You may think you know everything there is to know about honey. Honey comes from bees, you’re probably thinking. Of course. But did you know that there are more than 350 different kinds of honey?
In the heart of downtown Asheville, you can see for yourself — one step inside Asheville Bee Charmer on Battery Park Avenue, and you’re in honey heaven.
The walls are painted in a hexgonal, honeycomb pattern, and the store is stocked with bee-themed everything, from t-shirts and hats to honey-infused soaps and skincare. But what will stand out the most are the custom-made shelves, taking up an entire wall, piled high with jars of gleaming, golden honey.
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You’ll find the usual suspects — wildflower, sourwood, and Tupelo. Then there’s international honey from France, Italy, Australia, and even Tasmania. Keep browsing and you’ll notice honey infused with flavors ranging from lavender to ghost pepper. The foundation of these sweet, spiced, and herb-infused honeys come straight from the shop’s own hives just outside the city limits, located on Franny’s Farm in Leicester.
Asheville Bee Charmer urges visitors not only to browse and purchase more than 50 honey variations from across the region and the world, but to sample them as well.
Think you’ve tasted honey before? Think again.
The shop features a honey bar specifically for sampling a wide array of the sweet nectar in order to really taste the difference from one to the next. Much like tasting fine wine, co-owner Kim Allen instructs curious customers to taste from light to dark, growing in flavor and intensity. And she’s with you every step of the way — your personal bee-rista.
“It’s fun to see people’s reactions, and to open up their minds a little bit,” Allen says. “They’ve never tasted all the different kinds side by side, whether they’re from the U.S. or internationally, and I think they’re always stunned and surprised.”
Co-owners Kim Allen and Jillian Kelly haven’t always been in the honey business. Originally from corporate-world Chicago, the couple only started to become interested in beekeeping when Kelly discovered that she had a sensitivity to dairy and gluten less than a decade ago. She and Allen began experimenting with cooking with honey, and took beekeeping classes at a local conservatory.
It wasn’t long before they were hooked. Allen and Kelly had vacationed in Asheville a number of times, and decided to leave their corporate jobs behind and make the mountains of North Carolina their permanent home in 2013. They expanded their beekeeping hobby into a business a year later, opening Asheville Bee Charmer in 2014 — and they never looked back.
Visiting Asheville Bee Charmer isn’t just about satisfying your sweet tooth; the co-owners hope that their business encourages people to become more aware of the importance of bees in Buncombe County and beyond, and start making an effort to aid in bee population preservation.
“I want so badly to get beehives on the rooftops of downtown Asheville,” Kelly says. “They’re all blacktop. And if we could put bees, natural plants, and food up on those rooftops, it would insulate those rooftops in the wintertime and cool them in the summertime. We’re Bee City USA, for God’s sake — we need to walk the talk.”
Kelly’s passion and enthusiasm for bees is contagious, and it’s clear that it resonates in the visitors and customers at Asheville Bee Charmer.
“We get feedback on our POS system when people come into the store, and one of the things that people say is: I realized I don’t need to be a beekeeper to help a bee,” Kelly says. “There are so many easy things that you can do, like planting bee-friendly plants and not mowing down your dandelions until the bees are done with them.”
To help inspire people to cook with raw honey and raise even more awareness, Allen and Kelly have published their very first cookbook to be released later this summer: The Asheville Bee Charmer Cookbook: Sweet and Savory Recipes Inspired by 28 Honey Varietals and Blends. The thoughtfully curated, beautifully designed cookbook features everything from cocktails to entrées to desserts, and is available for pre-order online. The book’s official release date is August 8, 2017.
Asheville Bee Charmer
38 Battery Park Avenue, Asheville
Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Sunday 12-5 p.m.