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Runneth Over: Ethiopian Pair Honors Heritage by Creating Honey Wine

Dentist Hana Worede is one of the creators of a Texas-made Ethiopian style honey wine.
Dentist Hana Worede is one of the creators of a Texas-made Ethiopian style honey wine.
courtesy Hana Worede

For most people, paying homage to their country includes hanging their nation’s flag, participating in national holidays, even preparing native meals. One woman is taking it a step further. Meet Hana Worede, a dentist by day and part-owner of Bilquis, an Ethiopian honey wine made in Texas.

"This wine is the oldest alcoholic beverage of mankind,” Worede told the Observer. "I didn’t know that. It’s just the wine I’ve been making since I was a kid. It’s a celebratory wine. We usually make it for weddings and baptisms. I can’t take credit for introducing this brand; it was my business partner Mehret Gebre Sims who approached me. She’s Ethiopian too."

Worede’s true awakening came after completing dental school.

“I had gone back home to do missionary work, just a short stint,” Worede said. “I thought I’d go help them out a little bit before my loans kick in. But I ended up being really depressed because I saw what was lacking. I was exposed to all the stuff that they don’t have. We had everything in dental school, so I just assumed they did too. A year later my business partner came to me with this [wine] idea, and I was like, 'I’m all in. If this business does well, I want to give back.'"

Six years later, Worede and her partner continue to give Texans a taste of the motherland. To do that, the pair had to be strategic when it came to the appearance of Bilquis, pronounced bill-Keys.

“Tej, which is the honey wine’s traditional name, naturally has a dark yellow, murky color,” Worede explained. “For Ethiopians, that’s all we know, but for non-Ethiopians we thought it would push them away or not make them as open to trying it. So we told them to maintain the taste, just make it look like a white wine. Our version is technically considered a Texas wine because we taught a winery in West Texas how to make it.”

And the recipe, yet simple, may throw a lot of people for a loop when it comes to one ingredient: hops.

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“The recipe is the same for any Ethiopian,” Worede said. “It has honey, hops and water. The hops in our wine offset the sweetness. When people try it, they’re kind of shocked. Those who like IPAs like it. Those who like sweeter wines like it. It’s hard to put it into a category. You just have to try it.”

While juggling two jobs may be taxing, Worede believes it will be beneficial in the long run.

“We named the wine after the Queen of Sheba. The Queen of Sheba was a woman I aspire to be. She was the leader of many nations. I don’t want to be intimidating, but she was slightly intimidating. She was beautiful. Not only did she have power and prestige, but she was also very kind and very giving. We’re representing her. I’m tired, but it’s the passion that keeps me going."

Bilquis is sold at a handful of liquor stores across DFW, including Specs. It’s also being served at local Ethiopian restaurants. For more info, or to buy a bottle, visit bilquis-tej.com

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