You could say that people flock to mixologist Matthew Biancaniello's drinks like bees to honey, but he's the one going to the bees for honey--literally. The bartender now has his own bee colony on an Agoura Hills farm; soon he'll be harvesting honey for the creative concoctions he serves at the Library Bar at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
Biancaniello uses fresh, seasonal ingredients from the farmers' markets--everything from herbs to peppers, tomatoes, mulberries, micro greens and even radishes--for his drinks. He also picks up local honey for his infused syrups and sweeteners. "Using honey in cocktails goes back to classics like the Penicillin and Gold Rush," he says. "The flavor comes through so beautifully, especially in whiskey cocktails."
Since he can't start a farm to grow his own produce--yet, but he's working on it--Biancaniello turned to bees. "They're just more feasible right now," he adds, as if it's the easiest thing in the world to be an apiarist.
He worked closely with Bill Lewis from Bill's Bees, who brought in 30,000 bees from the Angeles National Forest, and set up a box on a friend's farm. The colony has already doubled in size in just two weeks, which means the bees are healthy and happy--and why wouldn't they be with all the lavender and purple sage pollen to collect. He's already adding another box since the colony is growing so fast, and hopes to get to 250,000 bees by next year.
He's excited for the honey, but he's truly smitten by the workers: "These are gentle, clean bees. What they've done in two weeks is just fascinating." That fascination isn't new --Biancaniello's brother, Mark, currently holds the Guinness Book of World Records for being covered in bees (more than 350,000 of them).
If the colony continues to thrive, Biancaniello might start harvesting his own honey as early as August, but he figures he'll have to wait at least a year. So for now he'll continue using the farmers' market honey for cocktails like this classic Sling made with blueberry-honey-thyme syrup:
Honey Thyme Sling
Recipe adapted from Matthew Biancaniello
Makes 1 drink
For the honey syrup:
1 pint fresh blueberries
1 cup water
1cup (approximately) buckwheat honey
7-8 fresh thyme sprigs
In a small pot over low heat, add the blueberries and water and cook for 1 hour. Add equal parts honey to the reduced syrup (about 1 cup), and the thyme sprigs and let it cool at room temperature for 4 to 6 hours. The syrup will keep in the refrigerator for up to one week.
For the drink:
2 oz Rittenhouse 100 rye whiskey
¾ ounce honey-blueberry-thyme syrup
2 dashes Jerry Thomas' aromatic bitters
Fill a rocks glass with ice (or one big ice cube), add the whiskey, syrup and bitters and stir. Serve.