Best Way To Add Honey To A Beer?

Honey Ready To Be Added To A Homebrew

I’ve never brewed with honey before, yet I decided it was a good idea to brew a honey-rosemary saison for my wedding in November. I’m sure the final product will be amazing tasting, but I have to get there first. I have time for at least one or two practice runs, which is good because I’m not exactly sure how to add honey to a beer.

The only thing that I know for sure is that I’m going to use a light, local honey. That’s about the only piece of information that my favorite homebrew books, forums and blogs could agree on. From their on, things start to get confusing and often contradictory.

The real problem is trying to figure out the best way to add honey to the wort.

Do I add the honey to the boil. That’s what Charlie Papazian suggests in the Joy Of Homebrewing. It would sanitize it, but I’m afraid that it would also take away many of the flavors and aromas from the honey that I want in the final product.

Online I read about home brewers that add the honey to the last fifteen minutes of the boil so that it doesn’t damage the characteristics of the honey in the final product. Or I could add it right before I turn the burner off or right after it’s turned off.

That sounded better to me, until I read about adding the honey directly to the primary after the initial burst of fermentation slowed down. It promised to yield even more scents and tastes, but then their was the risk of infection because the honey wasn’t boiled.

Via BeerSmith, I read about pasteurizing the honey with a mix of water in a covered pot at 176 degrees Fahrenheit. It sounded like my answer until I read that bacteria doesn’t survive in honey, so their wasn’t much risk of infection. Plus, I read that heating the honey over 90 degrees would damage the aromas and flavors that I wanted to preserve.

And finally, just because it wasn’t confusing enough, I read about adding it to the secondary, where the higher amounts of alcohol could overpower any bacteria.

Right now, I’m leaning towards adding the honey to the primary after the initial fermentation and without any boiling or pasteurizing because I like to live on the edge. However, I have the right to change my mind since I probably won’t be brewing this beer until later in the month.

What ways have you added honey? What would you suggest?

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  • Zinkco22

    I’ve added honey directly to the primary twice now with no problems. Once in a dry-hopped honey wheat and once in an irish red. in both attempts i got a subtle honey flavor/aroma I was looking for. I did per suggestion of my LHBS. 

    • http://www.passionforthepint.com Mike Crimmins

      Zinkco22 thanks for the feedback. Right about now that’s what I’m leaning towards doing.

  • Artie

    What about campden tablets in the honey?

    • http://www.passionforthepint.com Mike Crimmins

      I didn’t even think of that. That’s something to look into, thanks Artie.

      • Skydvr

        Won’t campden tablets kill the yeast when you add it to the beer?

        • http://www.passionforthepint.com Mike Crimmins

          That’s one of the things I was reading last night. It looks like I’d have to add it to the honey, dilute it, then add everything to the wort. Still have to do more research on that though.

  • Adam

    Hey Mike,

    I’ve added honey to more than a couple batches of my brew. I can’t say that I have done extensive experimentation, but I have done a bit of reading.

    Yes, there are many sources for info these days, but the point that my fellow brewing buddy and I keep coming back to is simply thus – people have been making beer (and even more-so for mead) for literaly millenia. They didn’t have books or forums to check procedures. You said yourself you have time for experiments, so go for it.

    The nice thing about Saison style (in my experience, at least) is that its best young. This means you can taste a batch at about 5 weeks and get a good idea of how it worked out.

    Personally, I would vote for adding the honey to the primary after about 5 days, or after the vigorous fermentation has died down. Most of your alcohol has been created by this point, so if your concern is that possible sterilization quality, you need not wait until secondary. However, the amount of alcohol in the average beer is not enough to kill most bacteria, so I don’t feel that is really a valid argument to go on anyway.

    If you boil honey, even for a minute, you begin to cook off the aroma and flavor compounds. The concentration of those compounds varies greatly by location and variety, so its hard to state a time where all honey is ok to boil.

    In my experience, the majority of the honey I have added to beer was in the boil or at flame-out and it added little to no flavor.

    I know brewers tend to freak and worry about infection, but look at the Belgians! They have embraced it in many brews. Honey has natural anti-septic qualities. As far as I can recall, it is the only food that does not spoil. Add it to the primary and see what happens.

    As a side note, all commercial honey is filtered and pasteurized anyway, so it will already impart less flavor. If it is a local honey from a farm and has not been pasteurized, you may want to be slightly more cautious, but our hobby is more art than science, so go crazy and do what you feel!

    Cheers

    • http://www.passionforthepint.com Mike Crimmins

      Adam, huge thank you for the input, it really helps. You cemented what I was thinking as far as adding to the primary, after the initial fermentation and the risk of infection when it comes to honey. 

      I’m strongly leaning towards adding it the way mentioned, with enough time for some experimentation. 

      Thanks and cheers!

  • scorpionc53

     Adam, Your comment is addressing the very issue I’ve run into. I’ve come up with a recipe that I think is very unique and honey is one of my ingredients. So I just have a couple questions. You and some of the people below talk about adding the honey straight into the primary during the last parts of fermentation. Usually at the tail end of fermentation you switch over to secondary, so is there a difference? Can I just add the honey straight into my secondary carboy and siphon from my primary onto that? Also, did you heat up the honey at all or how did you mix it? I would think that honey will just sink to the bottom? When you added to primary, did fermentation jump back up again and how did you keep track of the sugars so you could calculate the final ABV? Did you add to primary, let fermentation slow down a second time and then rack to secondary?

    Here’s what I’m brewing: I came up with a Honey Bourbon Stout recipe. I’ve managed to get my hands on a 5 gallon bourbon barrel from my local distillery and I need to get all my ducks in a row since I’ll be aging this beer in the barrel and don’t really have the funds to mess it up since the barrels not cheap.

  • Jordan

    How much honey to add per 5 gallons?