Honey’s primary contribution to beer is its characteristic aroma and flavor.
Most brewers will want to keep that flavor in the background as an aromatic nuance complementing the other flavors in their beers. As a rough guide, 1 pound of honey dissolved in 1 gallon of water should yield an SG of about 1.032 to 1.038.
The following percentages of honey (as percent weight of total grain bill) are suggested based on the National Honey Board’s beer research:
- 3-10% – A subtle honey flavor is contributed to the ale or lager. Most commercially available honeys such as clover, alfalfa, orange blossom, sage and mixed wildflower are very mild in aromatic flavor intensity.
- 11-30% – A distinctly noticeable honey flavor note will develop. Stronger hop flavors, caramelized or roasted malts, spices or other ingredients should be carefully considered when formulating recipes to balance stronger honey flavors at this higher level.
- More than 30% – The flavor of the honey will likely dominate the other flavors in the beer. The beverage should probably be considered in a category of its own.
When selecting a honey to use in beer, the floral source of the nectar will influence both the color and flavor of honey. Trying to find the best honey for a specific beer style is not an exact science. However, in most cases, darker honey will produce stronger flavors. The same can be said of beer.
Clover and alfalfa honey are mild- flavored, light honeys suitable for most beers, particularly lighter lagers. Orange blossom, raspberry and sage honeys are paler and more delicate, suited to spiced ales, holiday beers and light lagers. Blueberry and wildflower honeys are darker, robust and fruity, matching well with pale ales, fruit beers, spiced beers and stouts.
Buckwheat honey is the darkest and strongest of all, and should be reserved for stouts and porters. Tupelo honey–the only honey that does not crystallize—is unique with a distinct taste and aroma. It would be well-suited to a regional beer variety.