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How prominent might I expect the flavors of honey to be, if used as a priming element for beer?

I am thinking about it in terms of an all-grain pale ale variation, perhaps with honey or biscuit malt for the flavoring element, instead of crystal... And let's also presume some quality honey, not the supermarket mass-produced stuff.

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    I'd suggest start by adding a pound or so of honey to the beer after primary fermentation is done, letting the honey ferment out completely, then bottling with normal priming sugar. That way you can see how the honey impacts the beer's flavor without worrying about getting the priming wrong. – Graham Jun 10 '13 at 13:31
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Based on my experience and priming experiments I've done, honey adds no flavor when used as priming. You only a tiny bit and it ferments out leaving no flavor behind. In addition, since the fermentability is variable, you don't really know what your carbonation level will be.

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  • Interesting. Based on that, would you say that for recipes which do explicitly call for honey as a primer, that I can substitute it out with the corn sugar I already have from other recipes? I have one to bottle today which calls for honey, but it's a brown, so I don't anticipate needing a ton level of carbonation. – object88 Jun 8 '13 at 16:47
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    That's certainly what I'd do. And FWIW, table sugar works just as well as corn sugar for priming. – Denny Conn Jun 8 '13 at 19:04
  • It's an entirely different question, but I wonder why, different primers are used, then. – object88 Jun 8 '13 at 21:28
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    Myth, rumor, lack of actual comparison. – Denny Conn Jun 9 '13 at 17:00
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Why use honey when table sugar is actually a better substitute and more readily available? Yes you can use honey, but measuring it out and adding it to each bottle or en masse to the bottling bucket will be tricky, especially ensuring the honey is evenly mixed in the bottling bucket.

Some people recommend using DME to prime, and while this may be the ideal on the theoretical level, the amount of flavor coming from the priming sugar is typically at most 3-4% of the total grist in the brew (assuming 5kg/10lb grist.)

Some also argue that the table sugar requires different metabolic pathways to break it down compared to using DME which uses the same pathways as already set up to ferment the beer. Again, this is true, but in practice the yeast have no trouble switching and fermenting out the table sugar in a few days.

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  • Out of curiosity, why is table sugar better? – Matt Fenwick Jun 10 '13 at 15:56
  • Easier to measure out and known fermentability - fermentability of honey is variable. – mdma Jun 10 '13 at 16:25
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If I want a slight honey flavor, I cold crash a 5 gallon batch after fermentation to separate out the yeast or pasteurize then add a cup of honey mixed with a bit of High proof alcohol to dilute and kill off any stray yeast or bacteria then stir in before kegging, I don't boil to avoid losing honey character. Not sure how to do this if bottling except for maybe using one of those new counter pressure bottle fillers since fermentation can no longer take place, but have my doubts about how well those fillers work.

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