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From Bees To Bottle, How Bees Make Honey

In part two of Bees To Bottle, we’ll show you how the Rogue Farms honeybees turn watery nectar into the sweet, delicious honey we use to brew our honey beers.


Before we get started, here’s an unpleasant truth about honey. Honey is bee barf. It’s nothing to be grossed out about. We’ll tell you why in a moment.

Foraging bees return to the hive with a full load of nectar.
Foraging bees return to the hive with a full load of nectar.

Honeybees are impressive workers. They don’t stop until the job is done. A foraging bee gathers nectar from flowers until she’s fully loaded. On a good day, that could be as few as 50 flowers. On a hard day, she may have to visit 1,500 flowers before filling up.

Back at the hive, she transfers the nectar to a house bee who begins the process of making honey from nectar.

Honeybees will process and regurgitate nectar for as long as 20 minutes before storing it in a honeycomb cell.
Honeybees will process and regurgitate nectar for as long as 20 minutes before storing it in a honeycomb cell.

How does nectar become honey? This is the part we warned you about.

  1. The honeybees swallow the nectar and put it in a special stomach called a honey crop.
  2. They secrete enzymes to break down the complex sugars into simple ones.
  3. They barf up the nectar and swallow it again.
  4. They’ll do this for as long as 20 minutes, or until the moisture level drops from 80% to 20%, and the watery nectar becomes syrupy and sweet.

As gross as this may sound, the process makes honey one of the safest natural foods and even gives it healing properties. Stick with us a bit longer.

A honeybee fans her wings, creating a breeze that dries out the honey.
A honeybee fans her wings, creating a breeze that dries out the honey.

After the sugars in the nectar are broken down, and most of the moisture is removed, the bees deposit the sticky substance into the cell of a honeycomb.

Honeybees hover above the cells, creating a breeze that reduces moisture from 20% to 17%. Then they cap the cells with a wax seal and repeat the process. It takes one to three days to turn nectar into honey.

Honeybees store honey in small cells that are capped with wax.
Honeybees store honey in small cells that are capped with wax.

Bee barf is amazing stuff. It’s almost impossible to spoil. Honey is too dry for bacteria and mold to grow, and the acids created by enzymes make it even safer. You can store honey on a shelf for years.

Some anthropologists tested this theory under extreme conditions when they found 3,000 year old honey in an Egyptian tomb. They ate it, and despite the centuries sitting around, the honey was perfectly edible.

Honey also contains trace amounts of hydrogen peroxide. It can be used as a dressing for wounds if nothing else is available.

Next week, we’ll show you how we harvest the honey we use to brew Rogue Ales Marionberry Braggot and Honey Koslch.

Here’s what we pull from the hive, a perfectly sealed honeycomb filled with honey.
Here’s what we pull from the hive, a perfectly sealed honeycomb filled with honey.

Honey is just one of the ingredients we grow at Rogue Farms for our beers, spirits, ciders and sodas. Drop by the farm and you’ll find marionberries bursting with berries, sprouting pumpkins, corn and cucumbers, and hops climbing like crazy. Join us!

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