Somethin’ sweet on tap

Teen beekeeper collaborates with local brewery

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Fort Dodge Senior High student Britta McCollum, 17, provided the honey for River Hops Brewing owner Ron Grebner to brew the honey weizen beer now available on tap.

What started as a small hobby recommended by a family friend has turned into business and collaboration opportunities for a Fort Dodge teen.

Three years ago, Britta McCollum, 17, received her first beehive through a scholarship from the Iowa Honey Producers Association. The scholarship covers the cost of beekeeping classes, hives, equipment and bees, and the scholarship recipient shares what they’ve learned at the association’s annual meeting.

Since that humble start in beekeeping, McCollum’s beekeeping operation has expanded to more than a dozen hives, producing hundreds of pounds of honey. Last fall, McCollum harvested 544 pounds of honey.

“That’s a lot of honey,” McCollum’s mom, Amy Synarong said.

After harvesting, McCollum keeps some of the honey for her family, and packages the rest to sell through her Facebook page, 8th Avenue Honey.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
River Hops Brewing owner Ron Grebner pours a glass of the new honey weizen beer available on tap at the brewery. The beer is made from honey harvested by local teen beekeeper Britta McCollum.

Recently, while selling honey at a small business pop-up, McCollum connected with Ron Grebner, owner of River Hops Brewing at 1014 Central Ave.

“We just got to talking about how I wanted to make a beer with honey, so I decided to get some honey to make some beer,” he said.

Buying 22 pounds of honey from McCollum, Grebner was able to brew about 100 gallons of his 8th Avenue Honey Weizen beer.

When the beer premiered on tap at River Hops last month, it immediately became a fan favorite and the brewery’s top seller, Grebner said.

At just 17, McCollum can’t actually enjoy the beer made from her honey, so her mom tried it for her.

“It’s good,” Synarong said. “It’s a little citrusy, you can taste the wheat and it reminds me a little bit of Shock Top.”

Partnering with local producers to locally-source ingredients is something Grebner is passionate about.

“We do it as much as we can,” he said. “We currently have two beers on tap that have local ingredients in them — the 8th Avenue Honey Weizen and the other one is the Fresh Hopped Pale Ale, and the hops in that were grown in Manson.”

Partnering with River Hops isn’t the only business decision McCollum’s made for her honey — jars of the honey she’s produced are available for sale at Hy-Vee in Fort Dodge.

“I just thought it’d be like a one-hive thing, a hobby,” she said about her start in beekeeping. “But we’re growing.”

McCollum has about 10 hives that have survived the winter and in the next month or so, she’ll be getting them ready for the new season.

“We’ll start building new hive bodies and decide whether we’re going to purchase hives or split what we already have,” she said.

Grebner said he plans to continue using McCollum’s 8th Avenue Honey for future batches of the honey weizen.

“From my point of view, I think it’s terrific,” he said. “We have local resources and the willingness to work with us, so to bring this to creation was an easy thing to do.”

Maybe this collaboration will continue long enough for McCollum to taste the fruits of their labor.


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