Denver hotels and attractions are doing their part to help sustain the U.S. bee population and getting a golden treat in return for use in culinary creations, signature beers, hotel amenity lines, spa treatments and more. What’s really sweet is the involvement of key downtown landmarks—The Brown Palace Hotel and Spa, Denver Union Station, Colorado Convention Center—and Omni Interlocken Hotel, located on spacious grounds in the northwest sector of the metro area.
VISIT DENVER checked in with a chef, a beekeeper and in-the-know staff members from these four hotels and attractions to get a taste of what’s happening and to find out how The Mile High City’s bees are faring since the Denver City Council approved urban beekeeping in 2008.
On an iconic hotel rooftop
The Brown Palace Hotel and Spa was among the first hotel or public attraction to consider the idea of adding beehives onsite and made it a reality in late 2009. The property has occupied a prominent downtown Denver corner for more than 125 years and the hotel’s staff went all out to welcome the bees to their 10th story rooftop and devise all sorts of unique uses for the resulting golden nectar. A social media contest was conducted to name the hives. "Buzzidential Sweet," "Buzzingham Palace," "Mile Hive City" and "V.I. Bee Sweet" were among the winners.
Although there have been up to five bee colonies on the rooftop that share space with an herb garden used by hotel chefs, currently there are only three active colonies with hopes of adding more this summer. “There are years where the colonies have self-destructed; it’s a delicate process,” says Sales and Marketing Director Mark Shine.
The bees have attracted an incredible amount of interest, Shine confirms, adding that the hotel’s former managing director, Marcel Pitton, helped the bee initiative take flight. “Bees are the right thing to do,” he says, “and people are just really curious about it.”
The top priority for the hotel’s honey is a unique-to-Denver, in-room amenity line that the hotel launched in 2014 and includes items like shampoo, conditioner, lotion and shower gel. Larger versions of the Bee Royalty Collection can be purchased in the hotel’s spa.
When the honey harvest is plentiful, it also has been served at afternoon tea and integrated into a barrel-aged Breckenridge bourbon, cocktails, spa treatments, culinary dishes and signature microbrews like Rooftop Honey Saison crafted by Wynkoop Brewing Company. Last year, in honor of The Brown Palace’s 125th anniversary, Strange Craft Beer Company created a beer with water from the hotel’s artesian well, honey from the rooftop bees and other ingredients and then aged it for four months in Stranahan’s Diamond Peak whiskey barrels. The result is a brew called Gold Age with 12.5 percent ABV that is still available at the on-site Ship Tavern.
Ed Moore started beekeeping at The Brown Palace in 2015 and says honey is typically harvested in the fall, if there is a surplus of honey. “Mature hives need approximately 75 pounds of honey to eat during the cold winter months. Any additional honey, above what the hive needs to survive winter, can be harvested.”
Raising bees in downtown Denver isn’t much different than having them in a backyard apiary, he notes. “Bees typically will forage up to three miles from the hive for nectar. Locations like Civic Center Park and the Denver Botanic Gardens are both within the normal foraging distance for bees at The Brown Palace.”
At a historic train station, transportation hub
In June 2016, Denver Union Station (DUS) launched an urban beekeeping initiative on its roof with the installation of four Colorado honeybee colonies home to approximately 5,000 to 10,000 honeybees each. They are taken care of by beekeeper Caitlin Rose Kenney. Today, there are three colonies that happily overlook the city with bees searching for food in places like the planter boxes around Union Station and other rooftop patios and gardens, says DUS Director of Operations John-Mark Larter.
“Last year, we did not extract the honey but instead harvested the complete combs. We served them on cheese and charcuterie plates in Cooper Lounge and in our house-made pastries and desserts served in Pigtrain, Milkbox, Cooper Lounge and Acme,” he notes. “The honey bee has existed for 30 million years and is the only insect that produces food eaten by mankind!”
In a convention center garden
The 5,000-square-foot Blue Bear Farm at the corner of Speer Boulevard and Stout Street next to Colorado Convention Center shows just what can happen when urban beekeeping and urban farming unite. It’s one of the few convention center gardens of this magnitude, and there are two bee colonies that produce liquid gold and help plants flourish.
The farm belongs to Centerplate Catering, caterer for the convention center and the nearby Denver Performing Arts Complex (DPAC), and provides welcome fresh produce and honey used in dishes served at the convention center and Limelight Supper Club & Lounge at DPAC. Centerplate also creates amenity baskets for VIP customers and guests that include jars of honey and homemade pesto and jam crafted from Blue Bear Farm’s bounty.
Unfortunately, farming and beekeeping are not always smooth sailing, especially when one of the two bee colonies collapses, but it hopefully will be replaced soon, notes Todd Moore, Centerplate general manager for the convention center and DPAC. Entering its sixth season with the help of Produce Denver founder Nick Gruber, Blue Bear Farm ideally produces 5,000 pounds of produce and 100 pounds of honey annually, Moore says.
Near a golf course
Omni Interlocken Resort & Spa in Broomfield installed four beehives that hold close to a quarter-million bees on land adjacent to its golf club in April 2017. “The hives are in a safe, quiet meadow right behind our Vista Course Hole No. 3—hence the name, Vista#3 Home Hived Honey,” says Resort Executive Chef Paul Polizzi. “There is so much talk about saving the bees in the past few years, that we really wanted to do our part in this issue. Of course using this beautiful honey in my cooking is great, but what if honey wasn’t available to us anymore?”
Polizzi and General Manager Joel Darr have come up with a plan to utilize some of the hotel’s land to “do things that are good for the environment,” he says. A project Polizzi is currently working on is creating a self-reliant aquaponics garden with the plants fertilized by fish ponds, bees pollinating the crops, items produced served at the hotel, and seeds used for future planting or resale.
The honey already being produced is used in the hotel’s pastry shop for various desserts and breads; in the main kitchen for salad dressings, marinades and dish finishing; and as part of displays at banquet events. “My favorite is when we do nice amenities for VIP guests that feature our signature Vista#3 Honey Lavender Macaroon,” Polizzi says.
Plan Bee in Thornton handles most of the upkeep of the hives, with Polizzi learning along the way. “As a chef, I think my favorite thing about our bees and future plans with the resort are the bragging rights with other chefs. The fact that we are able to produce our own products here at the resort—honey, vegetables, herbs and eventually fish—is a dream that a lot of chefs have but never comes to a reality. It’s definitely a reality here!”
Interesting bee facts
Ed Moore, beekeeper at The Brown Palace Hotel and Spa, shared several bee insights.
- Honeybees live only five to six weeks in the spring and summer, whereas bees in the winter live for about five months.
- The queen bee usually lives for about three years and lays up to 2,000 eggs per day in the spring and summer.
- A hive contains approximately 60,000 bees in the summer.
- To collect enough nectar to make one teaspoon of honey, it takes a dozen bees their entire life.
Photo credits: A hive at Denver Union Station (above), beekeeper Ed Moore at The Brown Palace Hotel and Spa (middle), and two hives at Blue Bear Farm.