Your Aim is
To get the judge to look at your honey – it must have no obvious faults which allow the judge to put it aside.
Once over this hurdle you are in with a good chance of a prize because so many other people make the mistakes you will find described below.
The Judge’s case contains
- A big torch – which makes finding what’s in the honey easy.
- Tasting rods – the flavour and texture matter a great deal.
- Grading glasses, to check jars are entered in the correct colour classes.
- A lens to check details such as foreign bodies and a refractometer for water % checks (ideal is 17.4%water)
- Weighing machine and ruler, so make sure your weights and dimensions are as in the schedule
- A copy of the schedule and the rules (which s/he has read carefully), so stick close to them yourself.
Honey in Jars
Preparing liquid honey
- selection – choose the best for :- clarity, taste, scent, colour, and have enough for 3 jars minimum.
- grading – use a grading glass to be sure which class to enter. The two grading glasses show the boundaries between light and medium and between medium and dark. Show secretary usually has a pair.
- filtering can improve chances. There are many methods, but lint from filters can destroy your chances.
- jar selection. jars must be truly matching (same maker and type – look on the bottom, though the mould numbers on the bases no longer matter), and must be the correct type as specified in the schedule (usually standard 1lb squat with gold lacquered lids).
- lids – must be clean, rust free, honey free, matching. It’s surprising how often this is badly done. Do not use second hand lids in a show (if ever). If it says gold lacquered don’t use plastic lids!
- getting rid of incipient granulation is best done in bulk. Trying to improve just one jar is often very difficult. The effects of heating can change the colour and taste. If you must, try a short time in a microwave rather than longer heating.
- pollen in honey is not a fault and can be a selling point in every day trade, but it can easily be mistaken for granulation by a judge so it’s best to put in really clear looking jars for showing. Too much pollen downgrades your entry.
- removing specks: – using a tube or straw they can be sucked out, but it’s better they were not there at all. Many specks come from putting perfect honey into dusty jars. It’s easy to wash teacloths so use good ones and wipe all jars with care.
- bubble problems – filling with the jars pre-heated helps stop air sticking to the sides. Allowing time for bubbles to escape whilst in the settling tank is the best, so prepare in good time, let the honey settle and fill jars slowly. Bubbles under the shoulder of a jar can easily be dislodged using a clean bent wire, then skimmed off later.
- correct weights – weigh some test jars full and empty so that you know you are giving correct value. Many people fill to just below the “filling line” which gives short measure and eliminates them from the prize list. As a rough guide, no air space should be visible below the edge of the closed lid. Over-full is also a fault, so don’t cram too much into the jars
Preparing Set honey
- What is the difference between naturally granulated (=naturally crystallised) and soft set (= creamed) honey? This is often not clear, but in general NC has set from clear liquid in the jar and has a grainier texture, whilst soft set has been seeded and stirred in bulk until just before it sets, then poured into jars. It has a smoother texture and often a flatter plainer top surface. Some soft set shows streaks up the side of the jar because the crystals were lined up by ascending bubbles just before it set.
- All set honey must be SET, i.e. it is not mobile and would not run out of a jar left lying on its side. The idea that ‘creamed’ honey should be a creamy liquid is wrong. Don’t use a whisk!
- Seeding for even setting and good granulation. Judges tend to prefer small crystals with a smooth feel on the tongue, so avoid long slow crystallisation that produces sandy hard grains. This can be done by careful seeding of clear honey with a sample that has the right texture. Mix in a pound of your best set honey, stirred up, with about 20 pounds of liquid honey in a tub, stir, be patient, re-stir, then in a day or three when there is some sign of crystallisation, bottle slowly and carefully, avoiding trapping bubbles.
- importance of good surface – how to achieve this? Skimming well before final setting helps, as does setting undisturbed in an even temperature. Make sure your shelf is level.
- Soft set honey timing – seed and stir, then bottle about 7 days before the show. Do it in batches.
- Have spare jars to each batch so you can test without spoiling show jars and can substitute if you find a fault.
Use of OSR honey to start granulation in other honeys is often successful.
Keeping jars of honey for next time
- Problems with temperature. Sudden changes, particularly cooling, cause frosting – contraction of honey inside jar and of liquid component inside crystal lattice. There is no cure for frosting but it is not generally considered a serious fault, other things being equal.
- Granulation on the bottom – avoid / cure by warming, either in Microwave or hot water. In serious cases decant 3 jars to make 2 and heat the remainder as spare. (but its colour will darken and won’t match)
- Microwaving honey. (No lids!) As a general rule, 1 minute per pound, but judge by results because heating one jar for one minute can give a different result from heating 6 jars for 6 minutes. Melted set honey usually throws a mist of bubbles. Allow for these to rise and be skimmed off along with wax and other debris that is always present.
- In general keeping show jars for later shows does not get the desired results as stored jars always develop faults and faults are almost never cured by keeping. It’s best to start from scratch for every show.
- The judge wants to see absence of pollen, no crystallisation whatever, uniformity of honey (combs often have two or more colours in them), good taste and scent.
- The judge will use a strong torch so check with your own torch, shining it through the comb from behind.
The Whole Comb (For Extraction)
The judge is looking for ease of extraction, therefore for:- evenness, cleanness, flatness, comb proud of wood for easy decapping, fullness, no travel staining or propolis, woodwork clean and sound, Judge will take comb out of box and taste a sample,
Cleaning a frame takes care and time. Dirty frames seldom win. Use a small sharp scraper or knife. Leave no dust on the honey. Containers must be beeproof and glass sided (and easily opened).
The Cut Comb
Matching pairs must truly match, weights must be as schedule (gross, or nett, within limits stated, and matching). There should be no liquid honey in the box, so drain the cut block well before putting in. Cut it to fit and drain it on a cake rack overnight. Types of container should be standard – don’t try fancy alternatives.
A cut comb is inspected much as whole comb, for crystals (none) pollen, colour, taste and aroma. The judge always tips the comb out to see the other side, so does not want any loose liquid in the box.
Sections old style and rounds. General points as for other comb + good clean box.
Special honeys – Ling, Bell heather, Chunk.
Ling heather sets like a jelly. The test is to draw a line across the surface with a tasting rod. The line should stay there and not fill in. With other honeys mixed in, it flattens after a little while. The distinctive taste and smell are looked for, but colour can vary according to where it came from. Bubbles trapped in the honey show it to be ling, and they should be fairly even, not too small, and evenly distributed. If they rise the honey is probably a mixture.
Bell heather honey is only seen in special places like Ireland and Scotland. It is a clear dark red and liquid (unlike ling) and has a very distinct and lasting flavour.
Chunk Honey – Good chunk honey has:-
- half and half liquid to cut comb (i.e. the biggest bit of comb that will fit in the jar)
- same honey in comb as in liquid
- no crystallisation at all, nor any pollen (and certainly no wire!).
- no floating debris or bits of broken wax anywhere.
- very clean clear honey so the comb can be seen well
- comb cut the right way up – it’s a fault to put it in sideways or inverted.
Faults which eliminate
- underweight – check weigh your empty jars, weigh your full ones and subtract.
- dirt / hair in honey / rusty lids / specks in bottom of set jars. This judge often uses a high power lens to be able to identify objects in the bottom of jars. Try it yourself
- not matching – includes jars, lids and honey, all must match as a pair or group.
- not in correct class – colour check (the show sec normally has colour grading glasses available)
- dirt or crystals on inside of lid
- honey in the threads (honey + tin = black goo).
- scum of bubbles on surface of liquid. So skim carefully a day or so before the show. Jar should be over-filled enough to allow skimming to leave correct weight in jar.
- crystallisation in combs. Just one cell crystallised can eliminate an otherwise good comb.
- pollen in cut combs and sections, too much pollen in whole combs for extraction.
- crystals in clear honey – includes incipient cloudiness. Some judges take pollen cloudiness to be crystals, so don’t take this chance. Only enter truly clear honey.
- Wrong viscosity, usually too runny because water content above about 20%, which can lead to fermentation. A smell of fermentation will be a total eliminator.
Faults which downgrade
- lack of clarity – pollen in clear honey
- floaters, (apart from dirt), such as wax specks, little bubbles
- smears on glass, tipped honey on otherwise clean lid
- unevenness in combs – colour mixtures, lumpy cappings, un-flatness, caps below woodwork, not all cells full.
- liquid honey under cut comb
- poor aroma, or the lack of any.
- boring or poor flavour, or the lack of it
- low viscosity (and artificially high viscosity)
- ling honey that isn’t a true gel, due to other sources
Do standards differ at different shows?
They shouldn’t but they do.
At a small show you can get away with minor faults, which would eliminate at a big one, hence prizes are more worthwhile the bigger the show.