A honey beer from The Tap Beer Co. in Bloomington, Ind. took home the gold medal in the Honey category at this year’s Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Denver, Colo.
We caught up with head brewer Jarrod May to talk about Electric Sting and what makes it an award-winner.
“I started out as a homebrewer back in 2007. I started with yeast extract and eventually moved into working with all-grain. My wife worked for Iron Hill Brewery up in Pennsylvania at the time and she got me a job waiting tables until I eventually worked my way into the brewery,” May says.
A honey lover growing up, May was naturally curious to incorporate the ingredient into his recipes. While working at Iron Hill, his first efforts resulted in Simcoe Buzz IPA, an imperial ale featuring Simcoe hops and a heavy presence of orange blossom honey—48% to be exact. It launched to rave reviews and May continued experimenting with honey when he started at The Tap.
“I remember there wasn’t a lot of Belgian beer around at the time. So I decided to do a Tripel, which normally has a large quantity of sugar, typically table sugar or dextrose. But I decided to swap that out with orange blossom honey,” May said. “The Belgian yeast strain I chose exemplifies those citrusy, orangey flavors and creates a somewhat dry beer that still has an up-front sweetness.”
He named it Electric Sting and it was one of the first beers May brewed at The Tap. It launched to such rave reviews that he decided to enter it for competition this year. The beer’s success, he says, has helped dispel a lot of the misconceptions about honey beer.
“One of the biggest misconceptions is that people think honey beer is sweet. That’s not true at all. Honey is pretty much a fermentable. It’s fructose, and yeast will eat that up. So the result is a lot of these honey beers are actually very dry,” May said.
Timing is everything when it comes to incorporating honey into beer. Honey can be added at different stages in the brewing process and that determines the flavors and aromas of the final beer.
“I add my honey at the end of the boil. The less time an aromatic, like honey, sees boiling water, the more of those flavors remain,” May said. “With Electric Sting, I was really hoping to capture those bright citrus characteristics. The beer definitely grabbed onto those and the Belgian yeast strain creates a bit of cool fruit, peach flavors with a white pepper spice. It’s really a unique flavor profile.”
With countless varieties featuring distinct flavors and aromas, selecting the right type of honey for a beer is as important as choosing the yeast strain. Honey can add a versatility to beer that other ingredients can’t match.
“For Electric Sting, I found that orange blossom honey has a very strong flavor that is easily identifiable and lasts throughout the fermentation process while maintaining those great orange characteristics.”
The Tap is every craft beer enthusiast’s dream, featuring 50 rotating guest draughts and more than 500 bottles from out-of-state, as well as international breweries. When May started, he wanted the bar’s eclectic selection to be reflected in his own brews.
“Our top selling flagship is our Bionic Dragon. It’s an American-style IPA utilizing Mosaic and Waimea hops. It’s very fruity, almost tropical, with a little hint of pine as well. Our Nefarious Nectar is a close second as well. It’s a golden strong-style ale. It has the appearance of sweetness up front, but very fruity and spicy with a dry finish as well. People love that one.”
With an award-winning product now bringing them national recognition, the future is bright for The Tap, which opened a second location in Indianapolis the same day it placed first at GABF. May is eager to continue experimenting with honey in beers and educating his customers on the category.
“I just did one called an Apple Pie and I’m actually labeling it as a braggot, which is a beer-mead hybrid,” May said. “I used apple blossom honey with apple pie spices. It’s got such a malty pie crust flavor going on and I’m very excited for this one.”