Honey

Honey, the main ingredient in mead, has become a popular addition for many beer brewers. Honey is a very complex ingredient. It contains a range of sugars, many simple and some complex as well as a chicken soup of living organisms including yeast, enzymes, and bacteria.

Honey also has a very rich flavor profile with exotic, but fragile aromas. Unfortunately, boiling honey effectively boils off the delicate aromas and also deactivates many of the enzymes needed to break down and ferment the honey. Approximately 90-95% of the sugars in honey are fermentable.

Acacia, a light and clear honey made from nectar collected from the blossoms of Robinia pseudoacacia, also known as Black Locust in North America and Europe. It is one of the most popular and sweetest honey varieties because of its mild delicate floral taste. It can remain in a liquid state for a long period of time due to its high concentration of fructose. Because of its low sucrose content, it is a great choice for diabetics. Known for its therapeutic action, Acacia cleanses the liver, regulates the intestine, and is anti-inflammatory for the respiratory system.This honey is excellent for sweetening without altering the taste or the aroma.

Commercial Examples: Malthus Birolla | Birrificio di Como; 28 Saison | Brasserie 28; Staroslovanská Medovina – Tmavá Z Lesního Medu | Apimed

Alfalfa honey, produced extensively throughout Canada and the United States from the purple or blue blossoms, is light in color with a subtle spicy profile and mildly scented floral aroma. Its delicate nature doesn’t overpower other flavors, making it a favorite choice for chefs for their baked foods and a fine table honey for tea lovers. Not as sweet as most honey types, it is a preferred choice for combining with other ingredients or enjoying straight from the jar.

Commercial Example: Repoterroir | Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.; Palomino Barrel-Aged | Forest & Main Brewing Co.; Alfalfa Kang| Off Color Brewing Co.

Clove, is a tropical evergreen tall tree in the family Myrtaceae that is native to Indonesia.  The raw honey is collected naturally by the honey bees from the blossom nectar of Clove Tree from its small reddish brown flower buds. The leaves are oval and both ends are pointed. It makes add many tubular flowers to the dispersal inflorescence (the complete flower head of a plant including stems, stalks, bracts, and flowers).

Commercial Examples: Trip XIII – Blonde Ale | New Belgium; Equinox |BOS Meadery

Produced from the cream-colored Basswood blossoms found throughout North America, Basswood honey is one of the few exceptional honey varieties that has a light color and yet strong biting flavor and a distinctive lingering flavor. It’s somewhat fresh, pleasant “woody” scent is very good with teas like Earl Grey and works well for salad dressings and marinades.

Commercial Examples: Humble Bumble V2: Passion Fruit, Pink Dragon Fruit, Mango, Hibiscus Blossoms, Basswood Honey | Humble Forager Brewery; Honey River Basswood Mead| Healthberry Farm; Basswood Blossom Batch 2 | Unpossible Mead

More than 20 species of low blueberry shrubs with bell-shaped white or pinkish flowers are often found in the eastern U.S. and Canada. Blueberry honey has an aroma reminiscent of green leaves with a touch of lemon. Moderately fruity in flavor with a delicate, slightly buttery finish, it is light to medium amber in color. Blueberry honey’s excellent flavor pairs well with yogurt, walnuts, melons, sour cream and crème fraîche.

Commercial Examples: BeeSting | Bullfrog Brewery; Marion | Superstition Meadery: Canned Heat w/ Blueberry Blossom Honey | Burley Oak Brewing Co.

Buckwheat honey is produced in Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin as well as in eastern Canada. It is dark, full-bodied, and rich in iron — a key reason which it’s popular with honey lovers. Buckwheat honey has been found to contain more antioxidant compounds than some lighter honeys. It is perhaps the strongest and darkest of honey varieties. Most experts recommend using a strong-tasting type of honey, such as buckwheat for mead production.

Commercial Example: Tweason’ale | Dogfish Head Craft Brewery; SPF 8 Saison | Pizza Port Brewing Co.; Buckwheat Honey Saison | Rooster Fish Brewing Co.

The sweet chestnut tree (Castanea sativa) was first introduced to the mountainous Mediterranean region from an area that is now known as Turkey. This species of chestnut tree produces most of the chestnut honey in Europe. Chestnut honey is monofloral honey with a dark colour and bitter aftertaste. It’s produced by honey bees extracting and converting nectar from the chestnut trees into honey. What makes Chestnut honey stand apart from other honeys is its dark colour and slightly bitter aftertaste.

Commercial Examples: Thornbridge Hall Bracia | Thornbridge Brewery; Malthus Castaña | Birrificio Oltrepò; Caldarrosta | Birra dell’Elba; Castanea | Birrificio Caligola

Originating from Canada and New Zealand, Clover honey is one of the most widely available and popular honey varieties. Depending on the location and source, clover honey varies in color from water white to different tones of amber. White clover in particular is grown as a widespread blooming pasture crop and is a major nectar source in many parts of the world. A favorite varietal of many honey lovers, this classic honey has a pleasingly mild, floral sweetness that is easily accepted.

Commercial Examples: Honey Mead | Cellar Dweller Brewery; Sparkling Clover & Manuka Honey Mead | Lone Bee; Dance Language: Sweet Clover Honey | Oxbow Brewing Co.

Cotton is one of the leading honey plants in the southern U.S. Its nectar is protected from the parching sun by large flowers and leaves. The honey is white to extra light amber with a good, mild flavor. Cotton honey is an excellent table honey, and its mild taste makes it a good choice for use in cooking and baking where a subtler sweetness is desired. It also pairs well with hard cheeses such as Parmesan.

Commercial Examples: Traditional Cotton Honey Mead | Bee-Town Mead & Cider; Hoppyum With NC Cotton Honey Aged In Red Wine Barrels | Foothills Brewing

Cranberry shrubs are an important cultivated crop in the northeast. They also grow wild in some areas. Cranberry honey is available in limited quantities because individual cranberry bogs bloom no more than two weeks annually. The honey is medium amber in color with a light red tint and a strong berry flavor. While cranberries are known for their tartness, its honey is delightfully sweet and pairs well with apples, pork, poultry and dark chocolate.

Commercial Example: Devil’s Nectah | Boston Beer Co.; Devil’s Nectah | Flounder Brewing Co.; Midnight Strikes (w/ Raspberry & Honey) | Grimm Brothers Brewhouse

Dandelion honey is a relatively strong honey blended with mild tangy notes. Dandelion honey color ranges from an intense golden yellow to a darker hue as it crystallizes. A vivid yellow color is indicative of greater purity. It has a sharp taste and an aroma reminiscent of the flower itself but stronger. Dandelions are traditionally prized as a medicinal herb in China, Tibet and India for its broad spectrum of powerful healing properties.

Commercial Examples: Dande | Spirit Hills Honey Winery; Dandelion Blossom Mead | Black Dragon Meadery

Eucalyptus honey comes from one of the larger plant genera, containing over 500 distinct species and many hybrids. Its country of origin is Australia but is also produced largely in California. It has a medium-dark color and may have a red tinge. It has been found that the darker the color of eucalyptus honey, the more pronounced a reddish tint will be. It can range from tart to sweet and is best consumed raw, unfiltered, and unheated.

Commercial Examples: California Eucalyptus Blossom Sparkling Mead | Heiðrun Meadery; Show Me the Honey Eucalyptus | W A Meadwerks; Hive Five | Smog City Brewing Co.

Fireweed is a tall perennial herb with large clusters of red-purple flowers growing in dense stands on cut or burnt over timberlands. No other major honey plant grows as far north, and blooms from early July through late September. Fireweed honey is delicate with subtle tea-like notes and a smooth finish. Water white in color and very mild, its sweet, almost fruity flavor makes it a natural choice for sweetening citrus or fruit-oriented desserts.

Commercial Examples: Perseverance Ale (Pilot Series) (2011) | Alaskan Brewing Co.; FireWeed Honey Blonde | Gold Rush Brewery; Fireweed Honey Blonde | Rocky Coulee Brewing Co.; Barracuda – Fireweed Honey | Small Block Brewing Co.

This well-known, field-oriented plant features great compound clusters of yellow flowers, and can be found throughout North America. Goldenrod covers high prairie, pasture land and even open woods. It is the source for large quantities of amber honey with a slightly strong, almost spicy flavor that is not overly sweet. Use it in a variety of cooking applications such as sauces and marinades. It also pairs well with strong cheeses and salted nuts.

Commercial Examples: Humble Bumble (v3) Coconut, Pineapple, Mango, Lime, Lily Flowers, Goldenrod Honey | Humble Forager Brewery; Simple Honey: Meadow Herbs and Goldenrod | Punchiller; Honey River Goldenrod Mead | Healthberry Farm

Thick, amber in color, Heather honey has one of the strongest and most pungent flavors. It is fragrant and floral with a very lingering aftertaste that is almost bitter. It is commonly served with ham, chicken, lamb, seafood and cold dishes and goes well with strong, black coffee. Prized since ancient times due to its medicinal properties, Heather honey is extremely high in protein content.

Commercial Examples: Traditional Mead – Heather | Ninemaidens; Heather | Schramm’s Mead; Mud-Honey (Cover Series) | Drunken Bros Brewery

Most commercially available honey is blended, meaning it is a mixture of two or more honeys differing in floral source, color, flavor, density or geographic origin. Blended honey is typically found in Cream Stouts and Porters.

Commercial Examples: Abnormal Genius | Short’s Brewing Co.; Eye Of The Storm | Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery; Lavender Honey Saison | Hey Joe Brewing Co.

Of over 39 species of Lavender, the most popular species used for honey are True Lavender, Spike Lavender and Lavandin, a hybrid of these two. The characteristics of the honey vary depending on the relative concentrations of each of the species, mainly evidenced by differences in aroma and camphor notes. Lavender honey is a premium honey. Flowery, pleasant, well balanced and rounded, very fine honey aroma and the delicate floral scent with an evident Lavender component. It has a very persistent medium sweet taste that grows with the finish.

Commercial Examples: Blomma och Blad | Mjödhamnen

Leatherwood honey comes from the leatherwood blossom — a native eucalypt found in the south-west of Tasmania, Australia and is the source for 70% of the country’s honey. Established worldwide as a distinct honey type and a fine gourmet product, Leatherwood honey has a unique taste and strong floral flavor. Its distinctive spicy flavor makes it an excellent spread on wheat toast, and an ideal ingredient in recipes as it not only sweetens but adds a fantastic aroma.

Commercial Examples: Bonzer! | J. Wakefield Brewing Co.; Leatherwood (Batch 1) | Schramm’s Mead; Old Ale With Leatherwood Honey | Dainton Beer

This exotic, harder-to-find honey is the result of the blooms from the popular macadamia nut tree of Hawaii. Medium amber color with a sweet aroma and delicate nutty flavor, macadamia honey makes a delicious marinade for fresh fish and is also perfect when paired with dark chocolate and/or coconut desserts. It is also delicious as a spread or topper on breads, pancakes and vanilla ice cream.

Commercial Examples:  L’Intérimaire  | Dogfish Head Craft Brewery; Queensland Ale | Bacchus Brewing Co.; Mac Nut Brown Ale | Kona Brewing Co.

In the southwestern U.S., the mesquite tree is prized for its sweet, smoky smelling wood, primarily used in barbecues and meat smokers. It produces numerous golden colored blooms during spring and summer. The honey’s color can vary from amber to water white. Considered earthy and aromatic with a dominating flavor, it is ideal for use in rich, dark desserts (often replacing molasses or brown sugar). It also pairs well with fresh berries and hearty, whole grain breads.

Commercial Examples: Mesquite Honeyshine | Thunder Canyon Brewstillery; Mesquite Honey Dry Mead | Dancing Bee Winery; Show Me the Honey Mesquite | W A Meadwerks

Orange blossom honey is one of the most popular and common monofloral varieties and is primarily produced in France, Mexico, Israel, Spain, and Italy.  Within the United States its predominantly produced in the states of Florida, Texas, and California. It tastes like traditional honey but with hints of citrus and a light, refreshing sweetness. In addition to its delicate taste it boasts a thick and rich consistency.

Commercial Examples: OW! My Mangos | B. Nektar Meadery; Chateau Jiahu | Dogfish Head Craft Brewery: Charapa | Darwin Brewing Company

Distributed from North Carolina south to Florida, palmetto is especially abundant along the Atlantic Coast. Trees up to 60 feet tall produce whitish flowers in great compound clusters. Its honey is light amber to amber in color with a thinner body than most honeys. Palmetto honey’s taste is full-bodied and herbal in flavor with woody overtones. It pairs well with hard cheeses, ham and prosciutto, as well as fresh citrus.

Commercial Examples: Revelation Pale Ale W/ Saw Palmetto Honey | Turkey Hill Brewing Co.; Raspberry Honey Vanilla Wheat | Due South Brewing Co.

Pine honey is a type of honeydew honey. It is a sweet and spicy honey, with some woody notes, a resinous fragrance and dark amber color. It is a common breakfast dish in Turkey and Greece, where it is drizzled over yoghurt and eaten with bread. Pine honey is an unusual honey because it is not produced entirely by honey bees. It is produced by bees that collect honeydew (sugary secretions) from a scale insect species called Marchalina hellenica, which lives on the sap of certain pine trees. Pine honey is commonly produced anywhere pine forests are plentiful and conventional honey sources, such as flowers or fruit tree blossoms, are few.

Commercial Examples: Braggot Brett | Brouwerij de Molen; Praise Bee | Tired Hands Brewing Co.; Project X (Bravo) (w/ Pine Honey) | Portsmouth Brewery

The raspberry is a thorny shrub that produces just one crop of fruit per year. Its springtime clusters of white, 5-petaled, rose-like flowers give way to red raspberries that mature in summer. Raspberry honey is light amber in color with a mellow, smooth flavor and unique raspberry finish. This sweet honey pairs well with vanilla flavors, champagne, chocolate, and with fresh fruit such as pears and peaches.

Commercial Examples: Zipper Ripper With Raspberry Blossom Honey (2021) | Hoof Hearted Brewing Co.; Honey Hawk: Three- Raspberry Mead | Horus Aged Ales; This Is An Oaked Raspberry Blossom Mead  | Crafted Artisan Meadery

Rosemary is an evergreen erect woody shrub with dark green spiky, narrow leaves that have a silver undersides. Pale blue flowers in clusters of two or three 2.5 cm long that appear in winter and spring. The delicate-flavoured honey is very sweet, balsamic, with slight sour traces and medium aftertaste, excellent aroma and light colour, light yellow when liquid and whitish when solid. It is produced as a unifloral honey in many European countries.

Commercial Examples: Rosemary HoneyTide  | Against The Tide; Rosemary Honey Ale | Wicked Weed Brewing; La Socarrada | Premium Beers From Spain

Sage honey can come from many different species of the sage plant. Sage Honey, primarily produced in California, is light in color, heavy bodied and has a mild but delightful flavor. It is extremely slow to granulate, making it a favorite honey variety among honey packers for blending with other honeys to slow down granulation. There are several varieties of Sage – White, Purple, and Mixed Sage.

Commercial Examples: Honey Bee Hefe | Golden Road Brewing Co.; Hive Five | Smog City Brewing Co.;

Some claim that this honey is sour. However, contrary to its name, many have also reported that sourwood honey is not sour, but sweet like any honey. This light-colored, delicate, subtle honey has an almost caramel or buttery flavor, and a pleasant, lingering aftertaste. With this honey, you don’t need any more butter on your biscuits or bread!

Commercial Examples: Belgian Tripel w/ Savannah Bee Sourwood Honey, Lemon Zest, Tangelo Peel and Raspberries | Service Brewing Co.; Sourwood Honey Wine | Blacksnake Meadery

A one-foot high annual herb introduced from the Mediterranean Region, star thistle is widespread in California where it produces a white or extra light amber honey with a slight greenish cast. Moderately sweet with a grassy, anise aroma and flavor, star thistle honey pairs well with toasted nuts, strong cheeses and nut bread. It is also excellent in most cooking applications.

Commercial Examples: Bourbon Oaked Honey Porter | YOLO Brewing Co.; Queen Bee | Short’s Brewing Co.; Buzzerkeley | Calicraft Brewing Co.; Backwoods Cyser | B. Nektar Meadery

Growing up to nine feet tall, the sunflower is cultivated in vast fields that are a paradise for bees as it’s blossom produces far more nectar than smaller flowering plants. Sunflower honey is light to extra light amber in color and tastes slightly herbaceous with citrus notes. Use it in sweet and savory baking applications such as honey sesame shortbread, or serve with fresh fruit. It can also add simple sweetness to yogurt or fresh cheese.

Commercial Examples: Sunflower | Redstone Meadery; Sunflower Mead | Kuhnhenn Brewing Co.; L.S.D. Honey Ale | Indeed Brewing Co.

Named as the “champagne of honeys”, “Queen of honey”, “Southern Gold”, Tupelo honey is a premium honey produced in the Southeastern U.S. swamps. Tupelo trees have clusters of greenish flowers, which later develop into soft, berry like fruits. In south Georgia and northwest Florida, tupelo is a leading honey plant, producing tons of white or extra light amber honey in April and May. It is usually light golden amber with a faint greenish glow, and has a mild, distinctive taste. Because of its high fructose content, Tupelo honey is one of the sweetest honey varieties.

Commercial Examples: Tupelo Mead | B. Nektar Meadery; Imperial Tupelo Stout | Steinhardt Brewing Co.; Tupelo Honey Rye | Saw Works Brewing Co.

Also known as “multiflora” or “mixed floral” honey, wildflower honey is an example of “polyfloral” honey, produced by bees visiting more than one type of blossom. Wildflowers can be divided into three categories: those found in the tropics and subtropics, in temperate regions, and those that grow on the summits of mountain chains and in the Arctic and Antarctic. Its color can vary from very light to dark and flavor range from light and fruity to tangy and rich, depending on the mix from the different seasonal wildflowers.

Commercial Examples: Doggie Claws | Hair of the Dog Brewing Co.; Anna | Hill Farmstead Brewery; Mosaic Cutting Tiles | Trillium Brewing Co.

Uncommon Honey Varieties

This is a full-flavored, tropical, forest honey, farmed beehives in West African forests in their natural habitat. It is full with the flavors and scents of the forest. Produced by traditional beekeepers using bark hives from wild forest bees and gathered using sustainable beekeeping methods.

Commercial Example: Honey Dip Trip | Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

The Cardoon (or “cardo” in Italian) is also known as the artichoke thistle or the globe artichoke, is a thistle in the sunflower family, that tastes like a bitter version of a giant artichoke with small, prickly flower head. Considered a invasive weed in some countries, it’s found in the wild along the Mediterranean, Morocco and Portugal to Libya and Croatia.

Commercial Example: Orange Fuzz | Tired Hands

Clove, is a tropical evergreen tall tree in the family Myrtaceae that is native to Indonesia.  The raw honey is collected naturally by the honey bees from the blossom nectar of Clove Tree from its small reddish brown flower buds. The leaves are oval and both ends are pointed. It makes add many tubular flowers to the dispersal inflorescence (the complete flower head of a plant including stems, stalks, bracts, and flowers).

Commercial Examples: Trip XIII – Blonde Ale | New Belgium; Equinox |BOS Meadery

Desert Blossom Honey is gathered from hives placed in areas of the Sonoran desert where bees are busy gathering nectar from a variety of wildflowers, desert trees and cactus blossoms.This region ranges from central Arizona south into Sonora, Mexico. The delicate blooms of plants, cacti, and flowers of this region are unique to this part of the world. Desert honey is one of the most diverse on earth. The Honey actually tastes very sweet, even for honey!

Commercial Examples: Juniper Berry Mountain Honey Wine / Rosé Nectar | Redstone Meadery

Elderberry is a species complex of flowering plants in the honeysuckle family, Adoxaceae, native to most of Europe and North America. Elderberries have a delicious intense spicy-grapey flavor and grow in dense thickets. Their off-white flowers yield a bluish-black pea sized fruit when ripe in late summer.

Commercial Example: Elderberry | Schramm’s Mead

Grapefruit Blossom is a highly coveted and hard to find varietal. It has the color of pure gold with a hazy finish. It has an elegantly unexpected flavor with notes of tropical fruit and a light crisp taste. It is not as sweet as some of the other floral honey varietals. Although the bees collect the nectar from grapefruit blossoms, it doesn’t taste like grapefruit.

Commercial Examples: Hibiscus Hefeweisen | Breakwater Brewing Co.

Honey Dew Honey comes from the beech forests of New Zealand. The forests attract aphids, sooty beech scale insects, caterpillars and moths that feed on the tree sap and then secrete a sugar-like substance on the trees which sparkles in the sunlight, hence the name honeydew. The honeydew-like nectar is actually a sweet aromatic sap that trickles from the tree and is gathered by bees.

Commercial Examples: Beer Camp Across the World Campout Porter (2017) | Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Manuka has attained almost mythical status for its medicinal properties. The manuka shrub can adapt to gardens in warm regions, but only in its native New Zealand and Australia does it grow in sufficient quantities for a single-species honey. A fast-growing plant forming dense scrub on formerly cleared land. It has been developed into many commercial ornamental cultivars, usually with pink to red flowers. 

Commercial Examples: Beer Camp Across the World Campout Porter (2017) | Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.; Sparkling Clover & Manuka Honey Mead | Lone Bee.

Meadowfoam is a low growing herbaceous winter annual that is adapted to poorly drained soils. Limnanthes means marshflower and the common name “Meadowfoam” arose due to the appearance of its creamy white flowers at full bloom. Meadowfoam is native to northern California, southern Oregon, and Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Meadowfoam requires insect pollination to set seed. Two or three colonies of bees per acre of meadowfoam are needed for adequate pollination.

Commercial Examples: Kentucky Monk | Jackie O’s Brewery

Propolis is a natural resinous mixture produced by honey bees from substances collected from parts of plants, buds, and exudates. Due to its waxy nature and mechanical properties, bees use propolis in the construction and repair of their hives for sealing openings and cracks and smoothing out the internal walls and as a protective barrier against external invaders like snakes, lizards, and so forth, or against weathering threats like wind and rain. Bees gather propolis from different plants, in the temperate climate zone mainly from poplar.

Commercial Examples: Propolis (2013-2017) | Brasserie Dunham

Red Mangrove honey comes from the organic honey flowers on Mangrove trees in state preserve remote islands in Florida. Each summer the Mangrove trees produce an organic nectar rich flower the bees love to use to make this raw unfiltered honey. This is a special ocean honey from a dwindling habitat. The bees are using Mangrove trees from protected state lands. The resulting honey is medium light and exceptionally sweet and tastes a little like butterscotch.

Commercial Examples:  Upper Body Strength | J. Wakefield Brewing

Sulla coronaria (French honeysuckle, cock’s head, Italian sainfoin, sulla, or soola) is a perennial herb native to Malta, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, southern Italy and Spain, cultivated for animal fodder and hay, and for honey production. The plant is deep-rooted and drought-resistant, with red flowers and pods that have a yellow thorny surface that turns brown at maturity.

Commercial Examples: Objekt 250 | Canediguerra

Zambia is the largest producer of honey in Africa, producing over 300 tons of honey each year. Hidden in a lush forest at the source of the mighty Zambezi River lives a special honeybee that feeds only on flowering trees. Zambezi honey is called a Forest Honey because the bees forage on the forest trees while they are flowering.  The honey is gathered using traditional sustainable methods to help to preserve the forest as well as the bees.

Commercial Examples: CollaBEEration | Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

Add a comment

*Please complete all fields correctly