Honey brown beer is not the slightest bit difficult to make using a brew-kit. If you have your own hives then the cost is about half of that from the liquor store, and fifty times as nice. The most difficult step is the methodical sterilising of your bottles.
The larger the bottle the better as that is where the time and effort go. But it does create a problem as you will probably drink more.
It takes as much time to clean, sterilise and cap a one-litre bottle as another of say 350 ml.
Geoffrey Chaucer, writing more than six-hundred years ago was the first known author to call it a braggot. Certainly it is likely that honey brown beer like mead went back long before that time as sugar and grapes only arrived much later on the scene.
A braggot is to beer what mead is to wine; they both ferment the sugars in honey to alcohol and take us back into the mists of time.
Interestingly Pliny the Elder wrote nearly two thousand years ago that the British drank large amounts of a honey-brew; that could have been a mead or a braggot.
I have no experience of making it from basic principles, but I have been brewing mead and a honey brown beer from a kit for many years. You can be enjoying your braggot after a week, though it is far better after a couple months, but the wine really needs to mature for half a year; otherwise it is harsh like a cheap-whiskey.
Your beer kit contains hops and a malted barley extract.
You will need a plastic bucket or large glass carboy that will hold 25 or more litres. The lid must be tight, with a hole drilled for an airlock.
Also needed is a long-handled plastic stirring spoon and a hydrometer for measuring the specific gravity; there is no other assured way of being certain that fermentation is complete. In the early days in my naivety I thought I could do without, and bottled too soon. It was not pleasant having shrapnel flying through the air in the pantry when the glass burst.
Choose a cool day when the temperature is below 20oC. If the wort goes above 22 degrees, unpleasant tasting esters are formed. Do not make your honey brown beer in midsummer unless you have a way of keeping it cold.
On the other hand if the temperature drops below about 12oC then fermentation will stop. Choosing the right weather to make your honey brown beer is critical.
Thoroughly sterilise the bucket, tap and plastic-spoon for one hour; and the hydrometer too.
Pour the sterilising-liquid into your clean, empty beer bottles; the larger the better. I use one litre.
Bring roughly three litres of spring or rainwater to the boil in a large stainless steel or enamel pot. Add the contents of your beer kit, and stir with the long-handled plastic spoon.
Allow to simmer for fifteen-minutes.
Meanwhile thoroughly rinse out your bucket and half-fill with more very cold spring or rainwater; you really do not want any chlorine in there. Add a few trays of ice. The temperature of the boiling honey brown beer concentrate must be dropped as quickly as possible.
Place the pot of boiling concentrate into a large bucket of cold, running water. Stir your honey brown beer so that it will cool very quickly.
Pour about 2 kg of liquid honey into the cool water and stir vigorously to dissolve the sugars; actually crystallised works too.
You could drop in a piece of honeycomb provided each of the cells has been pricked; any pollen will act as a nutrient for the yeast.
Pour the now partially cooled concentrate into your fermentation bucket that is half-filled with cold spring-water and the honey. This is known as the wort and the temperature really should be brought below 30oC in twenty minutes or less; allow to cool further.
Add more cold water until you have made up sufficient to leave a gap of at least 50 mm above the wort. Stir vigorously to ensure most of the honey has dissolved.
Large bubbles will form once fermentation begins and some of your braggot may escape through the bubbler if you fill the bucket too much; it makes a mess.
Taking beer hydrometer readings is very important to ensure that fermentation is complete; sometimes the process temporarily slows and you may be fooled into bottling whilst there are still some sugars in the wort. That is very dangerous and you will have exploding glass-shrapnel; you will lose all your work and possibly an eye.
Take your first reading before fermentation begins by dropping the hydrometer into the wort; it enables you to calculate the alcohol content. Mine was around 40 but not all the honey had yet dissolved.
A braggot is traditionally very strong with an alcohol content of around 8 percent, but you can control it by the amount of honey you add.
Never bottle until the specific gravity is below 8 which is a little sweet for my liking; about 4 is better. This will take about two-weeks depending on the ambient temperature.
Sprinkle the yeast over the wort when the temperature is in the range 18 to 22 oC. Attach the tight-fitting lid to the bucket.
Fit your airlock into the grommet in the lid; a wad of prestik will also make a good seal. It is important the carbon-dioxide formed by fermentation can escape, but no air get back in; then it will turn to vinegar.
Add a little clear alcohol such as cane spirit to the bubbler. Use a loose-fitting cap as the fruit flies will take a keen interest in your honey brown beer.
Step-eight is the most pleasant part of making honey brown beer, apart from sampling your braggot of course. Pull up a chair with a good book; after about a day a most satisfying bleeping sound will emanate from the bubbler as the yeast cells go about their work. It may put you to sleep if it is not a gripping-tale.
When the bubbles diminish after about a week or two, take a small sample from the tap and test the specific gravity using your hydrometer; use a spray bottle to rinse out the tap.
A wine-thief would be useful.
If you are going to use finings dissolve them in 200 ml of boiling water and pour the liquid into the wort. Reseal the bucket and leave it for two-days. Personally I do not follow this step.
And now for the odious part, depending on how idle you were on finishing your honey brown beer. If you rinsed out every bottle two or three-times each evening, then the process is relatively simple.
In fact I start here when sterilising the bucket right at the beginning in step one.
Swirl out each bottle with clean water a few times; and then add the sterilising liquid from the bucket using a funnel.
Then when you are ready to bottle, shake up each one with the sterilising fluid; discard it into a plastic container with about 25 caps, depending on the size you are using. Rinse thoroughly a few times. Turn them upside down to drip-dry.
Swish the caps around a few times in the bucket, discard the liquid and rinse again. Drain and allow to dry.
To give your honey brown beer a head you need to prime each bottle with a little honey at the rate of 1 level teaspoon per 750 ml.
Dissolve 30 tsp in a litre of warm spring-water; add about 1 teaspoon to each bottle.
Or add a teaspoon of sugar to each litre of your braggart to give it a head.
Place a small funnel into the first beer bottle and add 1.3 tsp of sugar; the amount is not critical but just do not be too generous. Do the same to all 25.
Getting some help, place the bucket on a raised, very sturdy surface. Fill each bottle to roughly 40 mm from the top, and then cap it. This takes some practice; you will probably break a few until you get the knack.
A decent capper is a must-buy.
You can start drinking your braggart straight away but it is best to leave it for a few weeks; it does mature and improve.
This is a rather time-consuming process, taking perhaps three hours in total; why would you do it? Firstly, it is unlikely you can purchase a braggart; after the Belgium beers which are in the same league, I have never comes across a pint as fine as this.
Secondly your honey brown beer has not been sterilised; it is teaming with wonderful yeast cells that act as a probiotic. By establishing a stable microbiome in the gut you are far less likely to be savaged by a pathogen when it arrives; they will simply be overwhelmed by the trillions of good guys.
There is masses of research now showing that the microbiome in the
intestine supports your immune system and has a profound influence on
the whole body. Your braggart will provide the yeast cells and a culture
of kefir say, the bacteria and other bugs; they will certainly give you
a measure of protection against the coronavirus. Google the "gut-lung
axis" for more information.
We have been indoctrinated with the idea that bugs are bad and must be wiped out immediately; that is fake-news and utterly false.
Your commercial ales and lagers have been sterilised and have no probiotic benefit. And lastly, a braggart is one of the finest-tasting beers that you will ever get to sample. Your circle of friends will immediately double.
Water obviously is the main ingredient of our honey brown beer; whilst chlorine is important should there be any possibility of pathogens, it also has a very detrimental effect on organic compounds in the wort producing toxic trihalomethanes.
Post-chlorination of water is an important subject in regard to human health.
For this reason we stress the use of unchlorinated water in the making of our beers; from a high quality spring or borehole, or in our case we harvest the rain. It should be tested annually for the presence of pathogens such as E. Coli.
How safe is our drinking water is particularly important in the making of beer, whether it be a home-brew or on an industrial scale.
Given that my honey pilsener is not the same as a homebrew made using sugar, nor a commercial lager or ale, I have decided it would be prudent to know what is my glycemic response to beer.
Clearly honey brown beer, also known as a braggot, has no dramatic effect on my blood-glucose. You, of course, may react it a quite different way.
A triglyceride test also might be beneficial.
I am about to start experimenting with an all-hive beer known as T'ej. It uses only honey-cappings, old combs and yeast; and certain twigs of wood.
It promises to be something quite different to anything I have ever tasted. It may turn out to be more of a mead than a beer.
I'm a great believer that we should not be locked into recipes; it is great fun experimenting with your food and tipple.
Nevertheless there are some potential dangers; there are highly toxic bacteria that thrive in an anaerobic environment like you have in your honey brown beer.
I'm reminded that as a child when she picked a bowl of wild mushrooms, my mother used to sample one teaspoon of the juice. If she was still alive in the morning, so she told us, we could all tuck in. I will follow the same principle.
In effect I will be the King's taster.
There are some fears of methanol poisoning from making a homebrew. It is theoretically possible and there is some methanol in normally consumed alcohol. Following these guidelines to the letter makes this a very unlikely scenario.
Symptoms of ethanol poisoning usually occur well after consumption, sometimes more than 12 hours later. Dizziness, headache and vomiting are the initial signs; followed by severe abdominal pain, rapid breathing and cold, clammy extremities.
Honey brown beer is at least fifty-times as nice as any from any commercial company; and you can be sure no noxious chemicals have been added.
Having said that I do like the Belgium beers.
In South Africa you can purchase your honey brown beer kit from the home-brew shop.
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