I'm going to let you in on a little secret: The first batch of Winter White Honey was actually kind of an accident. GASP! I know, right? Hard to believe the origin of this seasonal sensation was a fluke.
Here's another crazy little tidbit about that first batch: We used to say this honey was from where the reindeer roam because it came from none other than the Arctic Circle. I don't know about you, but when I think of the Arctic Circle, I think of a bleak, snow-covered landscape. Are flowers even able to grow there? Can bees even survive? Apparently both are possible because, while the Arctic Circle is generally cold and winter temps can fall below -58 degrees F, certain areas are somewhat mild with summers in the 80s. You learn something every day.
Anyhow, back to the story. In 2005, Ted's friend Santiago sent him a sample of honey from northern Finland (in the Arctic Circle). The nectar sources were mainly berry and arctic wildflowers, and the honey was medium in color and had a delicious light flavor.
Ted loved it and bought three barrels of it. Here's another wacky fact: Because the apiary where that honey was made was in such a remote area (in the Arctic Circle), the only way to transport the barrels the 5,000 miles from there to Savannah was to airlift them.
We Have a Situation
When the barrels finally arrived, Ted opened them to find not the beautifully light viscous honey he had sampled months before but a thick mass of crystallized honey. Un-pourable, un-bottleable, nearly solidified. Ummmmm.
Up until then, Savannah Bee only had dealt with honey that rarely crystallizes, namely Tupelo and Sourwood. So this was ... a challenge – both for production and marketing. Part 1: Somehow get people to buy it. Part 2: Somehow get it in the jars.
Ted came up with the idea of playing up the fact that the honey was from, you guessed it, the Arctic Circle, where there’s lots of white snow and it basically looks like winter (especially to a Southerner). Also, the honey in its crystallized form is a creamy white, and it’s only available in winter. From there came the name Winter White. Part 1 complete!
The Meat Grinder
At that point in Savannah Bee's history, we didn’t have a hot house; therefore, melting out the honey so it could be run through the bottling machine was not an option. (Plus, Ted didn’t want to ruin the taste of the honey but rather work with its natural tendency to crystallize.)
The team tried a few methods – scooping it into the jars with a spoon, filling a baker’s bag and squirting it into the jars, just to name a few, until they came up with something that worked.
Which brings us to yet another quirky truth about this first batch of Winter White: it was run through a cheap plastic meat grinder and funneled into the jars one at a time by hand. This is a perfect example of how smart and scrappy we had to be back then in this company's infancy. Smart and scrappy is a lot of what has kept us going all these years.
A few employees took a turns at the grinder but the bulk of it fell on Jorge, a former and beloved employee. The grinder was so cheap and loud Ted sequestered it to the break room.
The small team filled 3,300 3oz jars and 1,600 12oz jars using this genius process. They also hand-labeled every jar. It took weeks and weeks to get it ready, but that first batch was an instant hit, both with customers and employees.
You've Come a Long Way, Honey
Over the years, the Winter White production process has undergone many changes. The honey now comes from a domestic source out West only because we couldn’t get a consistent supply from Finland. Through much trial and error we discovered how to "cream" the honey on purpose, which is a lot of science and a lot of art.
We've also made some major equipment upgrades. We moved from the meat grinder to mixing the honey in a 80-gallon stainless steel tank using a mixer blade attached to a power drill, still filling the jars by hand one at a time. Then we graduated to a giant commercial grade mixer we call the pterodactyl, which finally made it possible to run through the bottling machine.
Yes, Winter White has come a long way since the delivery of those first three solidified barrels. It has become almost iconic to our customers with its red label and snowflake design. One thing that hasn't changed: everyone's love for it.