Braggots are beers sweetened with honey. Generally, a braggot is a beer with a significant and noticeable portion of the fermentable sugars coming from honey instead of from malted grain; nearly all are hopped. Just as with the very broad genre of craft beers, braggots come in all colors, flavors, and sizes. They may resemble anything from a pilsner to a stout, and be bittered with hops as gently as a Saison or as aggressively as an IPA. And just like craft beers, braggots can include additional ingredients from fruits to chili peppers and spices, and can be aged in any number of previously-used barrels, from Port to whiskey.
Plainly put, a braggot is a beverage that is fermented from both malted grains and from honey as the two main sources of fermentable sugars. In practice, most meadmakers consider that around half of the fermentable sugars should come from honey. But there are no hard rules, and in practice it’s a fuzzy distinction between a braggot and a honey beer.
Important Safety Note: Although virtually all styles of meads are naturally gluten-free, braggots are the exception. By definition, all braggots include malted grain, generally barley, but can also include wheat, rye, spelt, and other grains. If you suffer from celiac or are gluten intolerant, avoid all braggots.
Beer comes in a variety of styles but always tastes like beer. Braggots come in exactly as large a variety of styles and always taste like beer—and like mead.
I have typically found that people new to mead approach it with one of two prejudices: either they expect it to be a super-sweet dessert wine, or they expect it to be a strong, rough, too-sweet ale quaffed by Vikings at the end of a day of warring and pillaging. Yes meads can be sweet, and yes meads can be ale-like. But just as I’ve hopefully shattered your preconceptions that all wine-like meads are sweet, so will I now set about shattering your preconceptions that all ale-like meads are “for Vikings.”
Remember that mead is simply an alcoholic beverage fermented from honey; the techniques of beermaking, the techniques of winemaking, and the techniques of cider making are available to the meadmaker. Meads can be made with the full range of commercial wine yeasts, as well as with the full range of commercial beer yeasts. Braggots may be made using any kind of malt, from pale to chocolate.
Braggots may or may not incorporate hops; those hops may be added early in the process to add bitterness, or may be added late and dry-hopped to add spicy and floral aromas. Braggots may incorporate spices such as orange peel and coriander, as is the case of a braggot that imitates a Belgian white, or they may incorporate fruits or other herbs. For an up-to-date listing of braggots available in the United States, visit www.ratebeer.com, and search for “braggot”. As of 2017, there are over 100 different braggots listed and rated, everything from Widmer Brothers Prickly Pear Cactus Reserve Braggot, to Rogue Ales Big Ass Barrel Braggot, from Kuhnhenn Cherry Stout Braggot, to Fallentimber Rye Braggot. No matter what beer style you favor, there’s a braggot style to mirror it.
Most meaderies in the U.S. operate with a winery license and are therefore federally barred from crafting braggots, which are legally considered to be beer, requiring a different license. Some mead companies have obtained two separate licenses, one for brewery operations particularly to make braggots, and one for winery operations to make meads. Many craft breweries, including larger ones such as Samuel Adams, Rogue, and Widmer, have begun producing one or more braggots as part of their product lineup.