This week began with me being one of the judges for the London International Honey Awards.
Ten of us, led by Dr Gian Luigi Marcazzan and Raffaele Dal’Olio spent a long full day tasting samples sent to London from around the globe.
We met together on Sunday in London’s Hilton Doubletree Riverside Hotel, a short ferry ride from Canary Wharf. Arriving on the jetty of what felt like a remote island, added to the excitement along with the detachment from distractions, required when judging.
Unlike standard UK honey shows where a first second and third prize are favoured, our role was to judge each honey independently.
Blind tasting using ‘organoleptic analysis’ of each sample evaluating several characteristics and giving them a numerical rating.
With a form listing headings including ‘presentation’, ‘Clarity’, ‘aroma’ and ‘gustatory sensation’ we had a strict procedure to follow with each sample.
Marking each of the six categories out of 100, a calculation using a coefficient fraction . was then made before adding the totals together giving a final mark. This ensured that the total mark was no higher than 100.
The honey samples were each taken from their original jars into a covered wine glass. The honeys were also categorised into unifloral ( single variety) and multifloral ( mixed flower variety), and again into light, dark, honeydew, creamed and infused.
George Kouvelis of Confexpo ltd had organised this event following the success of his international olive oil awards. Both the oils and honeys had a design and packaging category that was judged before we arrived.
The first evening, we dined together, many of us had met before, during our honey tasting training in Bologna, or at Apimondia. Dr Sladan Rasic of Serbia, and I met in 2017 in Bologna, and I was so pleased to see him again.
I’d brought a small basket with me containing a selection of my more unusual honeys, unlikely to have been entered.
We warmed up our taste buds as I shared the stories of South African Bucca, Omani Sidr, Bhutanese honeys and a small pot from my own bees. We were all eager to get started, sharing tales of honeys and beekeepers, happy to be in the company of other honey and bee specialists.
Emre Yildirim runs Apimaye, a beekeeping equipment company in Turkey. We had plenty to chat about with his knowledge and experience working around the middle and far east. We shared a few contacts too! I am learning that it is a small world where bees are concerned.
He had a wealth of knowledge about China and the beekeepers there, having designed a hive for use in a country where tree felling is forbidden and so wooden beehives can no longer be made. His hive has been tested by Sladan in Serbia, proving to be most effective in successfully keeping bees through harsh winters. It raised the whole ‘plastic’ debate, forcing us all to consider the differences between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ plastics.
Some of the honeys judged had aromas from smoke, common in honey from beekeepers over using smokers when extracting the honey. This is not desirable to achieve a high gold standard score. There could also be chemical flavours, again residues from treatments used in hives by the beekeepers, or during their extraction. Soapy containers, or even rusty ones, can all taint a delicate honey.
Monday saw a long and full day tasting honeys in groups of 4 or 5. Each table of judges worked together combining our scores for each sample, then discussing any discrepancies to agree a final mark for each honey. After four hours of honey tasting and judging we broke for lunch. Despite working all morning with Peter, Miguel and Laila, we barely had a chance to get to know each other. The afternoon saw us working our way through a further 27 honeys.
With all our varied backgrounds and experience, the comprehensive evaluation form ensured that almost all of our decisions were unanimous. Where we had a wider discrepancy, we would go through all of our assessments and calculations, discussing why each of us had given a certain value. Our final scores were added together and a mean calculated which would be the final score.
To maintain a clear palette, we would only drink water and had fresh green apples to eat in between honeys. As honey is hydrophilic, we all consumed a vast quantity of water through the day.
Out of the 48 honeys our group tasted, there were only three outstanding honeys, that we were able to award Gold or Platinum status. At the other end of the scale there were only a few that were rejected due to fermentation or contamination. Overall the standard was impressive, and I would be happy to include most of them in my personal collection.
To see the winners of the various awards keep an eye on the website www.londonhoneyawards.com