Recently I was asked to write about honey used in craft beer brewing for this newsletter. My first thoughts were, “Rats…homework!” Being the dedicated board member I am, I set out to first figure a graceful way out of my assignment, without incurring Danielle’s wrath. Then, it dawned on me there may be some unforeseen benefits to working on this article. No way could I write an informed article without first doing some research! After all, PAm demands excellence in all it touches… So I headed straight to the nearest brew pub. In hindsight that might not have been the best starting place. Oh believe me, in my zeal, I learned a lot about craft beer brewing, and maybe slightly more about craft beer drinking. By the time I left the Pub everything was one big blur, literally. But I did make it back to my writing assignment.
A volumetric study, conducted by the NHB in conjunction with the Arland Group, showed that over 25 million pounds of honey were used in 2016 brewing beer. That’s a lot of honey and a large potential market for beekeepers to capitalize on! One conservative estimate places the number of craft breweries over 5,000 nationwide. These artisanal brewers are springing up Coast to Coast, with a wide variety of interesting craft beers. Everything, ingredient wise, is fair game in craft brewing, with each brewer trying to outdo the other with their oddly concocted libations. As one ‘bearded brewer’ told me, “We sell everything brewed, at least once!” There’s always a line of local craft beer enthusiasts waiting for the next creative brew. They may only buy it once, but no misguided craft beer creation goes to waste. Adding to the excitement, most of these brewers use locally sourced, farm-to-table, high quality ingredients to give the beers a regional flavor. Small batches of regionally produced artisanal beer provide a great local marketing tool for enhanced pricing; customers want to know where their beer is made. That’s where beekeepers come in, with our local honeys. Honey varietals, generally between 2-10%, add a wide range of complex flavors and aromas while smoothing the craft beer. It’s best to use pasteurized honey to avoid adding any undesirable bacteria to the craft brewing equation.
Currently 90% of my honey crop is processed for craft breweries--in pails, drums and totes; my largest brewery order to date has been 80,000 lbs., with a two-week window to prepare the honey for shipment. But most of my orders are in the 5-30,000 lb. range. Being from Wisconsin, it makes sense to sell to breweries, and for any motivated honey producer, seeking out the local craft breweries may provide an additional revenue stream and maybe some discounts on craft beers! If the Brewery or Brew Pub doesn’t use honey, the beekeeper can always direct them to the NHB for startup recipes and technical assistance using honey for their next marketable idea. All the breweries I deal with require the honey to be filtered and pasteurized. The largest brewery to which I sell Wisconsin honey requires my facility be Kosher and FDA inspected, with a batch certificate of analysis for quality control. No honey leaves my plant without being processed. I’ve been turning down smaller brewers, due to their small volume and required prep time. Even as I’m writing I have to process a 30,000 lb., 40,000 lb., 5,000 lb. and two 1200 lb. batches of honey for various breweries…all in a two-week window! Time is always a problem. I’m a beekeeper first and have to move and work bees. I’m living the Dream…at least that’s what I keep telling myself!
So, next time while enjoying your favorite craft beer, whether it’s a Honey Blonde, Honey Weis or my personal favorite--a Triple Honey Hoe with 30% honey and an ABV of over 10%-- remember craft beer honey equals craft beer dollars, and that makes for happy and “relaxed” beekeepers.
Board Member, Project Apis m.