What Should I Know About Home Brewing with Raw Honey?

When making alcoholic beverages using honey, mead is generally the go-to by-product. In fact, you can find a wide variety of meads on the market that blend honey with inventive ingredients and flavor profiles into their drink. However, that’s far from the end of the line when it comes to brewing and fermenting with honey. Whether you homebrew wine, beer, or cider, you can incorporate honey for a fun, exciting twist in your brew.
Honey is highly fermentable, which makes it a great ingredient in alcoholic beverages. When you’re using raw honey though, you need to be mindful of a few variables and considerations that could affect your end product. Here’s a quick guide to help you make the most of this fantastic ingredient.
Honey’s flavor ferments out if you aren’t careful.
Honey is composed of dense carbohydrates, but the fermentation process can eat up its character. If you simply add honey to the fermentation process you’ll likely end up with very little honey character, if it’s noticeable at all. That’s fine if you simply want a lighter body and higher alcohol content, but raw honey typically isn’t used for that purpose. To retain the character of the honey you need to add diluted, heat-treated honey to the primary fermenter.
Enzymes and wild yeast need to be taken care of.
According to Brew Your Own, raw honey features wild yeast and other enzymes that could negatively affect the quality of your fermented beverage. There are two ways to handle these organisms before they have a chance to ruin your brew. The simplest method is adding honey into a long, roiling boil right at the start of the cooking process. This will denature enzymes, kill any yeast, and remove any beeswax still present in the honey. The downside to this harsh process is that the high, immediate heat can hurt the natural smells and flavors of the honey, impacting the end product.
By contrast, you could attempt home pasteurization. This process will preserve the qualities of the honey character, but it’s a fairly involved process that only experienced brewers should attempt.
Add honey based on your desired end product.
It comes as no surprise that different amounts of raw honey produce different results. When deciding how much to add, measure your honey as a percentage of total fermentables in the brew. Anything below 10 percent is intended to provide light notes and flavors of honey to the brew. If your brew is between 11 and 30 percent you should expect a strong honey flavor. This can be balanced out by stronger flavors in other ingredients, as well as dark specialty malts.
It may take a little trial and error, but raw honey can be a fantastic addition to your brewing arsenal, whether it’s cider, beer or wine. Try out some different recipes and see what works best for you.