In this entry we will not, as we customarily do, review/critique a particular beverage, but instead pay homage to the insect that made some of the earliest alcoholic beverages possible—the bee, specifically those that give us honey. May 20 is World Bee Day, so this is an appropriate time to pay our respects. From the mead hall in Heorot to the Tej of Ethiopia, honey has provided the base material for some very early and important alcoholic beverages.
The Exeter Book, or Codex Exoniensis, a 10th-century work that is chockablock with riddles, contains Riddle 27, which through the use of synecdoche “By day, feathers carried me up high, took me skillfully under the shelter of a roof” [emphasis added] credits bees in the production process of [SPOILER ALERT] mead, which is the answer to the riddle. The Anglo-Saxons considered bees to be tiny birds; hence, the reference to “feathers.” Riddle 27 goes on to admonish the reader not to underestimate mead’s strength: “…he who goes against me and contends against my strength, that he shall meet the ground with his back, unless he ceases from his folly early….”* Good advice at a time when there were the likes of Grendel out and about or, come to think of it, even now with some of the unsavory characters one encounters on the subway!
How can we honor the bees? Well, we might adopt some of the suggestions made by the United Nations, three of which are fairly easy to realize: “ [buy] raw honey from local farmers…[avoid] pesticides, fungicides or herbicides in our gardens…[make] a bee water fountain by leaving a water bowl outside….” https://www.un.org/en/observances/bee-day .
Or we might want to learn their language—the waggle dance. For waggle basics, readers might want to view this highly informative video from NC State Extension https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRGc7skekMQ .
*Price, Helen. “A Hive of Activity: Realigning the Figure of the Bee in the Mead-Making Network of Exeter Book Riddle 27,” Journal of Medieval Cultural Studies (Vol. 8).