Give the Gift that Gives a Buzz

Every year, my wife and I struggle to come up with a bee-related Christmas gift that we can make for family and friends.  Last year was a building year for my apiary so I did not harvest much honey. However I did have enough honey to make almost 44 bottles of Rock & Rye.

Rock & Rye was a staple of bars before the prohibition. During the prohibition, it became a staple of medicine cabinets. When I was ten years old and sick with a cold, my mother would give me a juice glass of straight up Old Mr. Boston Rock & Rye. I would drink it down, jump in bed, and sleep like a log. The rock candy (sucrose) in Rock & Rye would soothe my throat and the vitamin C from the lemon half (bobbing in the bottle) did not hurt either. The taste and recipe is similar to the favorite cocktail of Don Draper of Mad Men: the Old Fashioned.

There are many recipes for Rock & Rye on the Internet. Some recipes called for cherry syrup or dried horehound (nasty!).  I went through several bottles of Bulleit and Rittenhouse Rye before I arrived at a recipe that I liked and felt comfortable in sharing with others. I compared each batch with each other and with a commercial rock & rye: Hochstadter’s Slow & Low Rock and Rye.  The final recipe was perfected with the help of my son Charlie, a serious bartender and mixologist, who wisely said, “Dad, keep the flavors simple”.

Recipe for BeeHacker Rock & Rye

  • 750 ml Rye Whiskey
  • peel of one orange (no pith)
  • peel of one lemon (no pith)
  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey

Muddle peels & sugars. Add rye and seep for at least 3 days. Remove peel, strain, and bottle.

With a working recipe, I knew it would taste good but I also wanted the gift to look good. I found 200 ml flasks with caps from Freund Container (www.freundcontainer.com).  Then I designed an ole timey looking label that I printed out on label paper. I could have stopped there but I wanted to add another product of the hive to the gift so I covered the bottle caps in home-made red sealing wax.

Sealing wax has been used since medieval times to seal letters and bottles. Originally, it consisted of beeswax, Venice turpentine (an extract of the European Larch tree), and a colorant such as Vermilion. After trading opened up India, beeswax was replaced by shellac flakes – a product of the lac bug.  I decided to go local with Georgia pine gum rosin from Diamond G Forest Products (http://www.diamondgforestproducts.com). The powdered red pigment comes from Dick Blick art supply.

If you try making sealing wax without shellac flakes or rosin, you will find that it is too brittle and weak.

If you want a sealing wax like the stuff on Maker’s Mark whiskey, you will need to melt glue sticks. Their very un-waxy substance is a thermoplastic.  Maker’s Mark holds a U.S. trademark (serial number 73526578) on the wax seal of their bottles.

Recipe for BeeHacker Sealing Wax

  • beeswax
  • rosin
  • powdered red pigment

Melt beeswax and rosin in a can on an electric element. WARNING: beeswax and rosin are both flammable – keep them away from flame. Start with a 1:1 mixture. Add more rosin until you get the texture you want. Add colorant, again, by experimentation. When you have the mixture you want, dip bottles into the wax. There is one picture below that shows the wax seal.

I handed out about 44 bottles at Christmas time.  Nobody had ever gotten a bottle of homemade cough syrup before (to quote my sister in-law).  Please let me know if you try my recipe. If you need help with quality assurance, send a bottle this way.

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