Behind the Bottle: The Buzz about Bee Vodka
Bill Martin, co-owner and distiller at Montezuma Winery and Hidden Marsh Distilling, is always on the lookout for his next project. From mead to wine to brandy to liquor, you’ve got a lot of tasting to do if you want to keep up. We asked Bill for the story behind one of their most popular (and cutest) spirits, Bee Vodka, which is made from honey.
Amelia Sauter: Montezuma expanded from a winery to include fruit brandy distilling and is now distilling liquor, too. What do you like about this evolution?
Bill Martin: Having a distillery in a winery opens us up to do all sorts of really cool things. I do our second distilling runs, so every weekend I get to come in and play with all the ‘toys’ instead of sitting in my office. We were actually the first ones in the Finger Lakes to own a column still.
AS: Why did you start with vodka?
BM: At that point, in 2007, vodka was the hot thing that everybody was drinking. We didn’t have the equipment to mash grain like we do now, so at first we were thinking about distilling with apples. Then I thought, we gotta use honey because we’ve been beekeepers forever. It’s a no-brainer for us. And the great thing about honey is it’s stable so we can work with it anytime of the year, unlike grapes. Honey is one of the only perfect foods in the world: It never spoils, until you add water to it.
AS: I was surprised your vodka didn’t taste more like honey, but then I thought, potato vodka doesn’t taste like potatoes.
BM: The definition of vodka is a clear neutral spirit. We’re pushing that definition. Our vodka tends to be a creamier in the mouth than a grain vodka. Of course, it isn’t sweet like honey, though it has a little bit of a butterscotchy character to it.
AS: I haven’t tried it in a cocktail yet. How do you like to drink it?
BM: I’m admittedly the worst mixologist in the world, so my recipes are pretty straightforward. We make martinis with it; I like olives in mine. When I get home from work, I make a cocktail with two-thirds Cranberry Bog, a Montezuma wine, and onethird vodka. It’s phenomenal.
AS: I love your Bee Hot Vodka that you infused with hot peppers.
BM: We actually had an intern come and do months of experimentation until we found the right blend of peppers. That was the hardest tasting I’ve ever done. I think we had 25 different trials to taste. Our mouths were on fire from some of the stuff.
AS: Is Bee Vodka gluten-free?
BM: Obviously there’s no gluten in honey. However, we’re distilling whiskey through the same still. We don’t make any claims of being gluten-free because we’re in a gluten-rich environment.
AS: Your Bee label is really eye-catching!
BM: Even though we’re long removed from honey production, it’s still in our blood. Everything that’s here was built up because of our beekeeping business. It’s one of those weird turns that life takes you down. Who would think that when I was a kid beekeeping that later I’d be making alcohol out of honey?
2981 Auburn Road, Seneca Falls, 315.568.8190, montezumawinery.com