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Hiver, Brown Ale

Earlier this month we got an invite to go on a tour of some urban bee hives in London and see where some of the honey that help make Hiver beers is made. It had been over two years since we featured the Honey Beer so we were keen to catch up and meet the bees. A few of you Bods even bunked off work to join us.

To say that the tour of the hives was fascinating is something of an understatement. After a brief overview of bees and hives we donned our pastel coloured beekeeping suits (think Teletubbies meets Power Rangers) and got a lot more hands on than any of us expected. Under the watchful eye of Barnaby from Bee Urban we got up close and personal with bees and learned something about their hierarchy and the incredible work ethic that it takes to make honey. 

Power Rangers or Teletubbies? You decide. Picture courtesy of Hilary (BOD0137)

Getting hands on with the bees. Picture courtesy of Ade (BOD0019).

Bees forage within a three-mile radius which gives each local honey a distinctive taste. There are lots of lime and acacia trees in parts of London (a result of Victorian town planning) which tends to give London beer a citrus kick. Allotments, parks and window boxes all contribute to the flavour of the London honey.

After the tour, we got the chance to catch up with Hannah Rhodes (founder of Hiver) to talk about and taste some raw honey and, of course, the beer.

The idea behind Hiver began after a trip to Urban Food Fortnight in London. It was there that Hannah spotted some the evocative images of bee keepers on rooftops set against a clearly identifiable London skyline. Some of the honey on sale was from hives that Hannah would walk past on her way to work each day. Once she’d tasted it she was hooked.

“I thought maybe I should move out of working with drinks and work with honey. Then a friend bought me a honey beer and it was terrible! I thought, oh well as an old lady on my death bed I will never regret having a go at brewing a honey beer.”

What started as a bit of fun ended up being the prototype of the early blonde ale. This first batch quickly sold out and the proceeds funded a second attempt. Then a third and so on. Hannah was convinced that she was on to something. This was how Hiver was born.

Teaming up with Hepworth’s Brewery in nearby Sussex she put her ideas alongside their brewing team’s experience and using a pilot kit the Honey Beer was developed. Within a year Hiver was gaining recognition and was even picked up by Tom Kerridge to sell and use in his Michelin starred pub. Not a bad first year by any means.

Rather than launch into a range of different beers Hannah and Hiver have concentrated on building the business around one beer before introducing new beers to their range. We asked Hannah how deliberate this was.

“I was very conscious when I started Hiver that I didn't want to go with a honey sour on day one because [honey beer] was a new beer style for most people. We’re just about to start our fourth year as a business and I feel like we’ve got the word out now. We can see that people are starting to be a bit more comfortable with honey beer. So we’re now in a position where we can start playing with other beers. I didn’t want to do this in the first few years because I didn’t want people to think Hiver was like a flavoured cider and different every time they tried it.”

Until earlier this year the range was two beers, the Honey Beer and this week’s Honey Brown Ale. But this spring we saw the introduction of an IPA. With everything they do Hiver strives to be as sustainable as possible. This includes sourcing all their ingredients (even the bottles) from the UK.

“I was really reluctant to do an IPA. There are already loads of good ones out there! Three permanently available beers is enough for us without creating any confusion and then some seasonal beers so that when its gone its gone. Although I would love to do some barrel ageing” she adds.

Brewing and fermenting with raw honey provide its own challenges with multiple iterations required before they were happy with the end result.

“The trial brews have been so important. It’s taken at least four attempts to get this right. For the brown ale it took three trial brews until I found the right honey to use.”

Which brings us on to this week’s beer where Hannah’s northern roots become evident.

“Traditionally if you’d talked to a brewer in the South West about a brown ale you’d get something that was going to be 6% plus that would be big, thick, rich and treacle-y. If you were to talk to a brewer in the North East 50-100 years ago about a brown ale it would be much more like a Newcastle Brown Ale and mild. It was that abv and that style was something I was keen to have a play with.”

Brewed with (as opposed to flavoured with) honey means that the yeasts feed on the sugars during the long slow fermentation. If you think this beer is going to sweet, think again. The result is a really balanced beer, one that really changes as it warms up.

Like Hiver’s other beers this goes really well with food. In this case, salty foods such as hard salty cheeses or charcuterie really bring out the honey. Alternatively, you should try this with some rich fruitcake. Gordon insists that crumbly cheese and fruitcake is an actual thing and you should try that with this beer. But he’s from Yorkshire and that could just be a wind up.

In the course of our afternoon of bees and beer we were told this great story. Over to you Hannah…

“There’s a nice story where the father of the bride would have the task of brewing as much honey beer as he could in advance of the wedding and so that the bride and groom had enough beer to last them for the lunar month after the wedding. This would allow them to get to know one another during that time and if she fell pregnant then it was all down to the amazing qualities of the honey beer. And so the story goes that this lunar month after the wedding became known as the honeymoon period.”


Keep up to date with Hiver on the web, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Make sure to follow Barnaby at Bee Urban too.

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