Claire Martin is the essence of a Queen Bee: after falling in love with the community-oriented society of honeybees, she left her high-powered career in the NYC publishing world to manage hives upstate. Within a few short years, Claire grew her colony from one hive to over 300. Next came a line of raw, unprocessed foods, and finally, a truly special, nuanced honey-infused whiskey made predominantly from NY State rye, all under the umbrella of Catskill Provisions. Claire is an inspiration to all of us working hard to create a greener, sustainable, and more delicious place to live!
Tell us about your journey getting to where you are today?
5 years ago I started this company with one varietal of our honey. First to be jarred was our late Summer, wildflower raw honey…complex, delicious, amber color. today we have 22 SKUs plus our NY Honey Whiskey! It’s been pretty amazing as growth brings lots of lessons with it…we’re still very much about creating sustainable, small batch local products. I started with 2 hives, grew up to 70+ then I needed help and I needed it ASAP! I reached out to two beekeepers that I knew well and trusted to join forces with me. We now are efficient and always keeping to the local, sustainable model I started out with.
When did you become interested in beekeeping and why?
I gifted a bee hive to my partner Cathy 11 years ago but I became obsessed with the bees! I kept a couple of hives as a hobby for 6 years before embarking on making it into a business…I still love beekeeping more than any other aspect of the business!
Did you learn the art of beekeeping from someone?
I picked up many books and exchanged ideas with a few groups but I am pretty much self taught. As most beekeepers are. I do communicate with two very knowledgeable beekeepers on a regular basis as there is always something new, every year!
What kind of hives do you use and why?
I use Langstroth hives. They are the most standard and it’s easier to find solutions to a problem. You can exchange parts within other hives, expand, etc…more easily done than with other types of hives I find.
How do you manage so many hives remotely?
Like I said, I got up to 70 on my own then I had to get a few hands on deck! I do check on a hive at least once a week…I spend 3-4 days upstate and in the city…so the time is split pretty evenly between visiting clients, selling, marketing and beekeeping…
Tell us your favorite swarm story!
Well the very first swarm I ever saw on my property was amazing! I heard it first, as it was super powerful and loud. This colony was big and they just started flying out into a cloud of bees…I would say at least 10,000 bees were flying around deciding on direction. The sounds were amazing! I watched as they chose to hang on a wood plank on a fence very close to some of our hives. This made it easier for us to place the swarm in an empty hive…so yes, it worked and they actually became a very strong hive!
What do your bees forage?
The season starts with pear, apple, maple, almond, cherry, clover, dandelion, Basswood just to name a few. then in the late Summer toward Fall comes the Golden rod, Bamboo/knotweed, sunflowers, daisy, asters, St Johns wort, Echinacea.
What makes you unique as a beekeeper?
I don’t know about unique as I know a lot of beekeepers that care about their bees…but I always want to adhere to a sustainable mindset while beekeeping. for example, harvesting some honey at one time not all honey at one time. This prevents the bees from finding their reserves almost depleted. Our motto is “happy bees make better honey”and we do believe that! They will produce more consistently with way less shock if you let them hold on to more reserves of honey. I also started to produce derivatives of honey not just tons and tons of honey. So we’ve created a ketchup and several marinades made with our honeys so we don’t have to produce massive amounts of honey.
What's your favorite way to use honey?
I am still madly in love with honey on buttered toast! A peanut butter and honey sandwich is one of the best things ever too!
How do you use honey in the process of making your rye and what's the benefit?
With the Rye I believed we could just round out the edges of NY Rye with a slight amount of strong honey. There are natural honey notes in rye so just the right amount of the right honey makes it a more pleasant drink! The benefit here is that no artificial flavors or colors were used so it tastes clean and delicious. The depth of our honey Rye just can’t be reproduced with corn syrup and artificial flavors. The best way to taste the difference in depth of flavor is in an Old Fashioned. Side by side our honey rye, and no sugar vs. a conventional Old Fashioned with your favorite spirit and sugar - you be the judge.
What should people look for when buying ingredients/spirits?
I think more important than ever is to look for where your food and spirits come from. Trust the source, always. There are tons of ingredients used that are only there as fillers - cheap ways of selling you more weight or volume. Stick to purity and only what you need in a product. Sugars, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, non-organic flours, preservatives etc are not needed if you work with pure, fresh products. For example our ketchup only sweeter with honey and with no added preservatives has the lowest amount of sodium! Honey is also a great preservative that helps stabilize our products. In trusting your source you are also supporting humanely raised/produced ingredients which is super important. In the case of our pancake mix for example the flour we use is super fresh. Organic, grown and stone ground in NY State, within a month it's in our bag with only a dash of sea salt and aluminum-free baking powder. It makes the fluffiest pancakes simply by being fresh!