Honey is a popular ingredient in brewing beer, and it can add wonderful depths of flavor to your batch. You can create some interesting notes in your beer, adding depth, a little sweetness, and other complexities, depending on the varietal you’ve used. But how much should you use? When should you add it? What kind should you use?
At Jake’s Bee Co., we keep beehives all over central California, bringing you natural honey products that you can use in baking, in drinks, and, of course, in your beer. To get started, try one of our raw honey gift sets, which has three varieties of our seasonal honeys. Shop online with us today!
Here are a few things to consider when you’re brewing beer with honey.
Beers That Taste Good With Honey
Some varieties taste amazing with a little sweetness while others…not so much. Wheats and witbiers are perfectly complemented by honey, and so are saisons, brown ales, pumpkin beers, Belgian ales, ambers, and sweet stouts. The beauty of homebrewing is that you’ve got your own experimentation license, so you can try it with anything you think will be good. However, we don’t recommend it too much for the more bitter beers like IPAs or APAs. Also, use caution when adding it to sour beers such as a gose or Berliner Weisse—the sweetness can overpower the tartness, taking away all the qualities people look for in a sour beer.
Raw honey naturally carries some bacteria and other bugs that can cause an infection or unintended types of yeast proliferation. This is not exactly conducive to the sterile environment we’re striving for when brewing beer, so you’re going to have to take this into consideration when you add it. You also don’t want to boil out the flavor, so you can see, there’s a bit of a conundrum here. You can pasteurize it by mixing it with water and heating it to about 176° for an hour to an hour and a half. Cool it, then add it to your carboy during primary or secondary fermentation. Honey takes several weeks to ferment, so consider it a flavor more than a sugar to break down. Some brewers skip the pasteurization process altogether, but keep in mind the risks we mentioned above!
When to Add It
As you have probably surmised, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to adding it to the process, and that can depend on whether or not you’re going to pasteurize it, among other things. If you add it at the top of the boil, you’ll definitely sanitize it, but the sugars that remain won’t have any honey-like flavors—they’re purely fermentable sugars at this point. Adding it at flameout will give you a much more honey-like characteristic to the flavor profile. Both of these methods will add more fermentable sugars, so your ABV is going to go up a bit. You can add it during the fermentation process to give it some even more intense flavors. And, of course, you can always use it in lieu of priming sugar! Add a cup of raw honey per 5-gallon batch (be sure to combine it with about 8 oz. of water and boil it first!).
How Much to Add
How much you’re going to use is going to boil down (sorry, brewer’s joke here!) to your personal preferences, and you’ll likely have to try a few amounts to dial-in your recipe. It’s always easier to start smaller and work your way up, so start with 2 cups and go up from there. When you add it to your recipe, it will also make a difference, so as you can see, brewing beer with honey is definitely a process! Using a program like BeerSmith can help you determine the ABV, which will provide guidance as well.
To get the best honey, shop for California raw honey at Jake’s Bee Co. today!