Just Add Honey: The NEW Buzz Worthy Ingredient!

apple cocktail on glas

By: Hanifa Sekandi 

You may have heard about the Bee’s Knees honey-infused prohibition-era cocktail. Perhaps it is your go-to drink on a warm summer night. This drink is a refreshing blend of gin, lemon juice and a touch of honey, a guilt-free beverage to indulge in. It was crafted by Australian-born bar-tender Frank Meier in the 1920s, who simply elevated a Gin Sour by replacing simple syrup with honey. One hundred years later, it’s still a buzz-worthy beverage, with an ingredient favored due to its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Honey is also considered a healthier sweet alternative to refined sugar since it consists of trace minerals and vitamins. It can still be high in calories, but it’s a better option than high-fructose corn syrup and sugar.  

Why is Honey all the Buzz? 

  The term Bee’s Knees means “the best” or “outstanding,” and honey does more than add a little sweetness to your life. Although one might not liken a few cocktails to health and well-being, honey has become a star ingredient for nouveau bottled and canned beverages that appeal to the health-conscious consumer, and a cocktail isn’t the exception.  

  A question that may come to mind is, why honey? Honey, liquid gold, has been an important component in alcohol that predates the prohibition era. Mead, known as the “drink of the Gods,” is a fermented alcoholic beverage made with golden honey, bacterial culture or yeast, and water. This ancient honey wine found in Africa, Asia and Europe has a long lifeline dating approximately 4,000 years. Fast forward to the 21st century, and honey is not just a royal sweetener with great health properties. It’s an ingredient that makes one brand stand out from the rest. 

  Once touted as your grandmother’s therapeutic cure-all for staving off a cold or sore throat during winter months, as health becomes a primary concern for consumers, honey has become a coveted and cherished ingredient due to its undisputed benefits. As the negative impacts of refined sugar consumption become clear, the alcoholic beverage industry turns to alternatives like honey, which add a sweet touch while being much better for the body. 

Sipping Guilt-Free Cocktails  

  Since refined sugar is a frowned-upon ingredient, brands that do not pivot with the health-conscious consumer will find themselves left behind in a market that calls for change where curation, sourcing and production is concerned. Yes, having a few libations with friends during a funfilled cottage weekend is the norm, but ingredients matter. As more people take the time to read the label, what’s in a premixed cocktail will not be overlooked simply because it tastes good.  

  For individuals who see fitness as a lifestyle, finding alcoholic beverages that support this ethos is a top priority. Wellness websites often list low-calorie and reduced-sugar canned cocktails without artificial sweeteners or chemicals that can diminish a health-conscious nutrition plan. Most people look for caloric content first and then what ingredients are used to provide flavoring and added sweetness. This higher standard from consumers has brands leaning towards natural ingredients and moving away from artificial flavorings, sweeteners and additives.  

  A la carte specialized cocktails are now accessible at the consumer level. Access to simplified, clean versions created by top bartenders and mixologists can be found at your local liquor store or delivered to your doorstep. Feeling a little bit better about decisions where imbibing is con-cerned has gained strong support via social media initiatives and marketing campaigns by brands who aim to shake up the industry. Once the new kid on the block, premixed drinks made with honey, natural sweetener or real fruit are now taking center stage.  

  Honey-infused cocktails are the gateway to what is next on the horizon for “fun nutrition.” Although honey is a rockstar ingredient, it doesn’t lend itself to every cocktail due to its rich flavor profile. Unlike refined sugar or corn syrup, it is more than just sweet. Brands that plan to join this new wave will have to experiment with other sweet alternatives to hit the mark.  

Maple Syrup and Monk Fruit Are Making Things A Little Sweeter  

  It turns out maple syrup is just as good in a cocktail as it is on a warm, delicious stack of pancakes. You may have heard of or tried maple syrup-infused still and sparkling water. If you add a little gin, some lime and ice, it’s a drink worth singing about. (You can thank us later for this DIY cocktail.) There are numerous cocktails made to order with maple syrup, drinks you can make right at home. Beverage companies looking to pivot will most likely take a few of your favorites and turn them into simple, clean, ready-to-drink cocktails. For example, an Apple Sour is just as simple to make as the Bee’s Knees cocktail if you have Calvados, lemon juice and maple syrup. Another easy-to-make cocktail that marries well with this decadent sweetener is an Old Fashioned.  

  Monk fruit, also known as Luo Han Guo, a natural sweetener originating from Southeast Asia, is a new replacement for stevia in protein powders, meal replacement and energy drinks. It’s de-rived from dried monk fruits. Monk fruit extract is ideal for individuals on a low sugar or carbo-hydrate diet since it contains zero sugar or carbohydrates. It boasts antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This ancient fruit, harvested and cultivated by monks in the 13th centu-ry and first used for traditional herbal medicine, can be found in beverages such as the Slightly Mighty, a low carb 95 calorie beer infused with monk fruit.   

Leveling Up – Health Conscious Imbibing  

  Whether it is honey, maple syrup or monk fruit, there are better options to sweeten alcoholic beverages. What will determine the success of a health-conscious beverage is for producers not simply to replace refined sugar but craft drinks that complement this alternative. Alternative sweeteners come with nuances that may either create the perfect blend or overpower other ingre-dients. Some people have described the aftertaste of Monk fruit as bitter, and honey is derived from many sources: manuka, wildflower, buckwheat and sourwood, to name a few. The flavor profile and depth of sweetness vary with each. The same can be said of maple syrup, which can have a rich, robust caramel or honey-like fruity taste.  

  These are not the only natural sweeteners that consumers will find in their canned cocktails. Agave nectar, molasses, coconut sugar and even dates will be infused into the next wave of clean canned alcoholic beverages. Date syrup is already shining bright as a deep and rich sugar re-placement in cocktails. Not only is this tropical fruit a great source of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, but it also scores lower than honey and maple syrup on the glycemic index. 

  Some brands take it a step further and clearly label the ingredients on the front of the can so con-sumers won’t miss it. Although refined and simplified ingredients are making headway, it re-mains a niche market against headlining brands that hold a loyal consumer base despite un-healthy additives or sweeteners.  

  With that said, simplicity lends itself to cocktail making, allowing mixologists to move away from fancy frills or adding too much in favor of a little less. The best drink served doesn’t have to be the loudest in the room, but it certainly could use a little honey.   

African Craft Brewing & the Pandemic

man brewing drink

By: Calvin Obbaatt  

The negative impact of coronavirus has been felt globally in all sectors of the economy, resulting in a worldwide production deficit. With consumers being unable to access products, large and small companies have been forced to stop production or produce less than usual. Companies in the hospitality sector have suffered a major blow as pandemic regulations have caused many businesses to shut down completely. Among the companies significantly impacted is the brewing industry, specifically craft brewery. 

  Initially, craft breweries enjoyed massive sales that yielded millions of profits in Africa alone. The industry also employed a vast staff, and production was increasing day-in and day-out. Compared to their competitors, craft breweries stood out for producing unique products that suited customer demands. In Africa, craft breweries thrived, and craft beer was some of the most consumed beer. Nearly all pubs, restaurants and bars sold craft beer. These products became more popular with the introduction of cheaper and smaller packages that are accessible and cost-friendly. 

  Unfortunately, with the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic, millions of breweries in  

Africa were directed by different governments to stop on-site consumption of beer completely. The taprooms that had become popular drinking places and earned the breweries massive income were shut down for hosting large amounts of people. Consumers were instructed to stay at home and avoid any public places. Similarly, parties and public events were also shut down. Clearly, parties and events were significant markets for the breweries. Bars, significant purchasers of beer products, were closed indefinitely, causing beer sales to drop significantly. This, in turn, caused breweries to take tough measures that impacted that production greatly. Many brewery workers were laid off, a move that increased the workload of the remaining staff. 

  The breweries were also forced to adopt creative but expensive delivery services. The companies adopted a pick-up and delivery system whereby the drinks were transported to each individual who ordered. The idea proved costly to the producers as they had to incur transportation costs as well. Additionally, the producer was forced to use glass and aluminium packages for all the products distributed by these criteria. In other countries with strict measures, breweries were required to produce hand sanitizers to accompany their products. 

  Restricted consumption of brewery products has led to the expiry of billions of kegs of beer on the African continent. This loss will be directly felt by the breweries as bars and restaurants purchase the products on loan and only pay after the sale. The loss of millions is likely to see some bars close completely. These closures mean that breweries lose potential customers as well as the money owed from the bars’ debts to them. 

  Breweries also face challenges of inadequate carbon dioxide since the production of CO2 has also been affected by the pandemic. The inefficient quantity of CO2 is likely to stop beer production due to the lack of a carbonator. The low availability of carbon dioxide has shot its prices to levels quite uneconomical to producers. Additionally, the small amounts of highly-priced carbon dioxide available are highly sought by multiple organizations and industries that are in a constant scramble for the commodity. According to a recent survey carried out by EABL, 60% of breweries in Africa have wholly stopped production, and only the large companies are still producing. These large companies, such as the East African Breweries Ltd (EABL)., have suffered a significant loss in enforcing the measures advised on by the experts to contain the pandemic. These measures will cause the company to lose $86.4 million in net earnings. Accompanied by other issues from the pandemic, EABL will lose at least 25% of its annual revenues: 28.7 million dollars. 

  EABL is based in the Eastern part of Africa and operates in the four countries of the East African Community. Countries within this trade block, such as Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, imposed some of the strictest laws to stop the spread of the pandemic. Meanwhile, neighbouring countries like Tanzania, Burundi and South Sudan were reluctant to impose COVID-19 restrictions. The reluctant countries blamed the pandemic for imposing an economic tragedy, a road that they were unwilling to walk down. 

  According to Paul Mwai, CEO of EABL in Kenya, the pandemic was not only felt by the breweries but also in all sectors of the economy, including manufacturing, hotels and catering. The brewery further reported a worse decrease as the situation was not getting better. Workers, who were the major consumers of beer products, had lost their jobs and thus income due to layoffs, business closures and job losses.  

  The pandemic has led to shareholders pulling back their resources when it comes to investing in the company. Most Boards of Directors advised their shareholders and the public that company profit will decrease significantly from the previous year when breweries recorded massive profits after taxation. Previously, EABL faced the problem of high taxation that increased after every financial year. The trend is worrying to the EABL Board of Directors, as the government – specifically the Kenyan government – has imposed hefty taxes on bottled beer brands. 

  The company’s woes were further castigated by the government when an excise tax of 5.2% was introduced on beer and a resounding 15% on spirits, making these drinks unaffordable to many consumers. A similar situation was felt in Uganda when the government banned spirits from being sold in plastic containers. The Ugandan government’s ban on plastic reduced the growth and sales of spirits. 

  The majority of breweries in Africa are internationally owned, predominantly by European and American entities. Travel bans imposed by the African countries have made it difficult for international owners to access these institutions. For instance, the EABL is owned by British Diageo, accounting for 50.03% of the shares. The restrictions and the inevitable losses predicted have made the Board of Directors rethink their judgment and resort to returning the shareholders’ investments in the form of dividends. The pandemic has put the companies in a situation that demands high capital investments that will enable them to pull through during the unfortunate events. The financial pressure is mostly felt by the shareholders who are in the tightest position on whether to invest more and risk in order to salvage the situation or withdraw entirely and wait for better seasons. 

  Major stakeholders, such as the banking industry, have also withdrawn any lending activity as advised by the central banks globally. The European Central Bank has also advised against paying dividends to shareholders. 

  The coronavirus pandemic has led to the loss of lives of some of the best brains in the breweries. With labor and expertise being a major driving force in the success of any economic sector, the impact of the loss is felt heavily. Breweries depend widely on human labor. Loss of this labor will be felt long-term as replacing some of these workers will not be a walk in the park. Training a new individual will take time and money. For instance, EABL had some of its technical staff trained efficiently in the developed countries, and these people have been a significant asset for the company. The death of such experts minimizes the production potential of the company to extraordinary lengths. 

  Currently, most organizations have adopted medical policies to cater to the welfare of their staff, a way of promoting the efficacy of workers. However, with the rise of the pandemic, the brewing industry has incurred considerable expenses in staff treatment. With the disease tending to attack people through contact, many people within a single organisation will likely get infected within a span of one week. The companies, at this point, will have no option but to provide for the entire sick staff as stipulated within their agreement. Such a move is likely to render the organisation bankrupt and incur huge losses. 

The situation is likely to worsen if the pandemic persists as the government is relentless in reducing the pandemic through control measures. However, hopefully, scientists will overcome the situation and produce a viable vaccine, getting the brewing industry back in business and thriving once again.