Monday, October 20, 2008

A taste of honey...

A reader (thanks Ian!) had a comment on my last beer entry, asking about using honey as the priming agent for your bottling. I originally started writing my reply as a comment, but figured it was a good topic for a blog post, so here's Ian's original question:

does the honey as the primer add flavor, color. I will be ready to bottle my first batch this coming week and i say the recipe and the honey primer sould neat

Ian,
I think the honey would add additional flavor, but I'm not so sure about color (considering you're adding somewhere around 1 1/2 cups of honey (plus water) to 5 gallons of beer).
The recipe I have for the bridal ale calls for 1 1/2 cups of honey as priming sugar, but I'm probably going to cut it back to 1 or 1 1/4 cups, since last time this beer was wayyy over-carbonated.
I have a book ("Designing Great Beers", by Ray Daniels) that points out some of the special concerns with honey. Honey has a delicate flavor to it (a good thing) and it has living organisms in it (not necessarily a good thing). So, you can't just add the honey to cold wort/beer.
This causes a problem, since boiling it for a long time would pretty much wipe out the flavors that honey imparts (and yes, I realize that the recipe I have has me boiling the honey right from the beginning. Next time, I'll add the honey later, so it doesn't boil as long). The Daniels book has a suggestion from the National Honey Board that is kind of impractical, but I'll post it anyway:
1. Dilute your honey to the gravity of the wort with water
2. Conduct a hold for two and a half hours at 176deg F under a CO2 blanket.
3. Add this directly to the beer at high krausen.

Like I said, a little impractical, since I don't think most people are setup to do the hold step (and I'm assuming "high krausen" means when your beer is fermenting hard).

But none of this addresses bottling. What I did for bottling was to combine my honey with about a cup of water in a saucepan, and I boiled it for a couple minutes. I figure that's long enough to kill whatever micro-organisms are present, and won't kill all the flavor. I'm using a "mountain honey" that seems to have more flavor than the kind that comes in the little bear bottle, so maybe that extra flavor will stick around.

I personally think a bigger issue with honey is that I wonder how it matches up sugar-wise with something like plain corn sugar. Typically, people add about 3/4 cup of corn sugar when priming for bottling. According to wikipedia, honey has 82.12 g of sugar per 100g of honey.
If corn sugar is "all sugar", then it's still not double the sugar of honey, so I don't know that my recipe's 1 1/2 cups of honey is right, if you're trying to carbonate a beer (and that would explain my over-carbonation problem).
This is a long winded way of saying, I think I'd go with about 1 cup of honey for my priming (which is what I plan to do), and I plan to boil it in a cup of water for ~5 minutes. That should do the trick, and next time, I'll play with the honey in the wort to see if I can keep it out of the boil for a while to better preserve the flavors).

One final thing I learned is that honey doesn't add much in the way body (since it's still mostly sugar), just some flavor and alcohol (more alcohol than the equivalent amount of malt, apparently).

42 comments:

Bill Lawson said...

Just to muddy the waters further, apparently not all honey is the same darkness/lightness/quality, too, according to this article on key relevance factors, so it's probably pretty hard to quantify your results.

Dave Mackie said...

Bill,
can you post the link for that article again? I think it's linking to your personal website (which is not a problem) and it doesn't appear that the article's there (and I'd like to look at it).

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