The histories of beer and mead can be dated back to the Ancient times of the Sumerians around the year 4000 BC, and the culture of North China around 6500 BC, respectively. Although they have been enjoyed as their own styles throughout history, somewhere along the way an absolute genius had the idea of merging the two beverage styles, and the classic drink of a braggot was created.
Braggot is a type of alcoholic beverage that combines the flavors and characteristics of beer and mead. It has been enjoyed by many people throughout history and is currently experiencing a surge in popularity among craft beer enthusiasts and homebrewers.
Whether you are mixing your favorite mead with one of the many excellent craft beers which are now available or going down the traditional route of a drink brewed as a braggot, this could soon be your new favorite cocktail for those warm summer months.
In this post, we will explore the history of mead and beer mix, the brewing process, the different styles of braggot, and some popular commercial and homebrewed examples of this unique beverage.
The Origins of Honey and Beer Mix
Mead is believed to be one of the oldest-known fermented drinks known to man. Remember, yeast needs sugar to ferment and what better sources of sugar are there than the many varieties of honey?
The Hymn of Ninaksi, the famous brewing Goddess of the Sumerians, was an ancient drinking song that highlighted the process of making beer with the use of honey. Ruins found in the tomb of the Ancient King Midas, of the famous golden touch, also revealed a drinking vessel that had traces of honey, malted barley, and grapes pointing towards a mead-style beer being drunk (Dogfish Head Brewing Co would go on to recreate this ancient beer, and they continue to sell it today – Midas Touch Ancient Ale!).
The first recorded recipe for braggot can be found in the 12th-century Welsh book of medicine, The Physicians of Myddfai. The recipe called for mixing equal parts of honey and ale and adding spices such as cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.
Braggot was the drink of choice for many Europeans, especially throughout the post-renaissance period, and was actually prominent in areas like England, Scotland, and Wales where it was brewed with barley, honey, and sometimes herbs or fruit. It was often served at special occasions such as weddings and feasts.
Brewers in the 16th and 17th centuries would often use traditional honey to fortify their second runnings of beer, which would raise the gravity far above a table beer of the time. Like mead, ales, and gruit, it was almost certain that these early braggots would not be hopped. Instead, brewers would bitter and flavor the drink much like they would a gruit with herbs and spices. Although braggots would have complex flavors, they often also had quite a sweet finish.
Many of the names which were used to denote this beer and mead mix are derived from the Celtic languages of the Welsh, Scottish, and, of course, the Irish. Other names for braggot include bragget, bragaut, bracket, and bragawd, with the words brag or brach meaning to “sprout out” in reference to the grains used in this honey-based beverage.
However, as the popularity of beer, stouts, and porters grew in Europe, braggot began to decline in popularity. Braggots are believed to have held on to their style as a beer cocktail until the mid-19th century in the Lancashire region of North-West England, but they were largely unseen again until American and English homebrewers began reviving the style of meads and braggots in the late 20th Century.
In the United States, braggot began to make a comeback in the 1990s thanks to the craft beer movement. Many breweries began experimenting with the traditional recipe and creating new, unique styles of braggot.
Today, braggot is enjoyed by beer and mead lovers around the world and can be found in many breweries and on the shelves of specialty liquor stores.
Note, however, in the 2021 BJCP Beer Style Guidelines braggot is no longer classed as a beer style. Under Category 31B Alternative Sugar Beers the BJCP state that honey-based beer “should not have so much honey that it is perceived more like a mead with beer (i.e., a braggot) than a honey beer.” Instead, Braggot is found under the 2015 Mead Style Guidelines as a Specialty Mead, Category M4A – Braggot.
The BJCP Style Guidelines for a Braggot
The BJCP describes a braggot as a mead made with malt. It should be a harmonious blend of mead and beer, exhibiting the typical characteristics of both. Although it is a mead, the beer flavors will tend to mask the honey flavors found in other meads. A wide range of results is possible depending on what base recipe of beer is used, the variety of honey which is added, and the overall strength and sweetness.
The clarity of a braggot should be good to brilliant, although depending on the beer used it may not be as clear as other meads. I’ve seen braggots that have been made with East Coast-style IPAs which, although they have that haziness, tend to look brighter than many traditional hazy IPAs due to the honey content.
A braggot will have a light to moderate head with the level of retention dependent on whether the mead is carbonated or not. The color of a braggot can range from light straw gold to dark brown or black depending on the varieties of malt and honey used.
Although the braggot should be recognizable as both a beer and a mead, if a beer style has been declared, the braggot should have some characteristics and color of that style although the flavors will differ due to the presence of the honey.
The Brewing Process of a Braggot
The brewing process for braggot is similar to that of beer and mead. It involves fermenting a mixture of malted grains, hops, honey, and sometimes fruit or spices.
The first step in brewing braggot is to mash the malted grains, which involves soaking them in hot water to extract the sugars needed for fermentation. The resulting liquid, called wort, is then boiled with hops to add bitterness and flavor.
After the wort is cooled, honey is added to the boil kettle along with any fruit or spices desired. Throwing the honey into the wort as it boils will cause a lot of the aromas to blow off, and leads to a lack of honey taste or aroma to the finished braggot. The mixture is then fermented with yeast, which converts the sugars in the wort and honey into alcohol. Be warned – a very fast or vigorous fermentation can have similar results to throwing the honey into the boil.
The fermentation process can take several weeks to several months, depending on the desired flavor and concentrations of alcohol. Once fermentation is complete, the braggot is typically aged for several months to allow the flavors to develop and meld together.
The Ingredients of a Braggot
The essential ingredients of a braggot are quality honey, malt, and yeast. There are no specific Purity laws as in German beers, so brewers can feel free to add hops, spices, or whatever other adjuncts/fruits they like. Raw honey which is unpasteurized and unfiltered should be used for the best success.
Brewers who are new to making Braggots commonly ask what proportion of honey to malt they should use. This can depend on the style you want to produce, but I have seen braggot recipes where the gravity contribution from the sweet honey can range anywhere between 15% to 70% honey: malt ratio.
There doesn’t seem to be a consensus on the exact portion of honey that should be used, but as the BJCP argues, braggots with a lower proportion of honey should be re-classified as Alternative Sugar Beers. I would say 15% honey is too low if entering a braggot into a competition, stick around the 40% mark to be safe.
The malt choice to use when brewing a braggot can be just as important as the honey, as it is the co-star of the show. Originally, paler malts would have been used as the primary grain with some being quite smoky due to the traditional ways of drying barley over an open fire. If you are wanting darker braggot, caramel malts can add an amber-like color to the drink, although the darker roasted malts like Carafa or chocolate malt can often overpower the honey taste.
Malt extracts can also be used to brew a braggot if you want to save some time on the brew day.
Hops or Spices?
Hops will be much more in the background and, in some cases, may not be present at all. The primary need for hops is to counterbalance the sweetness of the perceivable honey. Try to avoid hops with very high levels of alpha acids and aggressive aromas and flavor qualities.
And then, finally, you have the other ingredients. These can be spices, herbs, vegetables, or fruit. If entering the braggot into a competition, this would likely need the braggot entered into a specialty braggot category. Keeping the richness of the honey character and the malt balance ensures it’s a braggot.
Different Styles of Braggot
There are several different styles of braggot, each with its own unique flavor profile and brewing process.
- Traditional Braggot: This style is similar to the ancient recipe from The Physicians of Myddfai and involves mixing equal parts honey and beer. It is typically fermented with ale yeast and may be flavored with spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg.
- Honey Ale Braggot: Similar to a traditional English ale, this classic braggot is brewed with a mixture of malted grains, hops, and honey. It may be fermented with ale yeast or a mixture of ale and champagne yeast for higher alcohol content.
- Belgian Strong Ale Braggot: This style is similar to a Belgian strong ale and is brewed with a mixture of malted grains, hops, and honey. It is typically fermented with a Belgian yeast strain and may be flavored with fruit or spices.
- Fruit Braggot: A more fruity braggot, this mead and beer beverage is brewed with a mixture of malted grains, hops, honey, and fruit. It may be fermented with ale yeast or a mixture of ale and champagne yeast for higher alcohol content.
- Spiced Braggot: Spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, or ginger are brewed with a mixture of malted grains, hops, and honey in this winter warmer of a braggot. It may be fermented with ale yeast or a mixture of ale and champagne yeast for higher alcohol content.
- Barrel-Aged Braggot: Ageing a braggot in old wooden casks that have previously held beer, and wines, this style is aged in barrels that previously held wine, bourbon, or other spirits. The aging process adds complexity and depth to the flavor of the braggot.
Popular Commercial Braggots
There are many commercial braggots available from craft breweries and meaderies. Here are a few popular examples:
- New Day Craft – Breakfast Magpie: This braggot is brewed with oats, coffee, and maple syrup and fermented with honey. It has a rich, sweet flavor with notes of coffee and maple.
- B. Nektar Meadery – Zombie Killer: The Nektar Meadery uses honey, cherry juice, and apple cider, fermented with ale yeast, to produce this braggot, giving it a fruity, tart flavor with a hint of honey sweetness.
- Dogfish Head Brewery – Raison D’Etre: This Belgian-style braggot is brewed with raisins and fermented with a mixture of ale and champagne yeast. It has a complex, malty flavor with notes of dark fruit and caramel.
- Moonlight Meadery – Kurt’s Apple Pie: A braggot that is brewed with honey, apple cider, and spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice, this mead and beer mix has a sweet, apple pie-like flavor with a hint of honey.
Braggot is also a popular style for homebrewers, who can experiment with different ingredients and brewing methods to create unique and flavorful drinks. Here are a few homebrewed braggots that have received acclaim from the homebrewing community:
- Chocolate Cherry Braggot brewed with honey, malted grains, cocoa nibs, and cherry puree. It has a rich, chocolatey flavor with a tart cherry finish.
- Blueberry Lemon Braggot is brewed with honey, malted grains, blueberry puree, and lemon zest. It has a fruity, citrusy flavor with a hint of honey sweetness.
- Spiced Pumpkin Braggot is brewed with honey, malted grains, pumpkin puree, and spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. It has a sweet, pumpkin pie-like flavor with a spicy finish.
Mixing Your Own Braggot Cocktail
Although brewing a braggot as one whole beverage, as we have described above, is certainly possible, they can be quite rare to find. Most meaderies in the US will offer in their taprooms a selection of their delicious meads along with some exceptional beers to blend your own “braggot” style cocktail.
The idea of making a braggot cocktail was originally suggested by Chaucer’s Mead, one of the largest nationally available brands of mead on the market. They listed the cocktail and the official tag on their website, with the only problem for most mead aficionados being which delicious beer to mix with their mead.
A classic IPA-like Lagunitas tends to work well with a braggot, as the level of hops and floral notes of this IPA tend to balance well with the sweeter mead. Normally you would mix the mead and beer with a ratio of 3 parts beer to one part mead in a braggot. Presentation-wise, this “cocktail” should look like a shinier, cleaner version of the IPA due to the golden glow of the honey.
IPAs tend to work best with a braggot mixed drink, but Pale Ales, Hazy Ales, Red IPAs, Belgian-style IPAs (think La Chouffe), and even a Double IPA like Alewerks Bitter Valentine can balance well with the sweetness of the mead.
Mead and Beer Mix: Final Thoughts
Braggot is a unique and flavorful style of beer and mead mix that has been enjoyed for centuries. Whether you prefer a traditional braggot or a more modern interpretation, there is a braggot out there to suit every taste.
As with any alcoholic beverage, it’s important to enjoy braggot in moderation and to always drink responsibly. But if you’re looking for a new and exciting beverage to try, braggot is definitely worth checking out. Cheers!