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By Billy Grimes

A sweet local success story nestles under the Hermosa Cliffs ten miles north of Durango in the beautiful Animas River Valley. Three generations of the Culhane family have nurtured Honeyville into a must-stop destination for tourists and locals alike.

Honeyville began in 1918 when Vernon Culhane took an interest in honeybees and started his own hive. He discovered that his bees produced the best honey he had ever tasted. Vernon took his flatbed pickup to the Rio Grande Land Company in downtown Durango near the train depot, and locals would fill their containers straight from the truck.

What started as a hobby for Vernon became a thriving business. He expanded his offerings to include jams and jellies and created Honeyville’s flagship product, Cinnamon Whipped Honey. A true entrepreneur, Vernon also started cultivating chokecherry trees in his backyard and perfected a honey-enhanced recipe that’s since blossomed into Honeyville’s famous Wild Chokecherry Jelly.

Vernon’s son, Danny, stepped into the honey business in 1974. These days, Danny, his wife, Sheree, and their son, Kevin, keep the 106-year-old honey business buzzing. Honeyville headquarters features 12,500 square feet of production and packaging facilities and a tasting room. Honeyville employs around 27 locals and celebrates 85 products in their catalog, including Bourbon Vanilla Whipped Honey, Cranberry Jalapeño Jelly, Apricot Habanero Jam, Chokecherry Chipotle BBQ Sauce, Honey Caramel Sauce, Chokecherry Lime drink mixer, and Honeyaki Marinating Sauce. Their booming mail-order business has expanded from 30 names to more than 200,000, with the Christmas season providing the most significant sales of the year.

After some encouragement from a friend, Kevin Culhane opened Honeyville’s Honey House Distillery in 2012. Years of planning, distillery tours, and industry-specific conventions led the entrepreneurs to create a micro-distillery like no other. Kevin and his distilling partner commissioned a 250-gallon, custom-built copper still shaped like a beehive to distill their classic line of spirits, which showcase Rocky Mountain Wildflower Honey in every recipe.

The Distillery contributes 20 to 30% of Honeyville’s overall sales. Honey House has won numerous awards for its products, including Colorado Honey Bourbon Whiskey, Oak Barrel Aged Bourbon Whiskey, Hex Vodka (distilled from honey wine), Cinnamon Honey Whiskey, Colorado Botanical Gin, and Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur.

The Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur is crafted with local Durango Joes Coffee and boasts three Gold Medals. Other happy Honeyville collaborations with local partners include Ska Brewing Company’s True Blonde Ale, Carver Brewing Company’s Root Beer, Animas Chocolate Company’s Honey Whiskey-Infused Caramel Truffles, and Serious Delights Bakery breads.

The true heroes behind the business’s century-long success are, of course, the bees. All summer long, the bees travel only two miles from their hives, visiting wildflowers and alfalfa to collect nectar and pollen, which they turn into honey to eat during the colder seasons. The sturdy bunch stays awake throughout the winter, clustered inside the hive, eating honey and shivering their flight muscles to generate heat. They are so good at making honey for winter that they make two to three times more than they need, which is good news for honey lovers.

The consistency of the honey is fairly thick, and each year’s flavor is slightly different, like wine. To keep up with demand, Honeyville sources honey with a similar taste profile from regional beekeepers within a 500-mile radius of the production facility. Honeyville’s honey undergoes a rigorous quality control process before entering the warehouse.

Honeyville is a big part of Durango’s local food culture and will remain so, as long as the bees keep buzzing and the flowers bloom. Honeyville has big plans for future growth over the next few years, including fashioning a larger barrel house for aging Honey House whiskey, producing canned cocktails, and developing a more robust body-care products line incorporating Honeyville honey.

Add sweetness to a lovely drive along Highway 550 with a stop at the Honeyville factory store to sample products and view one of the many active beehives behind a plexiglass container. Besides all varieties of honey products, the store features jams, jellies, sauces, dips, Colorado wines, and other unique items from around the Southwest.

Honeyville is located at 33633 Highway 550 and can be reached at 800-676-7690. The storefront and tasting room are open Memorial Day through Labor Day, 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., and Labor Day through Memorial Day, 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., with closures on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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