip through the cocktail, with a delicately balanced nod to coriander in support.
It feels, in a way, at odds with the colder weather outside; the fresh and perfumed elegance of the gin feels like it would better lend itself to a warm spring evening or as a perfect way to cool down on a scorching summers day (whatever they are!). A great excuse to look forward to sunnier days ahead.
The Apiarist; Making it ‘stick’
What is immediately clear, when spending anytime in their company, is that for Alex & Natalie this has never been just about ratcheting up the volume and product range to chase a quick buck – this is a brand with a heart, and a focus on sustainability that is etched in to its ethos;
“Making a great product is not enough, unless it also makes a positive impact to the world.
What started as an interest in the humble honeybee has grown into a larger project that now includes a unique ‘bee forest’, a pollinator-friendly planting scheme, half a dozen incredible products, and a sustained effort to promote biodiversity in our community.”
Oh. And they also make a honey inspired Bee-r (sorry), in support of a local pub that was struggling under the weight of lockdown restrictions. Yum.
As we parted ways earlier this year, it was on a promise from Alex that we would be reacquainted in the new year for a trip to the apiary to meet the worker bees (literally) and get to know the brand a little better. Am I looking forward to it you ask?…
You better Bee-lieve it!
Huge thanks to Alex and Natalie Conti from The Apiarist for my complementary bottle of their Propolis Gin!
‘Bee’…sure to follow the team across social media and their website to see what these busy bees get up to next;
Facebook: The Apiarist Drinks
Stay tuned in 2022 for my revisit to The Apiarist brand, to hopefully see the stripy guys in action at the apiary!
And don’t forget to stop by @theginshelf across all social media platforms for more blogs & event updates. Stop by, say ‘Hi’ & chat gin!