Soured Honey Brown Ale

Brewed the Honey Brown ale from NB (all-grain) a couple of weeks ago. Per the instructions (and advice from other homebrewers), honey should be added at flame-out. Well, my brain wasn’t work on all cylinders towards the end of the brew day and about 5 minutes into the wort chilling (via immersion chiller) I remember I needed to add the honey. So I put the 1lb of honey in and tried to stir it in the best I could without agitating the wort too much. The wort was fairly cool at this time since the ground water was fairly cold (I live in Michigan) and I had a 70 ft. immersion chiller in there.

I decided to do a wort stability test with this batch (Basic Brewing Radio is doing a collaborative experiment with BYO and is asking for input). The testing jar started showing signs of fermentation after about 24 hours and had quite an unpleasant odor after 48 hrs (meaty type smell). What was coming out of the fermentor via the blow-off tubing was a very nice honey smell. So I thought I might be OK b/c of the blow-off smell and I pitched a healthy starter.

Went to sample it tonight after three weeks in primary and what came out was not a real fresh beer smell. It wasn’t an obnoxious smell, but not the freshest. Tasted it and had the same impression, then I got hit with quite a sour aftertaste. Based on the wort stability test failing and the sourness, I decided to dump the batch as I didn’t want to get my kegerator mixed up with this stuff. I guess I could have bottled it, but that would require cleaning my stash of bottles.

I think if I would have put the honey in right at flameout and let it sit for a couple of minutes, I would have killed most of the bugs, or at least enough to not cause off-flavor issues. I’ll probably try using honey again in the distant future, but will be much more diligent to add at flameout (and if I forget, the honey will not be added later on!).

Are you sure it was the honey? From what I understand, honey is not an environment where bad things can grow.

I brewed the Honey Brown extract kit on 12/30/11. I added the honey in the ice bath, temps were still well above 100 though. I bottled on 1/29/12, and it tasted like all it needed was bottle conditioning.

Yeah, I’ve heard the same thing. Something about honey makes it inhospitable for that type of stuff. However, everything else I pretty much ruled out. Also, there has to be some type of crap in honey occasionally as they warn that children under 1 should not eat it.

  • Wort chiller was put in boil twenty minutes before end of boil
  • Wort was transferred to fermentor and testing jar via dumping pot thru funnel
  • Funnel and testing jar were immersed in iodine solution for about 30 minutes

I don’t cover my kettle when chilling, and I did stir the wort a little during the cooling phase, so maybe some contamination was introduced then.

Honey cannot harbor live bacteria or wild yeasts due to the fact that it is hydrophillic. But it can and does contain the spores of bacteria, wild yeasts and particles of pollen which can harbor the same.

So often adding unpasteurized honey directly to the fermenter before there is much alcohol in the beer will result in some wild stuff getting going. Infection is less likely if you wait a day or three for the saccharomyces to get rocking and kick out enough alcohol to prevent the spores form awakening. The best practice, if you want to add it to the fermenter is to give the honey a little pasteurization by heating it to 180 for 30min before adding it.

And, of course, you can add it in the boil; however, many report that some, if not most, of the honey character can be lost…

I’d be surprised if the honey was the culprit. I’ve never needed to heat my honey for mead or beer. In fact, when I make mead I add the honey directly to lukewarm water and stir until it’s integrated. I’ve had no infected batches of beer or mead from these practices.

True honey cannot grow bacteria, but it can still live on the surfaces of the bottle, or whatever is in contact with it and could potentially be introduced to the wort. The idea of pasteurizing the honey is a good idea, it will also make it come out of the bottle easier. I wouldn’t assume that it was the honey right away either though, as there are so many things that could potentially get into the wort.

Did you boil the chiller in the wort?
Was the wort covered when chilling?

So many other questions I could ask, but anything in the air could get in there and cause a bad batch.

When it happens, just don’t say, “I will never brew a honey brew again,” that would make us sad.

Thanks for the comments everyone. I guess it’s not 100%, or even maybe 80%, that the honey caused it. Especially since many mead brewers don’t even boil the honey.

It could have been from me stirring the honey into the wort during chilling, and potentially introducing nasties at this vulnerable point, or the fact that I didn’t cover during chilling. One of those two or the honey (or a combination) likely caused the infection. I’ve never covered the pot when using the immersion chiller before and have not had a problem, but I might have had just good luck with the past 10 batches or so that I’ve used it.[quote=“brans041”]
Did you boil the chiller in the wort?

When it happens, just don’t say, “I will never brew a honey brew again,” that would make us sad.[/quote]

Yes, I did boil the chiller (20 minutes). And I’ll brew with honey again. Too many people are successful with it to say never again!