“The honey-rye whiskey takes you to an unexpected place, from (its) peppery start – spiraling around the tip of your tongue – to the languid motion, as it slips pensively down the throat (and) into the gullet.” Forbes
This is not the first time the sweet taste of honey prompted a woman to build a hive of happiness. When Claire Marin was introduced to beekeeping in 2003, it became the catalyst for a new life, the creation of a start-up company and a meaningful way to help influence her local community in the Catskill region of New York state. But what I really wanted to know was why a top advertising executive would leave her job for a beekeeping hobby?
Claire is the founder and CEO of Catskill Provisions, which produces Honey Rye Whiskey and a host of other artisan products like pancake and waffle mix, aged honey-apple cider vinegar, and chocolate honey truffles. Her love of bees and honey are the core of her business.
Beekeeping became an obsession for Claire who studied the work ethic and female-centric nature of bees.
Claire’s deep and instant connection prompted her to recognize a common thread she also saw in women. Bees do what women do every day – they make things happen with hard work and adaptability.
This insight surfaced after I first met Claire at a whisky tasting event in New York City in late December of 2017. Her impressive business success was eclipsed only by her desire to help others in the Catskill community.
Claire was one of a number of forward-thinking advocates who recognized the potential of the Catskill region located about 100 miles north of NYC in the Appalachian Mountain range.
The farm-to-table craze in the food industry had become wildly popular in 2010, and both the marketability and long-term health benefits were gaining momentum. Claire hoped to capitalize on the unique wildflower honey and natural vegetation of the Catskill region. While the farm-table movement is now an over-used term, it was refreshingly positive back then. It celebrated farmers and connected them to chefs and mixologists!
The Catskills, once an economically challenged area, has blossomed into a revitalized tourist industry with a host of boutique restaurants, charming hotels, and artisanal shops.
Naturally, all kinds of local organic products have made their way into the product line of Catskill Provisions, including organic wheat stone ground in their pancakes.
Because it’s expensive to certify every ingredient as organic, not all of the Catskill products have this label. But their chefs have forged a trusted relationship with local farmers and beekeepers to ensure the highest quality ingredients. (To learn more about their products, visit CatskillProvisions.com)
Despite Claire’s advocacy and company success, there was still a larger question that bothered me when I attended the New York City tasting. Sure, I was distracted by the yumminess of her product offering after I snafued the last whiskey taster.
As a self-professed wine connoisseur and, at best, a curious neophyte whiskey voyageur, the Catskill whiskey was unlike anything I had tried. Its deep golden color hinted at the honey flavor, but the sweet taste was balanced by a smooth yet tart nutty flavor.
Why did Claire, who did not have a drop of industry experience in product development nor production, give up her former executive lifestyle, not to mention the swanky travel opportunities that came with her job?
From a business perspective, Claire zeroed in on the money to be made in products that contained two words: organic and local. Furthermore, she knew a thing or two about distribution – Catskill Provisions is currently sold in NY, NJ, PA and CA. All this was certainly bolstered by the fact that the whiskey industry was also rapidly growing.
What you don’t see in her resume, however, is the pivotal reason and truth that mitigates the riskiness of Claire’s venture: she understood the secret life of bees!
Claire harnessed the skills that came naturally to her, while carefully exploring the possibilities for honey products because she understood the lessons manifest in nature. Bees provide clues or ‘secrets’ about life. They teach us to follow our natural inclinations and to harness the industry that comes from organization, a collaborative work ethic and a commitment to their mission.
The queen bee is the largest, most powerful, female bee in the hive colony. Her role is twofold: to direct the activity in the hive and to lay eggs. Without her, the bees lack direction and nothing gets done. This full-on approach sounds a lot like Claire’s abilities, not to mention most of the women in my life!
In fact, these truths have become a guiding mantra for Catskill Provisions. They appear on the website, simply stating:
We ought to do good to others as simple as a horse runs, or a bee makes honey, or a vine bears grapes season after season without thinking of the grapes it has borne. – Marcus Aurelius
The coincidental thing when speaking to Claire was how she reminded me of a character in a favorite book of mine that just happens to be called, The Secret Life of Bees. August is a central character who supports an industry of women and happens to be a beekeeper.
In this fantastic story by Sue Monk Kidd, August bottles (you guessed it!) honey and uses her power and compassion to help her community and heal women.
Admittedly, Claire’s challenges are different from August’s, whose story is set in North Carolina during the mid-1900s. August confronts the pervasive roots of slavery and suffers through the persistent gender and racial divides. But Claire is no stranger to cultural and gender discrimination.
Born in Madrid and raised in New York, Claire worked for fourteen years in industries dominated by men when she was a commodities trader and advertising executive.
Today, she’s still breaking stereotypes as a whiskey producer. When the construction of a her distillery is complete, she will be one of only a small handful of female distillers in an industry of over 1,300 across the United States.
The goodness inherent in Claire’s investment in her dream life and Catskill Provisions continues to multiply new possibilities, from a planned onsite tasting room to new products like her NY Pollinator Vodka and NY Pollinator Gin. Claire has earmarked 3% of all proceeds from the sales of these products to be donated to causes that help protect bees.
Claire’s fearless approach to life was not lost on me. She believes women often make better entrepreneurs than men because they have learned to juggle and multitask. But her experience is that women also tend to be more insecure and fearful than men. Claire’s cure for this fear? Get to the business of getting the job done.
There’s certainly more to come from Claire. Her business is a hive of community, tending to over 300 beehives in three counties of New York State (Delaware, Sullivan, and Madison) and collaborating with other local beekeepers.
It epitomizes the possibilities and secrets waiting for us in life. When we dare to be inspired by the kind of happiness Claire has created, I’ve learned that perhaps “our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.”