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Honeysuckle Season


When you go to fetch the mail at Fair Game Beverage, honeysuckle season slaps you in the face.  At the base of Starrlight Mead, right across from the mailbox,  there is a vast honeysuckle vine entwined with a wild rose.


If you are Lisa Pigeon, running our cocktail program, that smell means it’s time for the Seasonal French 75. Time to reach for our Balancing Act Gin.


"What is the official opening day for gin season?" I wonder. The honeysuckle is hitting on May 8th. Picking will rapidly improve, then blossoms will taper, and vanish. Gone for another year.


A World War I invention, the French 75 was named after the 75mm field gun the French had introduced to the fight. That gun would put the enemy on their ass. This cocktail won't do that. Here's our recipe:



1 oz Balancing Act Gin

1 oz Honeysuckle syrup

1 oz Lemon Juice

2 oz Sparkling Wine

Shake and strain the first three ingredients into a martini glass. Top with sparkling wine. Garnish with a lemon twist and flower. 


How to make a floral syrup:


Remove stems and leaves from edible flowers and soak the blossoms in water overnight. Strain water into a sauce pot and add an equal amount of sugar. Lightly simmer until the sugar is melted. Do not boil- this will make the syrup bitter. Remove from heat and pour warm syrup over the flowers. Steep flowers in syrup overnight. Strain into a mason jar and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. 


Honeysuckle deliciousness didn't begin at Fair Game. There was a day when it was the domain of Crook's Corner. That was a fine dining establishment in Chapel Hill-Carrboro at the hand of celebrity chef Bill Smith.


Every year Crook’s would drop a honeysuckle sorbet that would serve as a cornerstone for the season. Crook's work with honeysuckle was a multi generational hit.

 

Honeysuckle came to our door via Chef Whitney Dane.  She worked at the Honeysuckle Tea House out at Picards Mountain and developed a recipe for honeysuckle tea, which they sold fresh but never bottled.

 

After leaving their employ, she came down Lorax Lane with a recipe and a giant mason jar of honeysuckle tea, explaining there was a fortune to be made by commercially manufacturing the product.

 

Making a fortune sounded good to us.

 

Fair Game entered the honeysuckle space in 2020, with the help of Kersten Fitzgerald.  We hired neighborhood kids to pick blossoms, which we used in a cold infusion and blended with black Asheville Tea and organic sugar.

 

We didn’t have a commercial kitchen at the time, so we released our Honeysuckle Sweet Tea as an “experimental wine” under our winery license. It was a non-alcoholic product.

 

The tea sold out quickly.  Pleased by the strong sales we partnered with Romanz Tea out of Durham for our 2022 production. 

 

We shipped pounds of blossoms to Durham, but the tea that came back tasted the same as Romanz normal product.  Sales tripled—but were slow—and the product was unremarkable. It was an early “pantry outsourcing” experiment that failed.  Everyone was disappointed.

 

In 2022 Karen Howard took charge of our honeysuckle tea, and we produced another in-house batch.  It shot through the till like the first run.  Karen modified the recipe—moving the blossoms into syrup, and then blending with the tea.

 

By 2023 Fair Game’s Pantry operation had grown significantly, and bottling honeysuckle tea was not a large enough contributor to be worth the endeavor.

 

2023 was also the year Lisa Pigeon joined Fair Game and was taking control of our cocktail program.  She converted the honeysuckle harvest into a syrup of her own design and introduced a seasonal French 75 using honeysuckle, and our Balancing Act Gin.


That's about the time that our cocktail game began to take off...




 



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