Serious Eats: Drinks
Serious Beer: Braggot
Braggots are hybrid beers—part barley-based ale, part honey-based mead. In ye olde Viking times, they were made by mixing the two beverages together; presumably you stirred them into a plundered goblet or a spare Grendel skull you had lying around. However, modern brewers who produce the style tend to mix the honey and malts together before fermentation begins rather than blending two separate batches afterward.
As with many olde time words, spelling standardization is optional, so braggots are often written as 'bracketts' or 'braggets' or 'brackets'. Even if modern society can't help us decide how to spell the word, it now has a precise, if arbitrary, definition for it. The beer-nerd's dividing line between a 'braggot' and a 'beer with honey' is when at least 50% of the fermentable sugars come from honey. But since most people don't wander around with a hydrometer, a calculator, and a burning desire to use them, the important distinction lies in which characteristics take charge. A braggot should be a harmonious blend of mead and beer, with the distinctive characteristics of both. A beer with honey usually tastes more or less like beer.
Unfortunately, few brewers pay attention to braggots these days, which is a shame. Braggots age well, they're versatile enough for winter fireside sipping or for Shakespeare in the Park, and they're unlike any other beer on the shelf. If you have trouble finding these brews at your local purveyor, they're often available by mail order. The adventurous could even try blending their own, in which case I recommend combining dry meads and traditional English beers like barleywines, porters, browns, and bitters. If you can find a Grendel skull or horned helmet to mix in, then all the better.
Serious Beer Ratings5/5 Mindblowing; a new favorite
4/5 Awesome, stock up on this
3/5 Around average for the style
2/5 There are probably better options
1/5 No, thanks, I'll have water.
Weyerbacher Sixteen, Pennsylvania 10.5% ABV
Sixteen is a beautiful mahogany color with ruby highlights and an espresso-crema head. Honey is clear in the aroma, along with toffee, dark chocolate, and alcohol. We tasted molasses, Belgian candy sugar, warming alcohol, and hints of licorice in this thick, chewy beer. I think a beer this heavy and complex could benefit from some time aging in the bottle. In a perfect world you'd keep said bottle in your climate-controlled cellar, but since my cellar is located between the garage holding my vintage sports car collection and my Batcave, I wouldn't hesitate to stick it in a closet. I poured this when it was way too cold and had to wait for it to warm—learn from my mistakes and pour braggots in the 50 degree range.
White Winter Traditional Brackett, Wisconsin 7.0% ABV
This is a chestnut colored beer with a sourdough aroma. The lower alcohol is evident, with less booziness in the nose and the flavor than other braggots we tried. The mouthfeel is soft and smooth, with bread, toffee, hazelnut, and vanilla flavors underlined by a slight sourness. This is definitely the most drinkable of the braggots we tried, largely because of the milder sweetness and the thinner mouthfeel.
White Winter Premium Oak Brackett, Wisconsin 12% ABV
We smelled vanilla and caramel in this beer, and unmistakable oak showed up in the flavor. The oak blends nicely with rich honey and caramel apple sweetness. The mouthfeel is thick and syrupy, and there's a slightly medicinal sourness in the candy-sugar finish. Some time in the bottle might tone down the medicinal qualities enough to make this a stellar after-dinner sipper, but it's pretty good as-is. A beer this sweet and boozy is like a glass of port—split this bottle with a friend, unless you're the kind of person who likes to drink 12 ounces of port.
Thomas Creek Brewery Orange Blossom Pilsner Squared, South Carolina 11% ABV
OBP2, as the bottle reads, is a red-copper color with a khaki head clinging to the sides of the glass. The nose is filled with honey and sweet caramel malts, with delicate orange and distinct alcohol. The flavor is intensely sweet honey backed by subtle biscuit and clove, and it lingers with a huge, billowing aftertaste. This is a straightforward and unsubtle brew, all about the honey.
Atlantic Brewing Company Brother Adam's Bragget, Maine 11.8% ABV
A beautiful copper-colored brew with a tan head, Brother Adam's has a simple aroma of caramel and honey. Zippy carbonation and an alcohol burn outline a simple and sweet malty flavor of burnt caramel and clover honey. The finish is thick and syrupy, full of medicinal, herbal bitterness.
Disclosure: All beers were provided as samples for review.
About the Author: Nick Leiby is a Boston-based scientist and homebrewer. When he's not drinking yeast, he's probably studying it in lab.