The Ale Apothecary is well known for releasing interesting, rustic beers featuring a variety of wild, wine-like, and sour characteristics inspired by historic, old -world brewing methods. One of its latest releases may be the most historically inspired yet: Braggot, a spontaneously fermented honey ale brewed with roughly equal portions of honey and malts.
Braggot is an ancient style of beverage, a mix of honey and beer that was popular in medieval Europe, though its origins are much older. Archaeologists discovered evidence of honeyed beer in pottery from Phrygia circa 700 BCE, the time and place of the legendary King Midas. This inspired Dogfish Head Brewery of Delaware to create Midas Touch, a re-creation that includes honey, muscat grapes and saffron first introduced in 1999.
While there is no set definition of what braggot is, the simplest version is a blend of mead (honey wine) and beer. Historically, braggot has also been created by fermenting honey and malted barley together, by sweetening beer with raw honey and spices, by refermenting finished beer with honey and many other methods.
Braggot is not a style that is commonly available commercially, although Viking Braggot Company in Eugene is a small brewery that specializes in it. Viking offers several braggot-inspired ales year -round. The brewery’s recipes typically consist of 30 % honey to 70 % barley, and Viking incorporates the honey during the whirlpool stage (after the boil).
The Ale Apothecary’s version is a blend of 49 % Oregon mesquite honey and 51 % malts from Mecca Grade Estate Malt from Madras. As with all of the brewery’s beers, it was fermented and aged entirely in barrels. I picked up a bottle from the tasting room and reached out to the brewery for more information.
“We were starting to amass a number of second and third use spirit barrels we’d used for previous projects and I was looking for a project to fill them with,” said owner and brewmaster Paul Arney via email. “Connor Currie, one of our brewers, found some Oregon mesquite honey that our honey supplier was selling at a discount because it had ‘started fermenting.’ The fermentation wasn’t evident to us, so we purchased an entire 55-gallon drum and began brewing beer to blend with the diluted honey in these … spirit barrels.”
The brewers brewed the beer portion as usual, then blended it with the honey into the barrels. They relied on the wild yeasts already present in the honey to ferment the mixture.
Once the primary fermentation was complete, the braggot was aged on two different types of wine grapes: pinot noir and Müller-Thurgau, a white variety. The bottle I purchased was the pinot grape -aged version.
Arney loves the braggot style. “I suppose you could say the inspiration was trying to find something we could brew intentionally with the goal of not knowing where it would end up!” he said. “It’s very champagne-like because the honey contributes very little body and is very fermentable. That said, the aromatics from the honey as well as the mouthfeel from the bottle-conditioning create a very subtly complex beverage that blurs lines between alcohol types.”
The Ale Apothecary’s Braggot is packaged in corked and caged 500 milliliter bottles and is 9.2 % alcohol by volume.
The color of this pinot noir grape variant is a deep copper orange with a pinkish tinge, and it pours like a champagne with a fizzy and effervescent white head. The aroma offers up lightly fruity notes of grapes and currants, with a subtle hint of honey that’s sweet and delicately floral. And it definitely has what I consider the signature “wild” aroma typical of Ale Apothecary brews, a hay, barnyard and lightly sour tangy character.
On the palate I found a vinous, wine-like tart flavor with notes of red berries and grape must. It has a light and spritzy floral pop with a mellow lingering sour note not unlike balsamic vinegar. The light, lively body drinks similar to sparkling wine without the dry finish, and leaves a light lingering honey note.
There are many possible interpretations of how a braggot could taste, with none being definitive. I would consider this version to be as authentic a recreation of this ancient style as you’re likely to find unless you brew one yourself.
At $15 a bottle it’s well worth it to explore The Ale Apothecary’s take on a bit of brewing history.