Beekon Batches: The fermented honey alcohol that's got bee conservation at its heart
"I can see a future where we’re counting chemicals and nothing else."
Karen O'Neill wanted to do something different. So, she did what she does best: drink.
After two decades in the alcohol industry she decided to set up her own company, Beekon Batches - a new drinks brand that is quite literally going where no alcohol producer has gone before.
“It’s a collaboration between me and the bees," she tells Her. "I wanted to create something different, and this is a new drink, it doesn’t exist anywhere else."
Not a beer, not a wine or a cider, Beekon is something entirely new - a honey refresher. Free from additives, preservatives and gluten, it's one of the more natural alcoholic drinks on the market. It's also got bee welfare at the heart of its ethos, with the ultimate goal being that everywhere Beekon is sold, there’s something happening to directly help the bees.
With a focus on bee hotels, urban pollination plans, and seed bombs, Beekon does seem to be a far more sustainable way of consuming alcohol. And a tastier one too - it's all honey, after all.
Karen began her career in the drinks industry in the 90s, travelling the world and promoting the likes of Smirnoff Ice, and convincing beer businesses to take a chance on cider. She was living the dream, she says, right up until she wasn't.
"I had a clash of conscious, I wanted to do something better," she says. "Alcohol is a fairly linear industry and pushing the boundaries was never really part of the conversation, so I left.
"I wanted to create something that wasn’t just another alcohol product - because I don’t think we need another one - and something that can help us make better choices in life. It’s not a healthy drink, but it’s certainly better. It’s a move to making better choices."
While many alcohol companies have made the shift to lower alcohol and even alcohol-free alternatives, Karen's more focused on what chemicals are in her drinks - and in the case of Beekon, it's none.
Where many consumers are looking to cut out drinking entirely, others are seeking more natural forms of alcohol. Nasty hangovers, sulphites, and drinking whatever's put in front of us, says Karen, could easily become a thing of the past.
"I can see a future where we’re counting chemicals and nothing else," she says. "I used to be obsessed with just going to sessions and drinking so much but now people are enjoying alcohol more in moderation, and I welcome that.
"We’re seeing a lot of people moving towards a clean diet agenda. The cleaner the label, the greater the response. We’ve got a tidal wave coming our way and mass manufacturers aren’t ready for it.
"A lot of the industry are reducing the alcohol in products and I respect that, but what if you do want to drink something, you just don’t want it to be loaded with crap? Beekon is very ahead of its time, in that respect."
So what's next for Karen and her bee collaboration? The Covid-19 pandemic has, of course, caused major setbacks for the bars and restaurant sector, meaning that Beekon - like many others - has had to focus on retail and direct sales.
A participant of this year's Bord Bia's Food Works programme, Beekon Batches is availing of the government supported accelerator programme, providing a range of different supports that Karen says has been a game changer during Covid.
So much so that she remains confident that her smaller brand will see big things in the coming years.
“Covid has been beyond frustrating, but it has ignited something in us for local brands and authenticity," she says, "and I'm trying my best to deliver on that.”