Local honey makers recently unveiled a new addition to their homegrown business — a tasting room for Old Blue Raw Honey in their honey processing facility.
This month, Camille and Henry Storch opened the doors to their Philomath-based honey-tasting room and offered processing facility tours. This past weekend, locals tasted honey varietals from Old Blue’s 500 hives of Northwest-adapted bees scattered across the Willamette Valley and Coast Range.
A spread of snacks greeted guests to the tasting room and visitors mingled around the facility while they sampled honey. Among the honeys showcased were Old Blue best-sellers including clary sage from Kiger Island; coriander from Shedd; and poison-oak from the Cardwell Hill area of Wren.
Other specialty honeys included pumpkin, meadowfoam, wild blackberry, maple, arugula, raspberry, and coastal wildflower. Each nectar source plant gives the honey distinct flavor and character.
Old Blue sells beeswax in the tasting room for those who want to make their own candles, lip balm or lotion. There is also unprocessed honeycomb available, suggested as a sweet addition to a charcuterie or cheese board.
Both Henry and Camille were born and raised in Benton County and are graduates of Oregon State University. They met while working at Gathering Together Farm. And together, they built their business.
Henry is Old Blue’s migratory beekeeper, moving hives to different apiary locations throughout the year. He also manages a breeding program in which he raises his own queens. Camille handles honey processing, customer service, sales, shipping and events.
Founded in 2013, past sales efforts focused on the Portland area and online sales. When deciding to expand the business, both Henry and Camille wanted to bring Old Blue back to their roots, offering a pickup location available to locals. They began to build the tasting room earlier this year.
“We’re excited to have a local outlet for honey and a local presence,” Camille said. “It’s important for us to be part of the community.”
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They hope to continue collaborating with other local-based businesses such as Nectar Creek Mead, which broke ground this month on the west end of town. Nectar Creek released a limited edition clary sage mead made with Old Blue’s clary sage honey last spring.
“We've talked about collaborating in various ways in the future but don't have many specific plans,” Camille said. “It seems like it would make sense to do something together since they'll be so close by.”
Old Blue got its start when friends of the Storches were logging near Harlan and downed several trees with bee colonies living in the cavities. The loggers decided to call someone to relocate the bees.
Henry put the colonies in hive boxes, took them home and began to observe them. He realized they were quite different from other bees. They were more aggressive, flew in colder weather and were smaller and darker in color. The colonies had gone feral and had been living unmanaged in the woods for several decades.
Henry has since focused his breeding program to maintain the traits of those rescued bees, which he believes make them more suitable for survival in the Northwest. He has added a few new breeding lines, but the Harlan tree-dwellers remain the origin of much of their current hive genetics.
During the spring and summer months, Old Blue harvests around 10,000 pounds of honey that will last them until the next year’s bounty. Each year’s honey is unique because of specific weather patterns that influence nectar sources available to the bees.
“You can have the same bees in the same place two years in a row, but because of weather or rainfall, the diversity of flowers will change every year,” said Camille. “So the honey will taste different from year to year.”
Old Blue’s processing facility and tasting room is located at 23990 Gellatly Way in Philomath. It will not have regular business hours, but the tasting room will be open for scheduled public tasting events and by appointment for individuals and small groups.