Exchange-Beekeeping Journey

Betty Sayers of Holdrege began beekeeping in 2003, and she has crafted Spicy Beer Mustard with the honey from her hives.

HOLDREGE — Being a beekeeper has been a rugged road for Betty Sayers.

The Holdrege woman embarked on her journey as an apiarist in 2003. She saw an advertisement in the Kearney Hub about a person from the University of Nebraska entomology department speaking in Kearney about beekeeping.

"I thought somehow maybe I should be a beekeeper," Sayers said. "I went and it was just enchanting to me. I looked at all these people and I thought I could be like them. They were just dressed in old corduroys and flannel shirts and boots. They were very authentic, very real. It just seemed like something that would be of value in the world."

At the time, Sayers owned and operated the online magazine, Nebraska Rural Living, but she decided to take on a new venture. She considers herself a preservationist and conservationist, and bees are conservation creatures, she said.

When she first began, she had a bee suit that tied and was difficult to keep closed. Sayers explains that a bee can wiggle its way through a 3/8-inch opening, and she has been stung many times. She also discovered she's allergic to bees.

"I thought, 'They aren't going to beat me with this,'" she said.

But Sayers persisted. She got a new bee suit that has Velcro and zippers. She's also learned more about the nature of bees.

"They are wild. You have to respect their wildness, which I have learned by the hardest road," she said.

Sayers currently has four hives, but she receives no pleasure in selling the honey the bees make.

"The bees make it. They do all the work. All I do is put it in a bottle. I just give it away. I didn't enjoy selling it. I enjoy giving it. Then I thought, 'What am I doing with all this honey?' It was something I had to think about and think about," she said.

Sayers didn't have a desire to make sweet pastries with the honey, so she began thinking of other uses. She landed on the idea of condiments and mustard. She enlisted the help of her neighbor, Lisa Zinnecker, a food stylist, to help develop a mustard recipe. 

Sayers is a proponent of supporting local businesses, and she decided to add a beer brewed by Lost Way Brewery in Holdrege.

Sayers gave Lost Way Brewery owner Mark Kraus some mustard to try, and he knew exactly which of his beers to use in the recipe.

"He is a genius. He is a person who can identify flavor in beer, and he knows a lot about it," Sayers said. "He says, 'I know exactly the beer we are going to put in this: Olde Creamery Stout.' They make it there, and they brew it. Ever since that time and ever since it has Olde Creamery Stout. It has character. I call it the condiment with character."

Sayers also uses honey from her hives, brown mustard seeds, yellow mustard seeds and mustard powder in the recipe. The brown mustard seeds add the spicy heat, she said.

With the addition of Olde Creamery Stout, Sayers created Spicy Beer Mustard. She also created the company, Buzz Savories LLC.

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Sayers received help from friends and family to create the mustard and her business. Jim Fry, owner of Grinders food truck, mentored her and helped her blend the mustard in his massive blender. Sayers learned about starting a food business from the National Food Entrepreneur Program at the University of Nebraska Food Processing Center. The program taught Sayers about listing ingredients, nutrient values, preservation and food safety. One of the biggest challenges was to acquire USDA and FDA certifications for the product.

Her son, Robert McCormick, helped her establish a Kickstarter campaign to fund the venture.

"That was just an adventure. I really like the contemporariness of it. The spontaneity of it. Every day I can make a newsletter and send out a little update of what I was doing, take photos and make a new food," she said about Kickstarter. "It was just a really easy format, and it appealed to lots of people."

She began making the mustard in a commercial kitchen in Lexington, and customers can purchase it at Lost Way Brewery, Fritz's Meat in Holdrege, Oxford Locker in Kearney, Elwood Co-Op in Elwood, H&J Grocery and Beverage in Eustis, Rustic and Red in Cozad, From Nebraska Gift Shop in Lincoln, Raikes Beef Co. in Ashland, Leon's Gourmet Grocer in Lincoln, Back Alley Bakery in Hastings and Lexington Regional Health Center Gift Shop in Lexington. It can also be purchased on Amazon.

The Buzz Savories website features a variety of recipes that feature the Spicy Beer Mustard, and Sayers sends out a newsletter to subscribers. She's currently working on marketing her spicy honey mustard. She wants to package the mustard by the gallon so it can be used by chefs.

Sayers doesn't think of herself as an entrepreneur, but each item she makes for Buzz Savories is something she personally creates.

"I make it. Every one of those jars I've touched probably 20 times," she said. "It's fascinating, and I like that people like it."