In 2007 I brewed a beer for fun. I half filled a small tank with some wheat and barley wort along with spices, two sacks of Bobek hops which I had drenched in honey. I expected it to come to nothing but it was probably the best beer I have ever made. It was citrus, quenching and generally wonderful. The FD’s wife’s father had produced the honey in Ireland. I’m not sure what the bees fed on but the citrus notes from the honey were key to the beer which came out. The beer went on to win its category of the International Beer Competition and get in the final of the Sainsbury’s Beer Competition.
With such success came an increase in demand and I had to get some more honey. I was disappointed to hear that the bees had died. I still fancied my chances of recreating the beer using some Cornish honey. Even though there was nothing on the Heriot-Watt brewing and distilling degree syllabus on using honey and it’s not mentioned in any of my brewing text books I thought, I’m a good brewer and I can tweak up the hops and change the fermentation temperature and all will be good. The second brew was nice, a good beer but it wasn’t as brilliant as the first. Since then I have tried to recreate the beer with several different honeys but all to no avail.
As well as a lesson in modesty a good thing to come out of this experience was an understanding of what the combination of honey and spices can bring to a beer. Since this first brew I have brewed a couple of commercial variants of Honey Spice. Last year the summer seasonal was Honey Spice Wheat which sold by the bucket load and Honey Spice Triple is a permanent fixture in our Connoisseur’s Choice range. The latest incarnation is Honey Spice Gold, this summer’s seasonal brew.
Honey is great in a golden ale because it adds sweetness. Pale beers do not have the fullness and sweetness contributed by the dark malts so can lack balance when assertively hopped. Honey helps to redress this balance and allows you to pack in more hop flavour and bitterness without making a harsh beer. For Honey Spice Gold the honey is of course locally sourced and from bees feeding on flowers in pasture.
Spice-wise the Eden Project have provided us with alecost which is a minty leaf used to flavour beers before hops along with yarrow flowers. These herbs lay a foundation of earthy depth to support the spices. Two spices are used in Honey Spice Gold. Indian red chilli powder and sun-dried Indian ginger. The ginger works well to boost the hop notes and the chilli helps break up the sweetness of the honey and adds a sparkle on the palate. The combination of the herbs and spices give terrific depth along with serious refreshment.
Now to the hops; My blog 50 hop IPA has given me experience of using hops I have never used before and the opportunity to choose some favourites for this beer. In Honey Spice I have used Sharp’s exclusive Tryal hop from Slovenia along with US superstars, Centennial, Sorachi Ace and Chinook. Honey Spice is a very hoppy beer!
The malt in Honey Spice is pale ale malt along with some exclusive Simpsons low colour caramalt. The low colour caramalt is used to give body and some sweetness without adding colour or toffee/caramel flavours. Mr Simpson was kind enough to send me some low colour caramalt straight for the lab to use in a trial and I was so impressed that I bought the whole batch!
I have only tried the beer from conditioning tank at this stage but I am pleased and impressed in equal measure with what is coming out of the sample tap.
Appearance: Light, golden and crystal clear
Aroma: Ginger, grapefruit, lime with gentle honey
Taste: Burst of bittersweet fruit, sumptuous malt lifted by sparkle of chilli and ginger
Finish: Incredibly long and dry with warming spice and bitter grapefruit