Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Devil made of honey; devil made of honey.

So, for our Mr. Kim's Secret Microbrew, I noted that I would be enriching it with honey. Well, this past weekend we stopped at V's Bees, the apiary of Buzz and Marcia Vahradian, which is just minutes away from my parents' cottage near Wautoma, Wisconsin. I had talked to Buzz ahead of time and he had three pounds of honey set aside for me.

When we arrived at the apiary, Jonas had fallen asleep so I told Leah I would just run in and pick up the honey. I'm still kicking myself that I didn't tell Leah to wake up Jonas and bring the kids in. It turned out Buzz and Marcia were actually collecting and bottling honey that weekend. I was inquisitive and Buzz was happy to show me the process. (This is where I would post the awesome pictures Leah took... had I gone outside and told her to come in. Yes, I'm an idiot.) The process can be simplified as follows: First, the wax that covers the honeycombs is sliced off, releasing the honey. Next, the honeycombs (which are in slats that slide into boxes) are placed into a centrifuge roughly the size of a keg. The centrifuge spins up and the honey is forced to the outer edge where a spigot is located. The honey then flows out of the spigot where it's collected. It's really that simple (though I'm sure Buzz would tell you getting to that stage isn't so simple).

I think that when you make something yourself--even something like beer, where you're dependent on farmers and maltsters and microbiologists to get you your raw products--you gain an even greater appreciation for people who make other things, and it was really cool to see how Buzz and Marcia produce their honey. It's even inspired me to make mead some time soon (and next time I stop by the apiary I'm making sure Leah--and her camera--is in tow). Oh, and the honey's really good too. It's wildflower honey, and while I'm no honey expert by any means, it's way more floral than the clover honey you get at the store. Thanks to Buzz and Marcia for showing me around; I'll make sure to have some beer with me next time I stop by!

Having purchased the honey, it was time to add it to the beer tonight. Now obviously, since we had already brewed the beer, we didn't add the honey to the boil. Like anything with volatile flavors or aromas, boiling would have killed virtually any character the honey could add. However, adding the honey to the secondary poses its own issues. Namely, how do you avoid bugs? Like many unconventional (or quasi-unconventional) brewing processes, there's no one answer. This BYO story suggests pasteurizing it over 2.5 hours, diluting it to the gravity of the beer, and then adding it. Others (including many meadmakers) suggest doing nothing, suggesting that the likelihood of contamination is minimal at best. You can get a feel for the various arguments in this thread.

Well, I wussed out and decided to pasteurize my honey by heating it up to ~175°F and then keeping it in our oven, set to 180°F, for a little over two hours. I chose not to dilute it afterward, but did add some fermenting beer from the carboy to thin out the honey so it would pour more easily. I took a gravity reading of the honey (diluting it in water, of course) and calculated its specific gravity as 1.044 per lb./gal. This would make the equivalent starting gravity of the beer (in other words, the actual starting gravity plus the honey contribution) 1068. On a related note, the beer itself was down to 1021 before the honey addition. After the honey, the gravity should be roughly 1033. I'll be getting the rest of the honey to Mark and Marlowe to add to their batch; I'll leave it up to them to figure out how they want to add it.

Oh, one other thing I did this evening... I made a starter for our Scottish Export/Christmas Ale that we're hoping to brew on Saturday (2.5 gallons will be aged on vanilla beans, and that's what will differentiate the Christmas Ale from the regular Scottish Export). I suppose I should come up with a recipe for that some time soon...


Blogger Señor Brew™ said...

Russ, I'm curious to what you paid for the honey direct from the source. I bought 5 lbs of wildflower honey at a farmer's market recently and tried to bargain with the honey guy, but he was firm at $19.

7:37 AM, October 28, 2009  
Blogger Russ said...

I bought mine for $11 for three pounds, which prorates out to $18.33 for five gallons. Given the costs involved in attending farmer's markets, $19 sounds fair to me.

4:21 PM, October 28, 2009  

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