Editor’s note: On Saturday, Sept. 1, the White House released the recipes for its honey ale and honey porter, after the deadline for this story had passed.
They’re halfway there.
As of Friday afternoon,the online petition requesting the Obama White House to divulge its homebrewing secrets had garnered 12,173 signatures.
Press Secretary Jay Carney has stated that if petitioners gather 25,000 signatures by Sept. 19, the White House will release the information. You can follow the progress here.
But if and when the Obama Administration releases its recipes — White House chefs have brewed three beers: a honey ale, honey blond ale and honey porter — how closely will homebrewers be able to duplicate these beers in their kitchens?
The secret ingredient in the Obama brews is honey from the apiary on the White House South Lawn. “The bees will fly a few miles to forage for nectar,” notes Bruce Boynton, CEO of the National Honey Board in Denver. In an urban setting like Washington, he speculates, they’ll probably be dependent on ornamental flowers and blossoming trees like cherry and locust.
Mixed-source honey, Boynton adds, is called “wildflower honey,” even when the flowers that provided the nectar are cultivated in people’s gardens. Most likely the White House honey is paler and lighter in flavor than buckwheat honey, a deep-brown, earthy, molasseslike variety that’s poured on pancakes and sometimes used in brewing darker beer styles. Boynton declines to give specifics on what the honey from Obama’s hives might taste like, noting that wildflower honey varies greatly, depending on the region of the country, the nutrients in the soil and even the season of the year.
The exact composition of the honey might not matter so much in a beer. “I’ve brewed a honey porter on several occasions, and I’ve also done a Belgian strong ale with honey,” says Joshua Hubner, president of the DC Homebrewers Club. “It’s a pretty small flavor addition to any beer.”
“Honey adds a nice, crisp flavor, contrary to the commonly held thought that it makes a beer sweet,” notes George Hummel, proprietor of the Home Sweet Homebrew supply shop in Philadelphia and author of “The Complete Homebrew Beer Book” (Robert Rose., 2011). “The sugars in honey are almost 100 percent fermentable,” he adds, and are broken down by the yeast into carbon dioxide and alcohol, resulting in a lighter-bodied beer than one made entirely from barley malt.
Homebrewers generally add honey to the kettle late in the boil and skimp on the hops to keep the subtle aromatics from being overwhelmed, says Hummel.
“It makes more sense to add honey to low-alcohol and lightly hopped beers,” advises Hubner.
The prospect of the White House releasing its recipes sparked “a nice bit of chitter-chatter” at the DC Homebrewers’s meeting last week, says Hubner. (He credits club member John Lutz with coming up with the idea for the petition.)
“Homebrewers are relatively small in number on a national scale,” he reflects. “I’m glad to see we’re getting some national press.”
“I think the world would be a better place if more people kicked back and had a few homebrews,” commented Hummel.
For more details on brewing with honey (including recipes), check out the National Honey Board’s information page. For updates on DC Homebrewers and its activities, visit its Web site. The club has an e-mail list of about 750 members, says Hubner, and meets once a month at a Metro-accessible location in the area.