Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Honey Sour Beer - Experiment

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.

As much as I enjoy drawing inspiration from commercially brewed beers, and more recently working on commercial recipes, I'm trying to take advantageous of the things I can do as a homebrewer that are difficult or impossible on a larger scale. In this case that means using ingredients that either don't exist in large enough quantity or simply cost too much to make them economically feasible in commercial batches.

Honey Variety Pack Sour

Recipe Specifics
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

Water Profile
Profile: Pale, Low Hop

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 45 min @ 156F

Brewed 3/17/14

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,


graymoment said...

Any particular reason why you didn't use oxygen prior to pitching the yeast/bacteria?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I tend to only use pure oxygen for higher gravity beers and lagers. For moderate gravity ales, I have fine results shaking to aerate.

LAC said...

Do you pasteurize the honey before adding?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Honey can contain some wild yeast, but in a sour beer the risk of them causing issues is low (especially compared to the guaranteed destruction of the honey aromatics by the heat). For a clean beer, the risks are a bit higher, but the less heat the honey is exposed to, the better the character will be!

Unknown said...

How did these turn out??

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

They're still sitting in jugs aging. Should be ready to bottle in the next few months. Samples have tasted from great to OK depending on the honey.

Unknown said...

Any chance you'd be willing to share which honeys are tasting the best right now? Flavors are always changing so no worries if you don't want to comment until you have the final product.

I had to ask because I have a sour porter (~6 months in) and right now I'm leaning toward carmelizing some dates in red wine (similar to your Funky Dark Saison #2) and adding some honey. I was just curious which honeys are leaving the best flavors behind when added to a sour!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Haven't pulled samples recently, but I'm not sure the honey that does best in this pale beer would mesh well with a stout anyway. The raspberry is really interesting, sweet, almost cotton candy. The gallberry and sourwood are a bit deeper. You may want something even more potent though, buckwheat or avocado? Smell a few varieties and see what works for your nose!

Unknown said...

Any reason you didn't use a more neutral malt like a pils or maris otter? I'm think about brewing a similar batch (non-sour version). Looking for a malt bill to keep it from tasting 1-dimensional but that will ultimately take a back seat to the honey. Honey is a Brazilian wildflower varietal, dark amber color, strong caramel flavor with hints of hay and floral/herbal- will probably look to the hops to accentuate this last part. Any thoughts?
In terms of timing, I'm thinking of doing 50/50 addition where first half goes at high krausen and 2nd half at secondary, just so I can get a good attenuation and not leave it in the secondary for very long. Looking at 22 oz total.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I like Vienna for recipes that are lacking base malt. Say a session IPA, or in this case a beer that is getting 1/3 of its fermentables from honey. With the honey, and the thought of adding hops, just having a background maltiness may be enough.

Sounds like a delicious varietal, best of luck!

Volstead Brewing said...

How was the honey added to the beer; Considering its consistency should you warm it up or dilute with warm ROctober water?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

If you look down in the notes I described the process (I did dilute with warm water). Probably not necessary with the yeast activity, but certainly doesn't hurt!