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
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).