It’s brewing time at the Naked Apiary. I’ve spare honey and brewing was a major factor in deciding to keep bees.
When brewing and honey occur in the same sentence, it’s usually mead that’s the subject. I prefer to brew beer – it’s ready much faster and I find it easier to get good results.
To make beer we need a few ingredients –
Yeast – without which there would be no beer, or nice bread. Eats sugar, excretes alcohol.
Honey – an optional additive but the point of doing this. Honey adds a hell of a lot of sugar but if that’s fermented away it has a slightly sharp, resinous flavour that goes well with hops.
Do the Mash
The first thing to do is set about turning all the starch in the malt into something the yeast is able to digest – sugar. This simple process is known as mashing. Everything we need to do it is in the grain – enzymes in the malt will break down starch into sugars if you add warm water and leave sitting around. I enough water to make the malt reasonably easy to stir and keep at 67C for around an hour, with plenty of stirring every few minutes. After that it’s heated to 80C and strained through a mesh bag. For good luck ( and to get out a lot of left behind sugar ) I then add more water and strain again. This straw brown sweet liquid is now known officially as wort – brewers have their jargon as well as beekeepers.
I use some pretty basic kit for brewing – and for the next step – boiling, I’ve just got a couple of decent sized stock pots. Don’t knock it – it works well enough that I’ve never bought a full sized boiler despite brewing for twenty years.
The liquid is split between the two pans – you need a lot of space in the pan as wort gets very foamy and can be relied upon to fill the house with a wonderful caramel aroma when it over boils the moment you turn your back.
Once it’s reached boiling point we can throw in the hops. Most of the interesting things in hops aren’t water soluble, which is pretty dumb for a drink. We have to give them a good long boil to convert them into soluble compounds – 90 minutes. The aroma will fill the house and linger for hours so if you’re planning on doing this on the sly, think again.
The boiling drives off a lot of the lighter aromatic flavours so as soon as the heat is turned off more hops go in for a quick stir.
The whole lot is strained into a bucket and topped up with water to 12l.
At this point the bee keepers amongst us may be wondering where the hell the honey comes into it. Have patience fellow apiarists, it’s coming soon.
I was experimenting with growing a section of ‘natural’ comb by giving the bees just a frame top bar to build on. It took them two weeks to get to this stage with some cells already capped and many being filled.
I am a clumsy oaf. A week after that photo the comb was nearly full. During my weekly bee bothering session I foolishly turned it on its side. Comb loaded with honey is heavy and there was a splat. Luckily I caught it on a brewing bin lid. Sorry about that dear bees ( particularly the ones that were on the underside. ). Most of this honey isn’t capped so it’s not ready and won’t store. It’s perfect for brewing though. I just crushed the bees hard work through a sieve.
The result – two jars of beautiful clear honey. Yes, I know – it’s full of lumps of wax. What do I care? It’s going into beer, wax floats. Honey has a lot of delicate flavours that don’t appreciate boiling so it’s now that it gets stirred into the wort.
Once everything’s cooled down to about 25C a quick dip with a hydrometer tells me how much sugar is present and the yeast is chucked it. The trick now is to leave it alone for a couple of weeks and then some more weeks.
Here’s one I prepared earlier.
The technical details –
For anyone who wants to follow in my footsteps, here’s the actual recipe.
Marris otter pale malt 1.4 Kg
Brown malt 700g
Crystal rye malt 200g
Mashed at 67C, at 60 mins 1/3 batch removed, simmered and returned to main batch ( decoction mash )
Progress pellets 16g 90 min
Flyer 16g 90 min
Cluster pellets 16g 0 min
Yeast – Mangrove jack Belgian ale yeast