There are occasions when all the right components come into play to create something rather perfect, and the new bee experience based out of Ockenden Manor is definitely one of those times.
In fact, some of those perfectly-matched things aren’t immediately the most obvious. For example when you think of honey, perhaps beer isn’t the first thing you think of as its partner. But this new experiential activity will help to change your perception.
It’s got a really heady blend of lots of aspects, and is perfect for foodies, people interested in bees, and those who fancy something a bit more hands-on (stop that) for their weekends away.
First of all – the hotel
This experience is based out of the gloriously hidden-away Ockenden Manor hotel. One of my personal faves in Sussex, this venue has the perfect combination of olde worlde beams, charms and services, combined with a gorgeous modern spa, complete with outdoor Jacuzzi, set amongst rolling countryside.
As part of this experience, you’ll stay at the hotel and at the end of the day, return there for either a Hiver beer or glass of Albourne fizz (more about this later) before eating a sumptuous three course menu. The food is all local produce – in fact they have a lovely map showing their local suppliers, so you can see exactly where it comes from. I’ll talk about the food in more detail at the bottom.
Let’s talk about bees!
So on Albourne Estate – a Sussex vineyard of great repute, deservedly – are beehives. And the honey that is collected there is just one of the many different honeys from around the UK that Hiver Beers use. Yes that’s honey beer. And yes it’s delicious.
…we learned about swarming, and how they rehome, and how they communicate, and how they create queens, and who does what in the hive and wow, bees are extraordinary
This experience gives you the opportunity to dip your toe into a number of different experiences (so you’ll need to keep up here), but the bee-keeping bit is really exciting. As someone who has wanted to get up close and personal – well maybe just up close – to bees for a while, I was really excited about this. And yes you do have to listen to the instructions and dress in the clobber properly because hey, they sting. But the talk on bees and how they behave was absolutely fascinating.
There’s so much to get into this review already I won’t go on too much about the bee stuff, but I will try and write it up another time as a separate piece – because we learned about swarming, and how they rehome, and how they communicate, and how they create queens, and who does what in the hive and wow, bees are extraordinary. You need to go just to hear the bee talk. And there was something magical about holding one of those blocks from the hive and watching them bustle about doing their thing. Everyone should hear this talk.
Anyway – once you’ve had a look and spent some time learning about bees and seeing them and hopefully not getting stung, it’s back to a room on the estate where you get to eat and drink stuff.
About beers, wines, cheeses and meats
I’m going to talk more about Albourne Estate itself in a second, but you need to know that once you’re out of your hot bee suit, there’s nothing more delish than sinking a cold honeyed beer. And yes, it’s a tasting, but who the hell spits out something that nice?!
We tried a range of different Hiver beers – all of which use different honeys from around the UK, from the palest aromatic urban honey down to the richest, darkest countryside goo. And alongside this you get to taste some of the actual ingredients in the beers – malt, barley etc. And sniff hops. Really interesting to see how those flavours affect different types of beers.
Alongside the beers we had some excellent charcuterie meats to try, and some cheeses from High Weald dairy. And once we’d worked through some lovely beers, we moved on to Albourne’s wines.
Ah, the wine
Albourne produce a very well-respected range of wines, and – recently new to the list – also now a frizzante (very, very palatable!) and a rich, deep vermouth.
A light creamy whoosh in the mouth, crisp and fresh – at 12% this could get a girl into trouble, I thought, guzzling it down
My personal favourite is the Estate Selection 2018 – a truly elegant wine with a crisp clean finish. We also got to try a number of the others – standouts for me were the Bacchus 2018 and I was very impressed with the multi-vintage fizz with its warm biscuity hit. Fans of Veuve will love this.
As I said earlier, they’ve also just launched what is England’s first ever frizzante – the Bacchus Frizzante 2018 – and I just adored it. A light creamy whoosh in the mouth, crisp and fresh – at 12% this could get a girl into trouble, I thought, guzzling it down.
And back to the hotel for tuck
After a day out meeting bees and tasting wines, head back to the hotel where drinks and dinner await in their private dining area. I can’t guess what you’ll have as it changes all the time, but I can tell you that we sampled a number of dishes that included the honey beer as ingredients. Testing the skills of the hotel kitchen team who rose to the occasion magnificently.
Beef carpacchio, smoked salmon, new season lamb and urban honey tart all travelled down very smoothly, and all local ingredients on the plate. A truly heartwarming and nourishing experience. Somehow it tastes better being locally produced.
And that’s about it. Waddle up to bed or enjoy a snifter in the bar snug. Breakfast is included as part of the deal (the full English is a thing of majesty – and don’t miss the black pudding!) and you get to use the spa facilities, complete with fluffy robe and slippers, before slipping away and leaving your little haven and hives behind.
The Bee Experience – prices from £410
Dates available at time of going to press – Saturday 25th May, Saturday 8th June, Saturday 13th July 2019, Saturday 27th July, Saturday 7th September