LAST COLUMN, I mentioned that one of my favorite beers of Philly Beer Week was the homemade braggot that George Hummel of Home Sweet Homebrew served at Opening Tap. That had a few of my readers scratching their heads, “Brag-what?”
It’s not a common beer style, and some will argue it’s not really beer at all.
Braggot is beer mixed with mead. (I’ll assume you already know that mead is fermented honey.)
It’s an ancient drink that, over the centuries, has been known as bragget or bracket or braggat or a seemingly endless variety of other spellings. Like all matters involving the hazy history of alcohol, there is debate over its true origin.
The word seems Welsh (brag = malt, got = honeycomb, say some researchers) and, indeed, there are records of 13th-century laws that demanded freemen to pay the king of Wales enough braccat to fill a bathtub.
Well before that, the Irish claim they were drinking something called brogoit. And no one knows how long the English celebrated Bragot Sunday, a day in which mugs of the sweet drink were raised in the midst of Lent.
What did it taste like? We can only salivate with desire when Chaucer writes in “The Miller’s Tale” of a voluptuous, adulterous young wife whose mouth was “sweete as bragot.”
At its finest, this drink would’ve been brewed with herbs and spices and served at celebrations and holy days. Ian Spencer Hornsey’s A History of Beer and Brewing describes a medieval “upmarket” version made with ginger, cinnamon, galingale and cloves.
More commonly, a tavern keeper would’ve simply mixed ale and mead – perhaps as a specialty drink, or possibly to cheat a patron who had ordered a more expensive cup of pure mead.
I’ve tried the latter method on my own, and it’s not half bad – a bittersweet mingling of honey and hops. Mixing your own is certainly a lot easier than what James Taylor of Atlantic Brewing in Bar Harbor, Maine, has to go through to make his Brother Adam’s Bragget Ale.
Taylor makes four 15-barrel batches over two days, each requiring 35 gallons of honey. “You ought to see the size of the squeeze bottles we use,” he joked. “I never knew they made them that big!”
He spends the days cooking wort, then hoisting buckets of honey. “It’s physically a busy day with lots of lifting,” Taylor said. “It’s a sticky day – you get a hell of a sugar rush just licking your fingers.”
It takes more than six months of fermentation, of a gentle mingling of honey and hops. Taylor describes the finished glass as somewhere between mead and barley wine, between the kiss of honey and the bite of hops.
Hummel’s version wasn’t quite so hoppy, finishing smooth and fruity. He’s helpfully included an easy recipe for a sparkling braggot in his new text, The Complete Homebrew Beer Book (Robert Rose, $24.95).
The recipe (see below) calls for 5 pounds of clover, orange-blossom or wildflower honey, and then three months of conditioning. So it’s a bit pricey and you’ll have to have a bit of patience before giving it a taste.
While you’re waiting, give one of these a try:
¶Dansk Mjød Old Danish Braggot (Denmark): Brewed with ginger.
¶Dogfish Head Midas Touch (Milton, Del.): Technically, it’s not a braggot because it’s a mixture of malt, honey and grapes.
¶Widmer Brothers Reserve Prickly Pear Braggot (Oregon). A one-off brewed in 2010, but you may still turn up a bottle on area shelves.
¶Weyerbacher Sixteen (Easton, Pa.): A dark braggot released this month for the brewery’s 16th anniversary.
2 packs Wyeast 4632 or White Labs WLP720 (or 1 pack in starter) or Lalvin D-47.
5.5 gal. brewing water
5 lb any brand amber dry malt extract
3-5 AAUs Hallertau, Liberty or Mt. Hood hops for bittering
5 lb clover, orange-blossom or wildflower honey
5 tsp diammonium phosphate (DAP)
2 tsp yeast nutrient
1 tsp Irish moss
.5 oz Hallertau, Liberty or Mt. Hood hops for aroma
5 oz dextrose (corn sugar) for bottling
1. Prepare the liquid yeast in advance, according to package directions.
2. In brew kettle, bring 1 gal of the brewing water to a boil. Remove from heat. Stir in bittering hops and malt until malt has dissolved.
3. Return kettle to heat and bring to a rolling boil. Boil uncovered for 45 minutes. Monitor the liquid, using a spoon or strainer to keep any foam from sealing the top of the liquid.
4. Meanwhile, prepare the cooling bath or wort chiller.
5. After 45 minutes, remove kettle from heat and add honey, DAP, yeast nutrient and Irish moss. Stir to ensure that honey, DAP and nutrient have dissolved. Return kettle to burner and bring back to a rolling boil. Monitor the boil and remove and discard as much of the waxy meringue from the surface as posible. Boil uncovered for 15 minutes, stir in aroma hops, turn off heat and cover.
6. At the end of 15 minutes, turn off the heat, cover ketetle and transfer it into the prepared colling bath (or use a wort chiller, according to manufacturer’s directions). Cool mead to 75°F within 30-45 minutes while you prepare the fermentation gear.
7. While the wort is cooling, clean and sanitize the brewing spoon. When the wort has cooled, move the kettle to a counter and stir the wort briskly in one direction for about 5 minutes. After stirring, cover and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes as the hops and trub form a cone.
8. Using sanitized racking cane and siphon, rack as much of the mead as possible into the sanitized primary fermenter. Then, using a sanitized funnel and straining screen, strain remaining mead into the fermenter. Add enough brewing wter to bring volume to about 5.5 gal. using the hydrometer, take a reading of the specific gravity and record it in your brewing journal. (Estimated O.G.: 1.081).
9. Add yeast to mead, stirring vigorously with sanitized spoon until evenly distributed. Seal fermenter with lid, stopper and airlock. Keep at room temperature (68°-72°F) during primary fermentation, which typically lasts for 7 to 10 days, after fermentation begins. (Keep fermenter in a dark place or under a lightproof cover if using a glass carboy.)
10. After 7 to 10 days, or when the krausen has fallen, use sanitized racking cane and siphon to gently rack the mead into a secondary fermenter. Avoid aerating it. Seal and keep at room temperature, covered or in a dark place, to allow fermentation to continue.
11. Once the bubbling in the airlock has slowed further, confirm completion of fermentation by using the hydrometer to take final gravity readings. (Hydrometer readings should be the same for several days in a row.)
12. Prime and bottle the mead using dextrose and condition for at least 3 months before sampling.