The honey bee is the only insect that produces food that is eaten by Man. Throughout history, it’s been used as a natural sweetener, food, medicine and as a gift to the gods. It was so greatly revered by the Romans that they used honey instead of gold to pay their taxes. That’s pretty cool and so it deserves a bit of a guide on how to do it justice when adding it to beer.
Honey, if added at the right time and in the right way, can add a really delicate yet complex floral note. It raises the alcohol content but the beer remains light and smooth. It’s best to buy all-natural honey, without any preservatives, and one that hasn’t been previously heat-treated or filtered. Orange blossom and clover honey are good varieties to look for.
As for the amount of honey to add, aim for somewhere between 2 and 10% of the grain bill or kit for a subtle flavour and 11-30% for a stronger flavour balanced out by a hoppier or darker beer. 500 g of honey is a good place to start with a 40 pint brew.
Adding honey to a beer kit
Get your brew on as per the kit instructions and, after 3 days and once the fermentation slows down, add the honey. Leaving it until after the aggressive fermentation stage means that you will retain the delicate flavour and aroma. You will notice a slight re-start in fermentation so leave it for a couple more days and keep checking your SG readings as you would normally do before you proceed.
To add the honey to a beer kit, you have two options. You can either dissolve the honey in water (1 litre for 500 g honey) for 1 hour, warming it up to 80ºC (170ºF). After that time, allow it to cool to the same temperature of the fermenting beer and add it to dd it to the fermenting beer. This method doesn’t pasteurise the honey but you would do it this way if you really wanted to retain its wonderful antiseptic and healing properties.
Have you thought about priming your bottles or barrel with honey?
Use roughly 440g honey for a 40 pint batch. Boil the honey in up to 500 ml of water for a few minutes and then pour it into the barrel or divide between the bottles. This will help to carbonate your beer whilst imparting a delicate honey aroma and flavour.
Adding honey to your wort
Adding honey to the start of the boil will get rid of any wild yeasts and add fermentable sugars but it will kill any honey flavour. Instead, add it with any other extracts in the middle of the boil and before adding hops. This will give you a light honey flavour as well as the fermentable sugars.