These five sour beers were split from the same primary fermentor with Conan and East Coast Yeast Flemish Ale (recipe). When fermentation slowed, I divided the young beer into five one-gallon jugs each with a half pound of a different single-varietal honey. Once the gravity was stable I bottle conditioned with one ounce more of the same honey to trap some volatile aromatics (something I usually caution against). All told, the honey provided about 35% of the fermentables!
This wasn’t my first time adding honey to sour beer, but I wanted to play with a variety of new flavors in a bland-ish base beer to evaluate them!
Honey Sours: Five-Way
Appearance – Quintuplets: clear gold body, nice foam on the pour, but mediocre retention (see it as I poured left to right). Honey shouldn’t hurt head retention, but sugar without protein doesn’t help either.
Smell/Taste – Even at one third honey, the differences between the aromas are subtle. They have more alike than unalike. They each have a mild fruity aroma, light horsey-Brett funk, pleasant acidity, and restrained maltiness. Similarities are always a good sign for a split-batch, no major process issues!
Acacia: This was the oddball through most of the fermentor samples I’ve pulled (weird plastic/stable aromatics). It has calmed down, but the honey doesn’t add much. It is abrupt, changing course mid-palate from fruity to funk. However, it has some interesting white-wine and watermelon rind notes I don’t get from the rest.
Sourwood: Classic honey aroma, with some vinous notes behind it. Fresh, honey on your pancakes flavor. Not exactly what I’m looking for in a pale sour, but I drank it quicker than any of the others. Wonderful lingering floral note!
Gallberry: Subtle waxy aroma. The most herbal, a nice counter to the berry. The honey flavor is nicely integrated into the base sour. The most interesting of the posse, with subtleties that needed a pale canvas to showcase.
Raspberry: Young this had a big cotton-candy note, but that has mostly faded. It is still the fruitiest and suggests the most sweetness. Least funky, most acidic. The nose is almost acetic, but the flavor doesn’t bear a trace. An outlier, but then it always has been.
Blueberry: Light, fruity, berry but not distinctly blueberry. Balanced, pleasant, the maltiest, but not quite the right match for a pale sour. Would be ideal for a sour red!
Mouthfeel – Happy that they all seem to have fermented out and carbonated at similar rates. Could be spritzier, but I don’t mind it as is.
Drinkability & Notes – This is the sort of batch that I love to brew! One of my recent pushes has been to brew beers that embrace homebrewing. A large brewery couldn’t procure enough gallberry honey to brew a batch at a reasonable rate. As homebrewers we have the opportunity to produce beers on a scale that allows us to use ingredients that are impractical for even brewpubs because of availability or cost. I’ll be talking about this for one of my talks at the Norwegian Homebrewer Weekend (aka Hjemmebryggerhelgen 2016) later this month, I’ll also be talking to Brad Smith about it for his BeerSmith Podcast if you can’t make it to Drammen!