Four Fathers Brewing’s Stone Ship almost missed the boat at this the National Honey Board’s Honey Beer Competition, but alas mateys, it made it — and won the Braggot category and took home silver in Best of Show. We spoke with Jason Lacny, owner and brewmaster of Four Fathers Brewing, about the history behind Stone Ship, brewing with honey, and how it feels to win hardware at the Honey Beer Competition.
Tell us about Stone Ship.
This is a near 50/50 blend, a variant of our existing Viking Funeral blended with scorched wildflower honey mead, black walnuts, and vanilla beans. It was a collaboration with Misbeehavin’ Meads, and was one of our two core imperial stouts that we release every year. We also have a stout called Viking Funeral, which we also entered into the competition.
Can you tell us the thought process behind Stone Ship?
We started with the name and we backed into the Stone Ship recipe, as we try to do a variant every year. We knew it would be an imperial stout; we wanted a lot of Viking ingredients — honey, smoke, etc. We’ve collaborated with Misbeehavin’ Meads in the past and did a braggot before, so we came up with a name surrounding another Viking funeral ritual. Clint, the owner-founder of Misbeehavin’ Meads stopped by the brewery and talked about doing a braggot where we “super scorch” the honey. And there’s your final product, coming about from an off-the-wall casual conversation. We had been wanting to do a beer with black walnut and vanilla, and it turned out well.
What prompted you to enter the Honey Beer Competition?
I was flipping through The New Brewer magazine and saw the advertisement. It was perfect timing, and we needed to start doing more things like that. We were so grateful that we even had the opportunity, because to be completely honest I had signed up for the competition back in May or June, and we were moving, expanding into a new facility. When the beers were due to be shipped, it was insane. My wife and I were running around like mad people, and I thought we missed the date. We won a medal, and we almost didn’t get our beer in there. We almost missed the boat on such a cool opportunity.
Let’s talk about brewing with honey. How do you find working with honey during the process?
For Viking Funeral and Stone Ship, these are the two beers we use the most honey in. The base is smoked malt rye, lactose and cocoa nibs — it’s a very complex base beer, and I feel the amount and the way we incorporate the honey still shines through in the final product. We add the honey prior to fermentation, and in Stone Ship the honey is a key component given that it is a braggot (half ale, half mead technically.) The honey should be distinct and identifiable. We get a lot of compliments from people in the taproom that they really pick up on the honey.
How do you select a honey varietal?
We’ve gotten into a rhythm where we are trying to select honeys that work well with the beer. So, for strong, robust, earthy flavors we wanted a buckwheat honey. Stone Ship is more delicate, so we went with wildflower. We do coffee beers too, hand-selected via cuppings, and we figure out which honeys make sense. For the buckwheat honey especially, it’s a really neat process because we get to select what’s going to shine through in the final product.
Describe the taste of Stone Ship in 10 words or fewer.
Vanilla, sweet pipe tobacco, earthy, nutty, dark chocolate, floral and dark fruits (sorry, that's 11).
Where do you outsource your honey from and how much do you use per month?
We don’t brew monthly; these are once a year. Clint at Misbeehavin’ Meads constantly purchases honey, so I get buckets from him. This year we’ve ended up brewing a little more, and I’ve been starting to go directly from Dutch Gold. Viking Funeral is a three-barrel system, so a 55 to 60 lb. pail of honey, which is about five to six gallons.
What are your future plans with Stone Ship?
We barrel-aged some of Stone Ship and a very small version will be released on Nov. 30. We’re bottling maybe 100 to 110 bottles of it; that’s what we’re hoping for. We’re excited because Stone Ship is a wonderful beer and spending some time in a whiskey barrel is going to benefit it even more. We’re thankful to all of our customers who keep supporting us and keep us brewing beer. If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be able to brew beers and put them up in competitions like yours.