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Mad Russian Apothecary Finds Peace With Bees

Published Thursday Feb 23, 2023

Author Matthew J. Mowry

BeesAbove: Alex Gavriluk tending his bees. Right: Variety of beard balms. (Courtesy of Mad Russian Apothecary)

It started with Alexiev “Alex” Gavriluk, the Mad Russian behind Mad Russian Apothecary in Derry, growing out his beard and not being able to find grooming products that worked for him that weren’t chock full of chemical and fillers. So, his wife, Amber, the marketing officer for NHTI, Concord’s Community College and a crafter, decided to experiment and make one for him. She hit on the right recipe and created a beard oil he loved. 

BalmsThat was at the beginning of 2020. And then the pandemic hit, and the couple found themselves at home and, like many, reevaluating their lives. Amber began developing other products for Alex, who after making mead for years, decided it was time to get into beekeeping as the price of honey was getting expensive.

And between these two new hobbies, the couple decided to amp them up into an actual business making artisan skin, beard and haircare products from natural products including raw honey. “I’ve always been a blue-collar worker—warehouse, retail. When the pandemic hit, my body was breaking down, and I was sick of warehouse work,” Alex says. 

The couple took Mad Russian Apothecary on the road to various craft fairs and events, including a fundraiser to help abused animals featuring punk rock bands. One may not think that’s a prime audience for such products, but the concert goers started buying in droves, the couple says. “They loved the tattoo balms, but they also loved the heel products and foot cream,” Alex says.

In addition to beard oil, balm and butter, tattoo balms and raw honey, the couple developed Achille’s Heal Foot Butter, Momma Bear Night Cream, Babushka Hair Oil, Head Skin Aftershave Balm and Jeffy Red-Hands Soothing Balm. “It is based on things we needed in everyday life,” Amber says.

As for the name of the business, that comes from an old nickname for Alex. One part is a nod to his heritage. His great grandfather and grandfather fled Belarus for Massachusetts during the Russian revolution. As for the mad part, he says, “I come from a tumultuous life. I was teenage runaway and addicted to drugs for years. Through shear will power and mistakes, I got back on course. That’s the nickname I got back in the day. I had anger issues. I try not to be like that anymore.” He adds, “People cross the street to avoid that crazy homeless person yelling. I’ve been that guy. I was homeless for a time. I somehow, by the grace of God, avoided jail or death.”

Alex and AmberLeft, Gavriluk and his wife, Amber, co-founders of Mad Russian Apothecary. (Courtesy of Mad Russian Apothecary)

Alex says it feels good to reclaim that nickname for something positive. And he says working with the bees is meditative as he has to remain calm around them.

Business has been growing and now has its own website, says Amber, who also handles marketing and branding. Alex was able to quit his job to devote himself full-time to Mad Russian Apothecary. “We definitely leveled up [in 2022]. We were able to double the beehives and open a second yard. We plan to open two more yards [in 2023] and double again,” he says.

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