If a beer recipe calls for "honey" without specifying a varietal, it might as well call for "malt" and "hops" with similar imprecision. The plants where colonies' bees collect nectar determines both the aromatic and sugar profiles of the honey they produce. In general the paler varieties (e.g., clover and alfalfa) have mild flavors, fruit blossom honeys (e.g., raspberry and orange blossom – which despite its name can come from any citrus) tend to possess more assertive aromatics reminiscent of the plant’s fruit, and darker honey (specifically buckwheat) is pungently reminiscent of old malt extract. Wildflower honey varies by location and season, so taste it to decide what type of beer it suits best.
While mead is the truest (and sometimes overwhelming) expression of fermented honey, beer and honey had a relationship millennia before bland honey wheat beers were invented. While honey is not a common addition to sour beers, there are a handful of terrific examples: Bullfrog Beekeeper, McKenzie Brew House's Irma Extra, Cambridge Brewing Honey Badger, and Hill Farmstead Ann. My orange-blossom honey infused Flower Sour was delicious, which makes me wonder why I waited five years to brew something similar again!
Do a favor for the 12 bees who worked their entire lives to produce each teaspoon of honey, add it as late in the brewing process as possible. Heat from the boil and the carbon dioxide from fermentation will scrub out the aromatics that make honey so much more interesting than high-fructose corn syrup. Honey demands greater care than other sugars because its floral notes are so volatile. At a minimum I wait until after primary fermentation. If saved until the beer has already been souring for several months, the honey will feed the dominant bacteria and Brettanomyces. Luckily, unlike fruit or hops, honey aroma does not fade quickly with age. Priming with honey traps the aromatics in the bottle, but the variable sugar content makes it a gamble.
For this batch I decided to go back to my "split-batch" experimental ways. I purchased small quantities of five interesting varietal honeys. Each one is solely flavored by the nectar collected by the bees (not by fruit or extracts added to a neutral honey): Indian Acacia (winey/hay), Raspberry (Lucky Charms), Blueberry (berry/malty), Gallberry (herbal/spicy), and Sourwood (waxy/floral - classic honey). After primary fermentation was complete I added eight ounces by weight of each honey to five 1 gallon jugs and evenly distributes the beer between them. It will be interesting to see how much my tasting notes of the finished beers recalls those for the unfermented honeys.
Honey Variety Pack Sour
Batch Size (Gal): 5.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 10.13
Anticipated OG: 1.055
Anticipated SRM: 3.8
Anticipated IBU: 15.5
Brewhouse Efficiency: 71 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes
59.3% - 6.00 lbs. German Vienna Malt
9.9% - 1.00 lbs. Flaked Soft White Wheat
4.9% - 0.50 lbs. Flaked Barley
1.2% - 0.13 lbs. Acidulated Malt
24.7% - 2.50 lbs. Honey (Secondary)
0.50 oz. Mosaic (Pellet, 10.00% AA) @ 45 min.
0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.
0.50 Whirlfloc @ 15 min.
The Yeast Bay Vermont Ale
East Coast Yeast ECY02 Flemish Ale
Profile: Pale, Low Hop
Sacch Rest - 45 min @ 156F
8 gallons Whole Foods Spring water. 2 g CaCl added to both mash and sparge.
Batch sparge, collected 7.25 gallons at 1.029.
Boiled down to ~5.5 gallons racked 5 gallons clear-ish to 6 gal BetterBottle. Chilled to 70 F. Pitched a half cup of Yeast Bay Vermont Ale harvested from Fortunate Islands #4, plus a 6 month old vial of ECY Flemish.
Shook to aerate, left at 65F to ferment.
4/13/14 Racked to five 1 gallon jugs with with 1/2 lb each Heavenly Organic Acacia, Fruitwood Orchards Raspberry, Fruitwood Orchards Blueberry, Winter Park Gallberry, and Winter Park Sourwood honey. Added a 1/2 cup of warm water to each to help the honey dissolve.
10/1/15 Bottled all five versions with 1 oz of the same honey they were brewed with. No extra yeast, we'll see if I regret that.
4/4/16 Tasting notes for all five. Gallberry was the most interesting, sourwood was the most honey-forward, and blueberry would shine in a darker beer,