Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Nelson Thyme Honey Saison

Pure Nelson Thyme Honey Honey is remarkable. The 12 oz/375 g in this saison contained the sugar paid-out by hundreds of thousands of flowers that coevolved with honeybees, incentivizing them to transport their genetic material. Those bees flew a combined distance in the tens of thousands of miles. Then, by flapping their wings to speed evaporation of the nectar, they concentrated the flowers' aromatics and sugars, preserving both for years (or potentially millennia). Boiling the honey drives off the aromatics, so with all of the effort it took to collect and concentrate them I save honey for cold-side additions!

I’ve brewed with more than a dozen honey varieties over the years (including sourwood, gallberry, raspberry, blueberry, acacia, buckwheat, orange blossom, rosemary, meadowfoamheather, and wildflower). "Fruit" honey is the easiest place to start as they are the most approachable (bright, fruity, and sweet). However, it often takes 20-30% of the sugar in the batch to really contribute their unique character. Over the last year I’ve become fond of honey gathered from herbs. These have more punch (not surprising given that herbs are prized for their intense aromas). Honey Bunches of Saison (rosemary honey) was delicious and distinct with less than 10% of the fermentables from the honey, but it was a little one dimensional with the honey overwhelming the late-boil hops.

I’d been tipped-off to look for thyme honey while I was visiting New Zealand. We didn’t see any at the honey stands we stopped at along the road from Christchurch to Nelson (although we did buy a jar of wildflower). Luckily while I was brewing at Marchfest in Nelson, Audrey visited the local farmer’s market and bought 500 g. I though some Nelson Sauvin dry-hopping would be a good fruity-counterpoint to the bold herbal character of the honey, and really make this a Nelson Saison. I opted for Chinook and Nugget for a cheapskate route to beta-citronellol as in my biotransformation NEIPA. I considered adding a bottle of Nelson Sauvignon blanc too (ala my Nu Zuland recipe), but when I tasted the beer it already had enough flavor.
Mad Fermentationist Saison Blend!
Fermentation was provided by my house saison blend, available once again for a limited release from Bootleg Biology today through October 30!

It's Nelson Thyme

Smell – That thyme honey is out of control! Glad I didn't add the whole jar, wish I’d gone even lower. Herbal, woodsy, and waxy. Just a hint of that earthiness I associate with buckwheat honey. There is a faint citrusy-hoppiness, but the classic white-wine Nelson is mostly obscured.

A glass of Saison with Hops and Honey from New ZealandAppearance – Radiant yellow body. Cloudy without being murky. Fantastically airy yet solid foam sitting on top. Beautiful.

Taste – Flavor is brighter than the nose, big citrus (lemon mostly) with a touch of crisp tartness. Honey is still there, but seems more balanced than the aroma. Still strong herbal, although not explicitly thyme. White wine in the finish. Mellow, but present hop bitterness. Malt is restrained. Yeast is buried under the honey and hops. Hint of classic leathery Brett funk in the finish. Lingering retronasal-olfactory is fantastic blend of yeast and honey and hops.

Mouthfeel – Light and crisp, solid carbonation. No harshness or tannins.

Drinkability & Notes – The honey has actually faded and integrated over the last few weeks. More balanced and citrusy. Happy with the combination of hot-side hops as a citrusy base, disappointed with the contribution of four ounces of Nelson Sauvin between the fermentor and keg.

Changes for Next Time – Down to 8 oz thyme honey. Could up the Nelson Sauvin, or swap it for something less precious.

RecipeThe wort coming to a boil
Batch Size: 5.50 gal
SRM: 3.0
IBU: 30.1
OG: 1.059
FG: 1.004
ABV: 7.2%
Final pH: 4.16
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 mins

76.6% - 9 lbs Dingemans Pilsen
17.0% - 2 lbs Quaker Quick Oats
6.4% - 12.0 oz Pure Nelson Thyme Honey (closest I could find online)

Mash In - 45 min @ 152F

2.00 oz Chinook (Pellets, 13.00% AA) @ Steep/Whirlpool
2.00 oz Nugget (Pellets, 13.00% AA) @ Steep/Whirlpool
2.00 oz Nelson Sauvin (Pellets, 12.00% AA) @ Dry Hop Day 5
2.00 oz Nelson Sauvin (Pellets, 12.00% AA) @ Keg Hop

3.00 g Calcium Chloride
2.00 tsp Lactic Acid
2.25 g Gypsum (Calcium Sulfate)


The Mad Fermentationist Saison Blend

Brewed 8/26/17

Mash pH initially 5.50 at mash temp with .5 tsp. 5.38... 5.27... 5.12 (~5.37 at room temp). .5 tsp Lactic mixed in with cold sparge water. Collected 7.5 gallons at 1.044.

Added hops at flame-out after chilling the 7.5 gallons of wort remaining to 185F. Recirculated for 30 minutes before running off the saison portion. 1.054. Chilled to 82F and pitched the House culture (9 month old harvest that had been in the fridge, gushed a little 4 hours with first runnings to get going). Left at 78F ambient to ferment. Good activity by the next morning. Ambient stayed between 77-79F for primary.

8/30/17 Fermentation appeared finished. Added 12 oz of "Pure Nelson" Thyme Honey to primary on the saison (effective OG ~1.059). Warmed in a water bath and then the microwave until dissolved.

8/31/17 Dry hopped with 2 oz of Nelson, loose.

9/10/17 Kegged the Nelson half with 3 oz of table sugar and 2 oz of keg hops.

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Beautiful rocky head


kyle smith said...

Any idea on how the microbe blend changes from batch to batch with this 'yeast'? I tend over-build starters and save some for use on future batches. I'm wondering if the blend would get out of whack after a few generations.

Andrei said...

nice write-up, mike! can you discuss how you got the figure of 30 IBUs from 2 oz whirlpool hops, only? which calculation did you use? how long did they steep for? 30 seems high to me... but what do i know!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I've been harvesting, storing, and repitching this culture for more than three years now without issue. Like any blend I'm sure it'll change with time depending on your harvesting process, but it seems stable for me. Drift is a bigger issue when it is simply a blend of strains, this is a balanced culture that has lived together!

It should have been two ounces of each hop... I cut the amounts in half because this was half of the batch, but I removed the other half before the hops went in. Fixed now. I'm sure 30 IBUs is still high as the hops went in at 185F and I just let BeerSmith do its standard whirlpool estimate (35% correction factor in my profile).

Brandon Ritman said...

Hey Mike,

I just ordered some of your house yeast, thanks for that. How do you harvest/handle the yeast between batches? Do you just capture some slurry after each use? I typically overbuild a starter and harvest off the top of that.


The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I usually harvest the blend from primary into a growler and just leave it in the fridge until I need it again. No problems thus far!

Anonymous said...

Nice write up. I’ve been thinking of swapping sugar for honey in my Saison. Do you see any issues with adding it at whirlpool instead of later during fermentation? If I did it at whirlpool do you think I will get less flavor or honey character.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Exactly, both the heat during the whirlpool and the CO2 production during primary fermentation will scrub a considerable amount of the aromatics. It certainly will retain some honey flavor if you use a characterful variety.