Did you know humans aren’t the only species that purposefully ferments their foods? In fact, we’re waaay late to the show!
Long ago, bees figured out how to preserve and enhance one of their primary sources of nutrition: pollen. They mix the pollen with their own honey and wax within the honeycombs and let it ferment for about two weeks. The product is known as bee bread.
Bee bread is one of the most nutrient-rich foods in the world. It is also known as Perga, the food of the gods. Well played, bees. But I can match your fermented superfood awesomeness! I just need you to bring me some pollen…
What Exactly is Bee Pollen?
Bees collect two things from plants: nectar and pollen. The nectar is used to make honey while the pollen is used to make bee bread. Honey is their main source of carbohydrates and bee bread is their main source of protein.
Bee pollen, or simply pollen, is a complete protein and is absolutely packed with nutrients. It has almost every nutrient required by the human body to thrive. It’s so good for you that it’s recognized as a medicine in some countries.
Check out this research paper from the US National Library of Medicine to learn more about all the health benefits of bee pollen.
Beekeepers collect the pollen by placing screens around the hive, forcing the bees to squeeze through and inevitably drop pollen into the trap. It accumulates slowly, so it can be quite expensive if you can even find it for sale. I am paying about $30 per cup at my local farmer’s market. Sounds crazy, but remember, it’s a superfood! And a little bit goes a long way.
So, what does it taste like? Well, it depends. Just as there are over 300 varieties of honey, depending on the source of nectar and the region, no two batches of bee pollen will be exactly the same.
When you taste it you can taste the flowers from which it came. It’s sweet, floral, and earthy up front. Then it begins to turn bitter and more like hay, but not in a bad way. It lingers in the mouth and sort of dries out the tongue.
The hay flavor reminded me of a farmhouse Saison, and thus this recipe was born. My brew buddy, Blake, came up with the clever name “It’s Bee Saison!” You have to pronounce it like “season” but with a thick redneck twang. I thought it was hilarious.
It’s Bee Saison! Recipe
Brew Method: All Grain
Style Name: Saison
Boil Time: 90 min
Batch Size: 5 gallons
Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.043
BH Efficiency: 68%
10lbs (80%) – Pilsen Malt (2-Row)
1lb (8%) – Honey (Local, if possible)
12oz (6%) – Munich Malt
12oz (6%) – Wheat – White Malt
2oz – Hallertauer @ 60 min
1oz – Hallertauer @ flameout
RVA Yeast Labs – Saison II (Brasserie Thiriez)
Fermentation Temp: Pitch at 68F and let rise to 72F. Hold for 3 days, then crank to 78F until fermentation is complete
If you live in Virginia or the Carolinas, you’ve probably heard about RVA Yeast Labs (Richmond, VA). RVA Yeast Labs is my preferred yeast vendor, and it’s not just because they are local. They produce exceptional yeast and bacteria harvested from some of the greatest beers on Earth.
They also produce unique, local strains isolated from the fruit trees and hop farms of Virginia. In addition, at 200 billion cells per vial, there’s no need for a yeast starter unless you’re making a big batch or high gravity beer (over 1.070 OG)!
If you can’t find RVA Yeast Labs locally, contact them with the strains and quantities you desire and they will grow your yeast up fresh and have it ready for shipping in ten days!
Alternatively, you can use White Labs Belgian Saison II Yeast (WLP566). In that case, I would recommend a yeast starter.
- Mash at 148F for 90 min or until conversion is complete
- Boil for 90 minutes to ward off DMS
- Add honey at high krausen. Don’t worry about pasteurizing it, as honey has natural antibacterial properties. Boiling and extended fermentation of the honey will eliminate much of the delicate flavors and aromas. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, add it at flameout. Just be sure to adjust your target OG accordingly (the OG listed above includes the honey fermentables).
- Add 10 tbsp (2tbsp per gallon) of bee pollen 5 days before bottling/kegging. It will sit on the surface for the first day or two as it begins to dissolve into the beer. No need to shake or stir.
Appearance: The pollen granules vary in color, and produce a strangely tinted pale yellow to gold that changes drastically depending on the angle and lighting. It’s not the most appealing looking beer, but certainly unique. Hard to tell from the picture, but mine ended up super clear. The foamy head dissipates quickly due to the bee pollen.
Aroma: Slightly fruity, slightly hoppy, and slightly floral. Not a ton of aroma.
Flavor: The bee pollen gives it a nice earthy backbone. Fresh, almost minty floral notes are clearly present up front and meld well as the Belgian yeast flavors and spices emerge. The honey adds a lasting sweetness that perfectly complements the bitterness of the pollen.
Mouthfeel: Medium body, high carbonation. The bitterness of the pollen outlasts the sweetness by just a bit, making you want to take another sip!
Overall Impression: It’s got all the characteristics of a good Saison. The honey and bee pollen add a whole new dynamic that is surprisingly pleasant. I honestly feel like I’m drinking a delicious “health beer!”
I don’t know that I’ve created a liquefied version of bee bread, the food of the gods, but this has GOT to be close!
If you can find some local bee pollen, I highly suggest you try this recipe. Other homebrewers have brewed with bee pollen and there are even a couple commercially available bee pollen beers. Flying Dog makes a pollen beer called “Save the Bees” that is brewed with local honey and bee pollen.
Pollen is a fantastic superfood that you should incorporate into your diet. The health benefits are tremendous. You can consume it raw and wash it down with a nice cold beer, or just brew it all together.
Have you ever brewed with bee pollen? If not, what’s the craziest ingredient you’ve ever used? Let us know in the comments below!