or : Honey, I've Drunk the Beers.
Last week I stepped into the Melissa Cole's shoes as a late replacement to help judge the Honey Beer category at The National Honey Show. Melissa had a bit of beer business to attend to in New York, so I volunteered to buzz off down to Weybridge for the morning.
The National Honey Show has been held annually for 78 years and has matured into a competition with over 200 classes of honey, beeswax, photography, confectionery, mead and now for the first time - BEER.
Class 41 - Honey Beer (entry fee £20)
Any style, 3 bottles or cans. The beer should be commercially available and honey must be an ingredient. Gold, Silver and Bronze medals awarded.
There are over 20 beers available commercially that have honey as one of the ingredients and a creditable seven made the effort to join the competition in its first year - though one was sadly held up in the post and did not appear at the judging table.
There were no judging criteria apart from the above so the three judges : myself, Tim Hampson, chair of the British Guild of Beer Writers and John Porter, beer and food expert, lately of the Publican, were able to set the standard.
We started with a blind tasting, scoring on appearance, aroma, taste, aftertaste, and overall quality. Then we undressed the beers and gave a score for presentation and further considered the use of honey in the beers given the nature of the event.
After much swilling and slurping, interspersed with a general education on bees, honey and beekeeping from our hosts, we decided that the overall winner should be the Bumble Bee Ale brewed by Freeminer Brewery exclusively for the Co-Op.
A 4.6% golden ale, with a delicate floral aroma, a mix of biscuity malt and balanced sweetness on the palate with the flavour of the Chilean Wild Flower Fairtrade honey not too overpowering giving equal measure to a lemon, spicy hoppiness and a long bitter finish. A crisp, approachable, very moreish beer.
Second was Bracia brewed by Thornbridge, a 9% rich dark beer brewed with Italian chestnut honey and in third place was Lovibonds Wheat Wine another strong beer (7.3%) where the taste of the locally sourced honey was unmistakable.
A thoroughly enjoyable morning, in good company, with some excellent beers and a worthy winner. Cheers to the honey bee.
Honey is becoming popular with brewers as, although it is an expensive ingredient, it does generally result in a crisp, clean, lighter beer than a malt only brew and can if brewed with care give rise to a lovely delicate, honey sweetness that is not too overpowering.
Hopefully the category will now gain some momentum and result in an increased entry for next year. At the National Honey Show there are 15 categories for Mead so there is something for Britain's brewers to aspire to.