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Monday, January 18, 2016

Miel de la Beebliothèque (Library Honey), Westmount, Québec, Canada

Last December we visited my mother in-law who lives in Westmount, Quebec, a western suburb of Montreal, and she gave me a small jar of honey that was produced by her local library, the Westmount library. It turns out that in 2015 the library installed a few hives on their roof and sell honey to raise money. "What on earth are librarians doing keeping bees?" you might ask. Good question. But, in fact, the librarians haven't turned apiarist but rather have enlisted the services of an urban beekeeping service, Alvéole, to install and maintain their hives, and extract honey at the end of the season. 

Westmount Library
 An urban beekeeping service?  Yes. Started in 2012, Alvéole is the brain child of three beekeeping friends, Etienne Lapierre, Alexandre McLean and Declan Rankin. To combat the recent declines in bee populations due to environmental changes, the use of pesticides and new bee parasites and illnesses, the three thought bringing bees to an urban center, like Montreal, might be (part of) the solution. You see, in Montreal there are strict anti-pesticide regulations and an abundance of untapped floral sources. Local hives would produce quality local honey, increase local pollination rates and contribute to making the city greener, as well as protect and harbor bee colonies. Win, win, win.

The idea caught on and there were many takers. By 2015 Alvéole had >70 corporate and private clients across Montreal island and the south shore, and they continue to grow (and have recently expanded into Toronto). What do the Westmount library, Birk's Jewelers, Aldo shoes and the Public Works Office of St. Lambert all have in common? They all have hives on their roofs courtesy of Alvéole.

Westmount park
For about $750 CAN the first year, Alvéole will set everything up, take care of the hives, and extract the honey at the end of the summer. They guarantee 10 kg of honey to the client and keep the rest, which they sell in their store and on-line. The honey is 100% pure, filtered and unpasteurized. Given that each hive produces about 15-20 kg of honey per year, there is plenty of honey to go around.  Under the Alvéole label, they sell honey by Montreal island region: Villeray, Sud-Ouest, Plateau, NDG Westmount. The different floral sources of each region give each a unique taste and texture. And apart from honey, Alvéole also sells lip balm, soap, totes and a yearly calendar featuring nude apiarists! Check out their on-line boutique.

Westmount library was founded in 1897 in commemoration of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, and two years later, the grand Victorian building that has housed it for all these years was built in 1899. The library is adjacent to Westmount park, a verdant oasis of trees, flowers and water features. I can't think of a better place for hives. 

Miel de la Beebliothèque (Library honey)
The name of the miel de la Beebliothèque is a play on words of the French word for library, 'bibliothèque.' 

The honey is very light yellow and clear, but quite thick. It is not too sweet and has a floral first taste with a strong menthol herbal after taste. It makes me wonder if their are any eucalyptus trees in the park. Next time I visit I'll have a look around. It is very tasty, and would be great drizzled on plain yogurt or on hot, buttered toast, and in a strong cup of black tea. If you are in Montreal, head to the Westmount library on Sherbrooke street to check out their honey (while supplies last), or go to the Alvéole store at 5425-217 Rue de Bordeaux for Montreal island honey and ask for the NDG Westmount region, or save yourself the trip(s) and check out the online boutique.

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