Beer-style categories are often rooted in historical tradition and techniques, such as Baltic porter or Berliner weisse. Meads, on the other hand, are usually sorted by ingredients. As a result, they have names that range from obvious, such as “cyser” for an apple-honey mix, to obscure, such as “metheglin” where spices are added to honey wine. “Braggot” stands at the crossroads of beer and mead, as a blend of honey and malt, but it’s an overlap that contains some wildly dissimilar beverages. At one extreme, you have traditional beers styles augmented with honey, such as a honey nut brown ale. But at the other end, you might have a dessert mead that features caramel and toasty malt notes to accent the honey. In the middle ground, you can find things, such as Polish miodowa, that successfully straddle the two worlds. But the marriage doesn’t always succeed: some braggots sabotage themselves. That’s how you can get a weak, vaguely honey-flavored, thin-bodied beer or a honey wine whose roast malt serves more as a distraction than a complement.
Starting Point: Ingredients
Before you dive into your first braggot, you need to understand what honey, malt, and hops can bring to the party. Honey is quite fermentable, so adding it to a beer recipe will usually lead to a lighter body and a drier finish. As a result, if you want the sweetness to match the honey aroma, you might need a maltier base beer, or you can add some raw honey when the braggot has finished fermenting (note that this is risky when bottling). Honey’s floral notes can also play nicely with yeast esters and some of the more interesting hops varieties. More distinctive varietal honeys such as buckwheat or eucalyptus are good if you want to give honey a larger role in the mix.
From the other perspective, the rich palette of malt flavors can add new dimensions to a basic mead. Nutty, toasty, or bready character can be complementary. Stronger notes of roast or chocolate malt can work, but moderation is required to avoid overwhelming the honey.