In “The Miller’s Tale,” part of his late 15th-century Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer describes a “youthful wife” as having a mouth as “sweet as bragget or as mead.”
The latter drink is likely familiar to many imbibers today. Mead is fermented honey and is available through dozens of breweries and more than 150 meaderies nationwide. The former drink Chaucer references, bragget or braggot, is probably less familiar.
That’s a shame.
Braggots are meads made with a hefty proportion of beer, or beers made with a hefty proportion of mead. That is, the centuries-old drink (it was centuries old when Chaucer downed it) is part honey and part malted barley. Usually the shares are half and half, though each may vary.
Braggots are often the most lovingly made drinks that breweries and meaderies offer, the honey almost always locally sourced and the batches of even the same brand varying due to the vagaries of that honey and the shares of other ingredients: touches of fruits, hops, herbs and spices. Generally, though, a braggot is a simple marriage of honey and malt.
Yet within that simplicity — or because of it — is a complexity of flavor that few beery drinks can match. The taste of braggot can range from a lush sweetness not unlike a dessert wine to a drier tartness that would call to mind a well-made sour beer. In between, too, there’s bitterness, spiciness, tanginess, earthiness and fruitiness as well as inevitable hints of caramel, chocolate and (of course) honey.
It’s kind of getting it already: More breweries and meaderies have added a braggot to their lineups, usually as a special or a seasonal release. Still, they can be frustratingly difficult to find and a tad pricier than your average double IPA. If you do find one, pounce. And get two — braggots are perfecting for cellaring.
Here are a few to look for:
Rogue Ales & Spirits, Newport, Oregon
11.7 percent ABV
No, it’s got nothing to do with the late mayor of Washington, D.C., and everything to do with a type of blackberry that Rogue grew on its Oregon property. The brewery also harvested honey from — according to its precise calculations — 7,140,289 bees. What’s the end result? A rich, earthy braggot that almost defies exegesis. Dry and lush at the same time, with an almost Trappist-ale-like finish (think Rochefort or Westmalle).
Brother Adam’s Bragget Honey Ale
Atlantic Brewing Co., Bar Harbor, Maine
10.5 percent ABV
The super-strong, ultra-rich barleywine beer style is the base of this wonderfully dry braggot. The Maine-harvested honey comes dripping through, and there’s an earthy sweetness about the offering, too. Also, typical of braggot, there’s little carbonation.
Samuel Adams Honey Queen
Boston Beer Co., Boston
7.5 percent ABV
The prolific craft concern uses three types of honey, plus chamomile, for this annual special release. The honey dominates in this braggot, whether it’s via the aroma, which also carries hints of fresh fruit blossoms, or the taste, which has a hint of citrusy bitterness like the best IPAs. Though, a note now to hopheads: Braggots are not as a rule bitter. Some producers add barely any hops.
Tom Acitelli is the author of The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution. His latest, American Wine: A Coming-of-Age Story, was a finalist for the 2016 James Beard Award for best beverage book.