Tapping Into the Secrets of Able Baker’s Award Winning Beers

Able Baker Brewing is on a mission to elevate stouts. James Manos, the brewery’s co-owner, knew with just a little inspiration and innovation, he could create a more rounded, approachable stout for everyone to enjoy. The secret? Honey!  

What was the inspiration behind this beer, and who came up with the recipe?

The inspiration for Honey Dip Stout was simple. We wanted to do something different. When we first formulated this recipe in 2010, there was no such thing as a “pastry stout,” at least not that we knew of. I was not a fan of the bitter, dry stouts that were being made more predominantly at the time and wanted to create a big stout with notable sweetness and a “chewy” mouthfeel.

I like to eat my stouts! Honey was in the recipe from the beginning and really the ingredient that the beer was built around. As we experimented with the beer, it was never sweet enough, rich enough or “thick” enough for me. My brewing partners got concerned as I began to add more honey…to the boil, to secondary fermentation, etc.

Luckily, our setup at the time allowed me to be the primary caretaker of the beer throughout the fermentation and dry-hopping phases of our test batches. I found a unique way, using honey and vanilla beans, to create the characteristics that I wanted in the beer, and it worked. I also found that aging the beer on oak created a finishing dryness and barrel character that, while not offsetting the sweetness, did help to complement it.

In the Double-Barrel version of the beer, everything is just amplified. The extended bourbon-barrel aging adds another layer of richness, an even more velvety mouthfeel and a stronger barrel character. It just kicks everything up a notch.

This beer is a true testament to the beauty of home-brewing. We brewed this beer 40+ times trying to get it correct and experimented endlessly with the malt bill, ingredient proportions, honey additions and variable oak aging. The beer you taste today is 100% the way we perfected the process over all those tedious hours, just done on a larger scale and on better equipment.

To a casual beer drinker, how would you describe this beer in less than 10 words.

Brevity is not the jewel in my literary tiara…so in less than 10 words: “A sweet, balanced stout featuring honey, vanilla and oak.”

What do you enjoy most about this beer?

This is a great question! I always tell people that one of the things I love most about Honey Dip Stout is that I have a terrible palate and this beer still works for me. When tasting beer, I don’t possess the ability to discern “subtle hints of ripe stone fruit” or “expressions of grape must,” while my brewing partner, Randy, can smell one ounce of cinnamon from 300 yards away.

This beer has three main flavor components and, to me, it’s exactly what you taste: honey, vanilla and oak. I love this beer because the ingredients we use come through and what you see/smell/taste is what you get. It’s a complex beer that presents in a relatively simple manner.

What role does honey play in this beer?

Really this beer is all about honey. We use a substantial amount to make both Honey Dip Stout and Double Barrel Honey Dip, and our usage is unique in a lot of ways. I believe it’s one of the noticeable flavors and definitely contributes to the beer’s incredible mouthfeel. It’s such an important part of the beer that we included it in the name and incorporated several “honey” elements in the logo. The text for “Honey Dip Stout” is honey colored and in both logos the “bomb” is actually a honey-dipper dripping with fresh honey. I don’t think we could get more literal in our representation of how important honey is to these beers.

What do you enjoy most about using honey in the capacity of brewing beer?

I enjoy it because it’s an all-natural, fresh ingredient that adds a nuance to the brewing process that no other ingredient can. There is a running joke inside our brewery that my solution to any recipe problem is to suggest adding honey. It just makes beer better. When added properly, it leaves a residual sugar content that contributes a different effect than other sources.

Jason’s love for honey and brewing has truly shown. Honey Dip Stout was the gold winner of the Stout and Porter category of the National Honey Board’s 2018 Honey Beer Competition, and Double Barrel Honey Dip Stout was the bronze winner overall in the Best of Show category.

To see a full list of our 2018 Honey Beer Competition, visit honeybeercompetition.com.