We are in Shatili, on the northern slopes of the Caucasus. The village is in Georgia but only a couple of miles from the border with Chechnya. It’s wild country of obvious strategic significance but, more importantly, it’s wonderful beekeeping country.
As our 4×4 climbed higher and higher through the stunning mountains and Alpine meadows I kept my eyes open for beehives and the chance to buy some local honey. At last I saw, stretched out along a hillside overlooking a flower-studded valley, a line of wooden beehives.
We stopped and asked at the house nearby and the owner confirmed that we could buy some. The guide told me it would be twelve lari for a bottle. The translation sounded wrong – I presumed he hadn’t found the English word for ‘jar’ – but the price sounded fine. The owner went inside and came back with a … bottle. In fact, as you could see from the bottle top, it had once been a Fanta bottle but it was now full of a different sticky treat.
The honey is opaque but almost as orange as Fanta too, and I wondered what flower, from those that I had seen on the way up here (plenty that I didn’t recognize or know the name for, along with rich carpets of marjoram, borage, bay willow herb, wild strawberries, dandelions, thistles, clover, St John’s wort, and harebells) would yield such strong-coloured honey.
It’s also strongly-scented– a musky smell with woody notes and lanolin – thought the flavour is light and less distinctive. From the subtle sweetness of geranium I can believe I can identify the thistle (see my post about thistle honey for more, if this sounds paradoxical), followed by a gentle liquorice aftertaste. I catch the ghost of a citrus kick too, but I wonder whether the Fanta bottle just wasn’t thoroughly washed before this honey was decanted.
For more adventures in honey tasting and honey harvesting, see my Travels in Blood and Honey, becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo, published last year by Signal Books