Honey in Beer Does Not Mean Sweet Beer


Photo via BrooklynBrewShop.com.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been helping out Brooklyn Brew Shop at the Union Square Holiday Market by womaning the booth and selling beer making kits to tourists and local shoppers. Something I encounter regularly is an immediate opposition to the Grapefruit Honey Ale beer making kit, which suggests the addition of grapefruit peel in the boil and adds in a little extra honey to the brewing process. The result is, according to Brooklyn Brew Shop, a “Light and refreshing citrusy ale for those who love bright beers. This pale ale gets most of its grapefruit taste from its hops, but throwing in some grapefruit rinds is a fun way to pump up the citrus.”

Right away, though, shoppers say things like, “oh, no, he would hate that,” or “my Dad doesn’t like sweet beers,” or “this is for a guy, so that won’t really work.” The point of this post is not to combat the inherent and infuriating sexism I’ve encountered every Monday and Tuesday evening in the booth—that’s a post I’m planning for after I’ve had a chance to cool down—but the PSA I do want to announce is this:

Honey used in the brewing process does not mean the beer is going to be sweet. 

Akin to the malted barley and wheat used in many brews, and even other added ingredients liked Belgian candi sugar or fruit, the purpose of pouring honey into that brewing tank or fermentation vessel is not to make a beverage that’s dripping with sweetness. It simply aids in the fermentation process, thanks to honey’s super fermentable sugars that bees work very hard to make.

As stated in a recent article from the Equipped Brewer,

“Honey beers are not necessarily sweeter than their non-honey counterparts. Honey’s carbohydrates are 95 percent fermentable and actually produce a dryer beer rather than a sweet one if honey is added early in the fermentation process. Because honey can ferment, the alcohol content of beers with honey can be higher than other beers. Honey can also be added later in the process if a sweeter taste is desired.”

Honey is not the culprit when a too-sweet beer is in hand. On the contrary, according to Keith Gabbett, senior brewer of Goose Island Brewery, “honey gives a grassy, earthy flavor to beer.” Further, the article states, honey can be combined with other ingredients, like fruits and spices, to make flavors more complex.

Plan Bee Farm Brewery - Hops and Honey

Photo via PlanBeeFarmBrewery.com.

Here are some New York-brewed beers with honey to try:

  • Brooklyn Brewery Local 2 (9%): a Belgian-inspired Dark Abbey Ale brewed with German pilsner and English chocolate malts with New York State raw wildflower honey, Belgian dark candi sugar and orange peel added. Champagne yeast allows for a round, dry finish.
  • Plan Bee Farm Brewery Hops and Honey (9.5% ABV): ale brewed with farm-harvested honey and hops.
  • Binghamton Brewing Honey Ale (5.6% ABV): Amber Ale with honey malt featuring fruit notes and hop accents; homegrown hops allow for medium hop bitterness, flavor and aroma.
  • Oyster Bay Brewing Honey Ale (5% ABV): spice/vegetable beer made with real honey from local beekeepers, smooth finish and flavor.

Next time you see “honey,” “grapefruit” or even any fruit on a beer label, remember they are commonly used for their fermentable sugars and added character, not for sugary sweetness. Instead of turning away in disgust of the syrupy-sweet flavor you’re imagining is better suited for tea or baked good, take a sip (or better yet, a swig) and look for the dry, complex flavor honey can often impart in craft brews.



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