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Cardinal Spirits, IU Team Up To Create 'Hyper-Local' Mead

The Honey Schnapps requires about 1,500 pounds of honey to make each batch, or nearly 8 pounds per gallon. (Steve Burns, WFIU/WTIU News)

A Bloomington distillery is teaming up with Indiana University researchers to create what they say is a hyper-local product.

Cardinal Spirits co-founder Adam Quirk says the company’s Honey Schnapps is made using local Indiana bees, and relies heavily on support from his family.

His father-in-law is a beekeeper in Fort Wayne, and a few years ago, the bees made so much honey they didn’t know what to do with all of it.

Quirk says they decided to try fermenting and distilling it.

“We had never done mead before,” Quirk says. “We do a lot of dfferent, interesting fermentations here, but we had never done honey.”

Quirk says the company approached Matt Bochmann, an Indiana University researcher who specializes in yeast research and distillation.

Bochmann found that bees were producing yeast that could be isolated and used in mead. But they didn’t find it in the hive.

“They keep their hives very clean, so there wasn’t much yeast even on their bodies,” Quirk says. “But what he did find was these yeast strains inside the gut – the biome of the honeybee. Because when you think about it, yeast actually helps process sugars, and that’s what they’re doing when they’re digesting.”

They harvest the yeast from dead bees they find outside the hives, then use it to help make the “hyper-local” mead.

It takes five weeks to make. Three of those weeks are dedicated to “racking,” where they separate out solids like pollen.

Quirk says it’s worth the effort.

“A lot of that grocery honey is just pure cane sugar. They add it in there and just use honey flavoring,” Quirk says. “So getting a quality honey is important, and to do that, we think it’s really important to know your producer.”

Quirk says the Honey Schnapps is one of Cardinal’s most expensive and time-consuming products to make. It requires about 1,500 pounds of honey to make each batch, or nearly eight pounds per gallon.

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