By Julie Henning
Inspired by the wildly-popular Honey Badger video on YouTube.com, the Lincolnshire Marriott Resort in Chicago’s North Suburbs has gotten in on the craze with its Honey Badger Beer. A project in regional sustainability as much as marketing genius, the signature beer is brewed using honey extracted from bee hives located on the 175-acre resort property. One of many paradigm-shifting programs set into action by Executive Chef Joe Plucinski, the Honey Badger Beer is brewed in partnership with nearby Lake Bluff Brewery.
Crediting his passion for using fresh, local ingredients to summers spent working as a teen on his Aunt and Uncle’s cucumber farm near Wautoma, Wisconsin, Plucinski has grown his career on going back to the basics. “When I was working at the Downtown Chicago Marriott, my job was to do things completely different and opposite than what every hotel does,” Plucinski explained. “Because of the size of the hotel, I really had the opportunity to focus on utilizing local products and making products from scratch. When the opportunity came to work at the Lincolnshire Marriot, I presented some of the ideas I have to make this hotel special and separate it from our competition to our general manager and he agreed one hundred percent. One of the first things we incorporated was our bee program and getting honey for the Honey Badger Beer.”
A stone’s throw from the resort’s 18-hole PGA championship golf course, twenty-two hives sit at the south end of a one acre fruit and herb garden harvested daily by Pulcinski and his staff. “We did our first honey extraction of the year and got 60 gallons of honey. There’s still plenty of honey out there for the bees. We don’t strip our hives of all their honey and there’s no supplemental feeding at all. We believe that honey is produced naturally for the bees to survive in the cold months,” Plucinski explained. “The natural flora on the hotel grounds allows the bees to do outstanding work. The early spring we had here this year really allowed the bees to get going early. We take the honey, filter it here. There’s no heat or anything involved, it’s just natural filtration.”Only available on tap at the hotel’s Brew Lobby and Restaurant and Bar and at the Lake Bluff Brewery, Honey Badger Beer combines the sweetness of the honey with caramel, Munich and Vienna malts and three different varieties of hops. The beer is five percent alcohol by volume and scores 21 on the International Bitterness Units scale.
“Our General Manager went out to the Lake Bluff Brewery and tried the beer they had on tap. He came back to the hotel and said, ‘Hey Joe, they have some pretty good product. Why don’t you see if there’s a relationship you can build. So, I gave them a call and told them about our hives and having a partnership where they would take our honey and produce a beer. That was about five months ago when we initially talked about it. They did some home brews for us and we were very happy with the product. For about two months now we’ve been in full swing. We’re working on all the marketing aspects of using the Honey Badger right now, as well as creating a logo and getting the word out there.”
Pulcinski continued, “What’s unique about this beer is that once it warms up, you start to get the honey notes on it.” With plans to harvest the hops in addition to the honey, Pulcinski planted all three varieties on the resort in May. “The hops that are in the beer are not our hops yet. They’re growing a bit slower than we had expected,” he said. “We have all the [bee keeping] outfits and equipment here on the property so we can take guests and their families out to see the hives and the garden. Our programs really show that as a company that you don’t have to do crazy, extravagant things to make great food. When you take good ingredients—and good typically follows local, in my opinion—you can do great things.”