“Real depth and complexity set against one of the most powerful but restrained classic stouts ever. One flavour punch after another, and then comes that sweet honeyed uppercut. Like a boxing cephalopod with flavour gloves on all eight tentacles. Superb! 4.75 / 5.00”

As a brewer, I love to see reviews come through like the one above. Cephalopod has hit the ground running and is rapidly becoming Wild Weather’s highest scoring beer of all time, and that feels great.

In this article, I’m going to be taking a deep dive into the finished beer (metaphorically… although I wouldn’t say no to diving off a board into this), and we’ll also hear from our honey supplier Stefan, from Bee Mercy. He is a well of knowledge, and just as we went down the rabbit hole of beer and brewing many years ago, he went down a different one that led him to become a passionate expert in bees, honey, sustainability and wellbeing.

Let’s talk about Cephalopod as a finished beer first. It pours a very deep mahogany, with a lasting, pale caramel head. Aromas of gingerbread, spice and oatmeal cookie lift from the glass, but it doesn’t smell strongly alcoholic. Our yeast health and pitch rate was key here; it was important that every aspect of the setup for fermentation was tuned in to create as stress-free an environment for the yeast as possible.

The resulting beer, despite weighing in at 12% ABV, is notably lacking in fusel alcohols (the perceived ‘hot’ alcohol burn), and any other strong-tasting by-products that can arise from a difficult fermentation. In fact, the yeast character is almost entirely absent, and deliberately so; this allows a strong and clear expression of our grain selection, hopping regime and especially the quality of the raw honey to really be present in the end product.

Cephalopod is full of flavour and depth, and the first thing my wife said when she tried it was “it tastes like rum & raisin ice cream”. Although she has a great palate, she isn’t the only taster that has picked up the combination of spice, honey sweetness and creaminess in Cephalopod and reconciled these in her mind with the flavour of rum & raisin.

For me, I also get honeycomb (unsurprisingly), milk chocolate, black treacle and a subtle floral/ woody/ smoky background that originated in the honey itself. The smooth and balanced bitterness in this beer also makes it very drinkable for its strength, and counters the sweetness from the honey, which needed pulling back into line with just over 50 IBUs.

With all of the above in mind, I’m not wholly shocked that I’ve now heard from more than one drinker that this beer ‘feelsbarrel aged. I can assure you it that it isn’t, but given some of the flavour descriptors already outlined, I can see why people might think this. In Cephalopod, the enduring residual complexity from the heather honey is clearly working in harmony with our grain bill and the weight of the beer, creating a pseudo-barrel-aged profile. Here is an Imperial Stout that has an added layer of complexity, but this time – not from ageing on wood.

Interview with Stefan (Bee Mercy)

So hold on… there are different kinds of honeys? Honey can be ‘raw’? What is it that I’m buying in the shops then? Where do I get the good stuff?

It won’t surprise you to know that as with anything that is farmed in any way, there are always people taking advantage; watering down the end product and prioritising profit over sustainability and ecological concerns . Through introducing our drinkers to Cephalopod, we’ve opened quite a few eyes to the world of sustainable, high quality honey, and so we got back in touch with our supplier, Stefan from Bee Mercy, who has kindly answered some of our questions, and a few posed by our drinkers.

Q: How would you describe ‘Heather Honey’ to people who perhaps aren’t aware that different kinds of honeys exist?

A: “Heather honey is where the bees have fed predominantly on the wild heather that decorates the landscape. It is one of our most robust and aromatic honeys and has the aroma of sweet heather and some salty notes. It can have a bitter aftertaste and this is more predominant when it crystallizes. Heather honey is known for its health benefits as it is high in minerals and vitamins, and in some tests has been found to be more potent than Manuka honey. It is a perfect noticeable addition to recipes and absolutely stunning on cheese.

“With all natural raw honey, the real producer is the bees. The flavour, colour, texture and benefits depend on what the bee feeds on. It is a collaboration between the flower and the bee. In fact, nectar is actually bitter, it is the bees that make it sweet in their ‘honey stomachs’. It is also the bees that add the enzymes into the honey. Amazing little things.”

“Each honey is unique, and will never be the same. It is not standardised and is dictated to us by nature. There are numerous factors such as the quality of the air, soil and the environment where the flower grows and the bees feed. Sometimes the bees might predominantly feed on heather but there might also be some Chestnut blossom or lavender blossom in there too. This gives it slight seasonal differences, and is exactly how nature intended it. This is how food used to be! All we do is label it by the most predominant pollen.”

Q: The honey you’ve supplied us for CEPHALOPOD is raw and unpasteurised. How is this different from the cheaper honeys we expect to see in the supermarket?

“It is about the lack of processing and nothing more, along with less intervention by humans.”

“With some honey, the pollen is removed by ultra fine filtering. This is done because crystallization can set in quicker when pollen is present, so it is less aesthetically pleasing on the shelves. This is also so the honey cannot be traced. You see, the pollen is the signature of the landscape. Under a microscope you can see where it came from and what type of flora the bees fed on.”

“If you look on the back of some jars, you will see something like ‘A blend of EU and Non-EU honeys’. What this means is that they have purchased the honey from anywhere in the world (cheapest mainly) and have blended it. In some instances in order to do this they have boiled the honey to blend it. Any heating over 40 degrees kills off all the enzymes and removes all the goodness*. This is not to mention how the bees are treated.”

“It does not matter if the jar mentions that it is ‘cold pressed’, seemingly indicating that it has not been pasteurized. This relates only to how the honey is removed from the comb, not its state when it arrives in the jar. It’s slightly misleading when we read ‘Pure Honey’ on a £2.99 jar of clear honey. Under scrutiny it might be discovered just to be the remaining natural sugar and a vastly reduced honey than nature intended.” 

“Our honey is never warmed above the natural temperature of the hive and is only course filtered to remove the hive debris. It maintains its enzymes, pollen and all the natural benefits. We only warm it so we can jar it.”

*JD: It is worth mentioning here that as a brewery, we must heat the honey to pasteurisation temperature in the wort to prevent an uncontrolled, spontaneous fermentation from wild yeast in the honey. Our beer retains the flavour, depth and complexity of the raw honey (which is what we’re looking for), but of course not any of the associated health benefits. The brewing of Cephalopod is a great platform for discussing these properties and the sustainability issues, but please don’t drink a six pack in the hope that it will cure your allergies or improve your digestion!

Q: How sustainable is your honey?

A: “We always leave enough for the bees to survive on over winter. We also store excess honey to feed the bees just in case. This removes the need to ‘sugar feed‘ the bees. If the bees can’t spare it, then don’t take it. This is a hard choice for some.”

“We allow our bees to feed on a wide range of floral sources and not single florals, giving them diversity. Even though the honey might be labelled as a ‘single floral’, this just means that it is predominantly that floral. 
We ensure the floral source is not treated with pesticides. For the majority of the time, our bees feed in the wild. However, there are some instances where there can be private orchards of lemons or oranges, for example. We work with the owners to ensure that no chemicals are used.” 

“We keep the natural husbandry techniques in place. For example, some keepers clip the wings of the queen bee so she doesn’t fly off, thus taking the rest of her entourage (the hive) with her. We do not do this; we see this as unnatural, because if the bees have a good source, there will be no reason for them to leave. However, it does happen but we accept it.”

“Another example is swapping out an old queen for a new queen. When a queen becomes old the hive produces special cups to house the future queen. These larvae are fed ‘royal jelly’ by the bees. When they hatch, they fight to the death and the winner becomes the queen. However, the victor can sometimes be damaged and not produce enough or any eggs. In order to not have to wait to see, some keepers simply just take out the old queen and put in a new one. Outwardly, this might not seem like something negative and be quite efficient, but to us, this is interfering in a natural process.”

We add nothing to the honey and we take nothing away from the honey. Bees themselves are the masters of sustainability. Keeping them alive sustains us all in so many ways. Treating them with care and love is of utmost importance and is a deep rooted respect that humans have had for bees for thousands of years.” 

Q: Most people are aware that bee populations across the world are being affected negatively by human activity. Could you explain briefly what is happening here, and what the average person can do to make a more positive impact. 

“Simply the bees do not have enough flora to feed on, and the flora they do feed on has been treated with pesticides that harm them. Recently, there has been a big push back by big companies and they have reduced, if not removed, the ban on bee killing pesticides. It might be ‘nice’ to see field after field to corn or rapeseed, but the bees only have the small sliver of hedgerow to feed on.Sadly, there is not enough diversity or quantity for them.

Just one note on rapeseed. It was used to create mustard gas and later it was genetically modified so it could be consumed. It is now exported in its tonnes and has become an excellent cash crop or crop filler for farmers. However, it crystallizes quickly and the bees have to burn up a lot of energy to keep it runny. In some cases it crystallizes in the hive and the only way to get it out is to destroy the hive. It is also covered in chemicals that the bees can become addicted to.

“I suppose we can point the finger at many things as to why the bees are disappearing. Climate change is also a big factor. Colder winters and shorter summers, with unstable seasons. We can also point the finger at big companies and their processes… but in reality, they are only fulfilling demand. A demand that comes from us.”

“The struggle of the bees is really like the canary in the coal mine and is the speaker for the rest of nature. There are so many species suffering, not just in the animal kingdom but also in the green kingdom. But one thing for sure is that rats, cockroaches and jelly fish are thriving. If you look at the jellyfish, it is a spineless consumer that just floats around consuming. Nature reflects our state. If we want to save the bee, we need to change ourselves and our consumer habits. It is all linked.” 

“But for now here’s one easy step: make your garden bloom with bee food. Everyone, everywhere; just throw out those seeds and add a little water. Don’t use any chemical except the alchemy of nature, and make sure you know how the bees are treated with the honey you buy.

Q: Do you personally have a favourite honey? What about the most unusual honey you’ve come across?

A: “I would have to say Eucalyptus is my favorite. I just love its caramel-like taste. In my time with honey, the one that filled me with awe was Oak. It is a honeydew, where the bees feed on the secretion of the aphid. It is a cooperation between two creatures. Stunning.”

Q: Finally, are there any purchasing or social media links you wish to share for people interested in your products?

A: “Your customers can use a discount code ‘wildweatherales‘ and that will give them 10% off their order with us. They can also follow us on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook (the usual). Just search Bee Mercy or visit https://www.beemercy.com/.

Love & Peace, Stefan.”