Since becoming Canada’s Bacardi Legacy 2020 Champion with his ‘Plight of the Bumblebee’ cocktail, Botanist bartender Max Curzon-Price has been challenging bartenders to join the campaign for pollinator sustainability through his new initiative, Hive of Apiarists.
To date, Hive of Apiarists has garnered plenty of buzz, taking off in over 30 establishments across 16 countries (including Botanist, Lobby Lounge, L’Abattoir and The Diamond here in Vancouver). All the participants are currently serving up their own special versions of the award-winning drink – each featuring honey procured from their own local bee population – and donating a portion of the proceeds to fund the beekeeping education of three lucky Canadians. We recently caught up with Max and rose a glass in honour of the humble bumblebee…
Where does your interest in the local flora and fauna come from? What inspired you to take that curiosity up a notch and become a behind-the-bar environmental activist?
Truth be told, it’s hard to not find inspiration in the flora and local life of British Columbia. When I arrived here three years ago, I was blown away by the bio-diversity of the land and began to consider the seasonal bounties that rotate throughout the year in the Pacific North West. I began organise small community events, my first bringing a spotlight to First Nations sustainability practices, demonstrating how we can be more mindful by remembering that people lived from this land for millennia – never taking more than they needed.
As my work has developed, I started to feel a sense of responsibility to use the stage we stand upon as a bartenders. I wanted to speak about relevant matters and craft cocktails that related to these issues. Drinking is such a visceral experience that involves every one of our senses, using the space to ignite important topical conversations further allows us to evoke emotion. With an honourable cause and beautiful rum in hand, our industry can make waves of change from the ripples of our conversations.
“As a species, our ability to organise and work as a unit is really rather similar to the way that a bee hive operates.”
Describe to me the honey that you use in your Plight of the Bumblebee cocktail. Where is it from? What are its distinct characteristics and flavour profile?
The honey that I selected from my trials of over twenty different local options comes from a small set up in Queen Elizabeth Park. The honey is available to purchase from Main Street Honey Shoppe. I had the pleasure of meeting the two individuals who tend to the hives themselves, Tony and his young apprentice Kelsey. Both are wonderful individuals who have been helpful in the selection and supply of the honey! The profile of the honey is bright and fragrant, I get some floral tones and little bit of a tobacco leaf note on the back.
To date, what has been the most intriguing or unusual re-imagining of the ‘Plight of the Bumblebee’ that has been made to your knowledge?
Walid Merhi of Ferdinand Bar in Beirut is a farmer/beekeeper himself and grows grapefruits and lemons under the hot Lebanese sun. Walid is pouring Plight Of The Bumblebee using all of his own hand harvested produce, including honey made from the blossoms of his citrus trees! I would love to have the opportunity to taste something that is a pure expression of the land and hands that tend to it.
What other ingredient(s) can you see this initiative translating to in the future?
I would love to see expressions of this initiative entering rooftop gardens. A glass of liquid or plate of food made from fruits and vegetables all grown in the same space – what grows together goes together after all. One of our subsidy recipients, Thomas Yeo, runs Atwater Cocktail Club in Montreal; he is using the program to introduce hives into their rooftop garden. I can’t wait to see how their rooftop garden blooms with the assistance of honey bees.
What is the key to engaging the BC bartending community at large and getting them to care about the bigger picture of the ingredients they are using? What are the unique challenges and pay-offs?
My Legacy journey has led me to host a number of educational seminars to promote the utilisation of pollinator produce. We’re quite used to hearing that we should ‘buy local’ to reduce our carbon footprint and support local commerce, however by pouring local honey we create the demand and space for pollinators to expand their work meaning we can see richer, more vibrant spaces in our neighbourhoods.
I’ve had such a positive response from different communities of our industry, who are all fascinated at how much richer the produce tastes than blended, store bought honey. I truly feel that once you taste the difference, you’ll struggle to reach for the cheaper option. I feel it mitigates the cost knowing that you’re helping create spaces for the species that cannot protect themselves.
What, if any, experience do you personally have with beekeeping? What have been the most revelatory discoveries you’ve made about the apiary world since you started this endeavour?
I myself have no experience in actual beekeeping…yet. I have every intention of becoming more involved in the year ahead of me; it’s been utterly fascinating digging into the world of modern apiaries. I was blown away when I began to learn just how much work goes into every drop of honey; you begin to recognise it as the resource it truly is – every drop is flora turned into flavour.
I later started to consider the similarities between the work that bees do and the stages of building a cocktail. How many bees did it take to create enough honey for one single Plight Of The Bumblebee? How many hands did it take to create one craft cocktail? Citrus fruit from Mexico, hand harvested botanicals distilled in Italy, eight years of rum ageing in Puerto Rico and blending by hand. Hundreds of people have influence on just one drink. As a species, our ability to organise and work as a unit is really rather similar to the way that a bee hive operates.
What has the response been like from real life customers, so far?
I’ve had such a wonderful response from our guests. I ensure to take a moment to explain the cocktail, the program affiliated and the reach the drink now has — I believe we’re up to almost 4,500 sold worldwide.
When your guest can enjoy a well balanced cocktail, know that they’re a contributing factor of a larger program and leave feeling as though they’ve done something good, you’ve succeeded in providing a full, complete hospitality experience.
Are there any plans to bring together the different regional cocktails into a single arena in the future?
I asked some of my friends in the early stages of global engagement if they could send me some some samples of the honey that they would be pouring. I made six renditions of my drink at home pouring Canadian, Mexican, English, Japanese, Panamanian and American honey. There was noticeable difference between each drink in colour, aroma and flavour – some bright and fragrant, others were darker and earthier, almost smokey. The drinks and honeys in them are as diverse and versatile as the countries they hail from.