Known as Queen of the Honey World, Tupelo is considered the gold-standard of honey, with its smooth, buttery-sweet taste perfect for any use. Once in a while, Savannah Bee Company owner Ted Dennard comes across a Tupelo harvest so ideal it becomes our limited edition, special release Tupelo Gold Reserve.
We’re not the only ones who recognize this honey as something extraordinary. The Specialty Food Association does too, recently naming it winner of the 2019 Silver sofi Award in the Honey Category.
The idea for this exceptional honey was of course Ted’s, but all departments here in one way or another contribute to the success of this product. Ted and our COO select and test the special batch of honey; our store educators, sales team, and social media manager spread its romantic story; and our three-man bottling team efficiently bottles and labels each unit.
We all are thrilled about this award, but perhaps no one is as thrilled as Lynn Bellinger. Lynn wears many hats at Savannah Bee Company, but her fanciest (some might say most important) hat is Tupelo Gold Reserve Quality Control Specialist, which is a formal way of saying Lynn is in charge of the beautiful, unique look of our Tupelo Gold Reserve.
Lynn moved to Savannah from Indiana 40 years ago. She began working at Savannah Bee seven years ago as a honeycomb cutter and then moved on to managing that department. When we ceased our in-house honeycomb operations, Lynn moved over to assembly, putting together gift sets and body care kits, as well as handling wholesale returns. She still does all these tasks, in addition to handling the Gold Reserves.
Lynn puts more heart and soul into the Gold Reserves than anyone else at Savannah Bee Company, and she was gracious enough to take me (and you) behind the scenes to demonstrate just how much work goes into this one product.
Respect the Wax
The sweet smell of melting beeswax hits me as soon as I open the door to the Savannah Bee Company warehouse on Wilmington Island. Standing there to greet me is Lynn, a slight woman with a husky voice and a blonde-gray ponytail.
Nearby, elegant flute bottles of Tupelo Gold Reserve stand in neat rows, facing forward, like soldiers at attention. The bottles have already been filled with honey, and the signature blue-and-gold hand-printed 1936 Letter Press labels have been smoothed onto their bases by the bottling department. Lynn has already hand-placed the gold honeybee stickers on the necks.
Lynn explains that a day of preparing Tupelo Gold Reserve starts with one simple but crucial step -- turning on the melting pot. The hardened beeswax needs about three hours to melt and heat to just the right temperature in order for her to get the best seal over the bottle’s cork. If she forgets to turn on the pot first thing in the morning, the day is lost. There will be no dipping that day. The temperature that produces the best wax coating is different for each batch of beeswax Lynn works with, and her experimentation with temperature and dipping techniques over the years has made her The Expert.
“I’m at the mercy of the wax, so I treat it with respect,” Lynn says. “You can’t walk away from this. If it gets too hot, the wax will burn and the coat will be too thin. But if it gets too cold, it starts to solidify. And that can happen in a matter of minutes.”
All About the Swirl
Any observer can tell Lynn cares deeply about her work. She wants each Gold Reserve to look exactly the same. She makes an unhappy face when the wax doesn’t come out perfectly even, and she tells me that bubbles under the wax are her greatest enemy. “It makes them look like they have chicken pox,” she says. Any wax coating that doesn’t come out uniform is soaked off in warm water and the dipping process starts all over again. She tries to get at least 36 to 48 bottles done in one shift, but on this day she’s trying for 108 bottles (nine cases).
Getting a proper coat of wax over the cork and neck of the bottles involves dunking them one at a time into the wax and holding them there for about 10 seconds to make sure no air bubbles form. Lynn then pulls the bottles straight up and twirls them a rotation or two, like a pastry chef making macarons, to stop the wax from dripping. “Otherwise, the wax runs down the bottle and could ruin the labels,” she says.
“It’s all about the swirl,” Lynn says, holding the freshly-dipped bottle up and looking closely at it. It passes inspection, and she neatly places it back in line next to the other golden soldiers. Lynn performs this hand-dipping process on each bottle at least three times before it’s coated to her standards – evenly, cleanly, and without drips or bubbles.
If you think this sounds easy, you’re wrong. This is not assembly line mass-production. It is hand-craftsmanship, attention to detail, caring. “I have tried to train others to do this, but they don’t quite do it to my standards. And it’s also back-breaking work,” Lynn says with a big smile.
Most other Savannah Bee employees are often too intimidated to even attempt handling the Gold Reserves. “I try to tell them, other than dropping them and breaking them, anything else that messes up can be fixed,” Lynn says.
The wax is so fragile, the dipping is the next-to-last part of the process. Once that painstaking task is done and the wax has cooled and dried, Ted signs and hand-numbers the labels. Then Lynn carefully polishes the bottles before placing each one in a Canadian Birch cylinder and enclosing it in a decorative box.
“It’s a labor of love,” Lynn tells me with a serious smile.
More About the sofi™ Awards
The Specialty Food Association’s sofi™ Awards is like the Academy Awards of the $140 billion specialty food industry. Our Tupelo Gold Reserve was one of 148 winners selected by a national panel of specialty food experts from nearly 2,000 entries across 39 categories.
Every eligible entry is carefully assessed by passionate and knowledgeable food professionals including chefs, culinary experts, academics, food writers, and category buyers. Products are judged on taste, including flavor, appearance, texture and aroma, ingredient quality and innovation. All tastings are blind.
The sofi™Awards are open to members of the Specialty Food Association, a not-for-profit trade association established in 1952 for food artisans, importers and entrepreneurs with more than 3,800 members in the U.S. and abroad.