Alumni Spotlight: Lee Hedgmon
Much like wine, honey is a snapshot of a place suspended in time. “The flavor of honey tells you what was happening right in that very moment – what was blooming and where the bees have been,” explains Lee Hedgmon (’03). “It’s a testament to the terroir.”
Founder of The Barreled Bee, LLC, Hedgmon produces handcrafted, small batch, barrel-aged honey. Her passion for honey arose when she first fermented mead, a hobby she took up as an undergraduate at PSU. By the time she went to graduate school, she had moved on to brew beer, wine, and cider.
Learning the craft
Hedgmon’s bachelor’s degree is in Women’s Studies, and she earned her master’s degree from University of Minnesota in Feminist Studies. She’d spend summers back in Portland teaching in the PSU Women’s Studies department and, in 2010, began teaching in University Studies while searching for academic jobs.
Meanwhile, she worked at local breweries to stoke her interest in fermentation. After building a reputation in the craft-brewing industry, she was offered a job at McMenamins’ Edgefield distillery. Now, she works full-time as a distiller at Freeland Spirits (owned by Jill Kuehler '06), tending to barrels of whiskey and making gin.
“Distilling is like putting together a puzzle when you can’t see a cohesive picture,” Hedgmon asserts. “My degree has been really helpful in distilling because it’s taught me how to be an interdisciplinary thinker. I can look at one piece and see how it relates to the whole.”
A matter of taste
The ability to discern distinct flavors stems from Hedgmon’s refined palate. In fact, she’s a certified beer taster and a co-founder of the SheBrew Festival, a fundraiser for the Human Rights Campaign.
Her penchant for mixing science and art led to her latest venture. “I love tasting honey from different places, and I wondered what would happen if I took a particular honey and aged it in different barrels.” Hedgmon started the Barreled Bee in her spare time in 2017, pairing honey sourced from local beekeepers and apiaries with spirit-flavored barrels from local distillers.
Currently, The Barreled Bee is a one-woman show with year-round production. Honeys spend four to seven months in barrels, and each barrel yields about 300 to 400 bottles. Her products sell out quickly.
“I started keeping my own bees and hives after I opened The Barreled Bee. I’m always learning and working on new products,” Hedgmon says. “Right now, I’m working on a barbecue sauce where the honey is integral to the overall flavor.”
With less than a handful of people in the nation barrel aging honey, Hedgmon says it’s definitely a trial and error process. “The same honey aged in different barrels can taste completely different. I have to guess which barrel will showcase the very best flavors in the individual honeys. That’s the magic of it,” she notes.