September marks the end of the harvesting honey season across the U.S. Every year, the National Honey Board decides how to celebrate the special sweetener produced by honeybees from the nectar of plants and flowers, and it would seem the state of California has found a great way to do it. California is increasingly learning the importance of bees to their natural environment and the agricultural economy, and with this better understanding of what honeybees have to offer, many in California have discovered a largely unknown truth about honey—it can add a flavorful and unique component to beer.
Having been fermented into mead for thousands of years, honey is largely comprised of glucose and fructose and therefore does not leave much residual sweetness. The resulting compound makes honey beers taste less sweet than many expect. In fact, the presence of honey increases the alcohol content, lightens the body, and produces a unique aromatic flavor, varying by the nectar’s source, from mild alfalfa honey to herbal rosemary honey.
Several California breweries have taken up the torch of producing honey beer, bringing the gift of honeybees to people in one more way:
- Heritage Honey Ale from Santa Clara is brewed with 85 percent malt and 15 percent orange blossom honey, exhibiting a golden color with a white feathery head. Sweet floral honey and lightly toasted malt are prominent in the aroma. The flavor highlights more malt than honey, with a gentle bitterness to balance both the malt and honey, with the shade of hops present throughout.
- Stone 20th Anniversary Citracado IPA, produced in Escondido, is a Double IPA featuring Citra hops and avocado flower honey. Fresh gooseberry and grapefruit notes of Citra hops govern the flavor. Hop bitterness as well as a piney hop flavor with malt are combined to create a smooth palate. A mix of mildly herbal, earthy, and floral traits resonate throughout with the touch of avocado honey.
- San Diego brings Mandarin Nectar, which includes coriander and orange zero with orange blossom honey. The beer has a moderate white head with mild hints of citrus. Delicate floral essence of orange blossom honey is hard to detect due to the overwhelming coriander. Most would characterize this ale as having a medium sweetness.
- Lavender Honey de Brettaville, an oak-aged blonde ale fermented with Brettanomyces yeast, adds wildflower honey, lavender, and car acara oranges together to help create a murky golden beer that showcases a unique bouquet of lavender, lemon, vanilla, and pineapple tartness that takes over one’s pallet. This finish is bright, floral, and crisp, speaking to the complex identity that is this brew.
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