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).

Unknown 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.

BTH said...

Question- I'm duplicating this recipe. I've gotten fresh Thyme honey from NZ and the Mad Ferm blend from Bootleg Bio. The beer has fermented down to 1.005, but it'll probably be 2-3 weeks before I'll have space in my kegerator for this beer. Would it make sense to wait until 5 days before kegging to use the first round of dry hops, cold crash- transfer beer to keg, then add honey to the keg to carbonate naturally? I was thinking that this would retain the honey aromas in the keg better than fermenting in the fermenter, but it would add a bit of yeast to the bottom of the keg. Any suggestions?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

You certainly could prime with the honey, although 12 oz would likely be excessive. I'd add about half of the honey to the fermentor, and save the rest for kegging. A few days of cold crashing shouldn't be enough to remove all of the yeast, but a small fresh pitch can't hurt. I've been dosing my hoppy beers with CBC-1 at kegging recently. Either way the yeast will drop out after chilling and get sucked out in the first pint.

Dry hop timing is up to you. My usual preference is add them while there is still a little yeast activity to ensure any oxygen introduced is used by the yeast.

Let me know how it turns out!

BTH said...

I'll purge the headspace with CO2 after tossing in the dry hops (I'm super-excited Nelson Sauvin finally came back on the market in OZ, it's been almost impossible to get for the past year). I was going to put in 8oz of honey, per your tasting notes, which should be about perfect for priming to 3.0 vol., and report back in 3-4 weeks.

BTH said...

OK, so after skipping the dry hop step, and adding hops/honey straight to the keg.... The results were pretty good. I ended up using 260g honey, which was a touch too much, and resulted in a way overcarbed keg. I bumped the dry hops down to 110g Nelson, and placed them in a 400micron filter canister in the keg. For the next batch, I'm going to reduce both. The honey-Thyme and Nelson flavors were intense! I think I'll go for the rest of the honey jar next time (I'll probably be able to get 200g out of it), and bump the Nelson down to 75g. I'm also planning to mash a bit lower (150F), and add some orange zest at whirlpool. All in all, very nice beer, but I wanted it drier and with more citrus character. This keg got drunk FAST, so I need to make it again soon.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Thanks for the update! Honey is especially difficult to judge because the intensity can change from hive to hive and harvest to harvest. Nice that you have enough to try again with the same jar. Keep me in the loop with how the next iteration turns out!

Kim said...

hey Mike! I was wondering if you use raw honey or pasteurized? In your experience is that a warranted concern? I'm hoping to add honey to a blonde in secondary and don't really want any wild deviations in the flavor profile

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I assume it was raw given that it was from the farmer's market. Adding the honey after the majority of the fermentation is complete is pretty safe. At that point the alcohol and pH will prevent most wild yeast from gaining a foothold. The active yeast in the beer will also quickly ferment the sugar from the honey removing that sugar source. I've never had an issue.

You could dilute the honey and heat it to ~160F for a few minutes to pasteurize, you might drive off some of the aromatics though. Most meadmakers use unpasteurized honey without issue.

Best of luck!