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Last month I had the rare opportunity to help with a commercial brew. Doug Brainard—whose outstanding framboise lambic occasioned a three-article series earlier this year—engineered a braggot for the Fairport Brewing Company (FBC), and invited me along to observe/help. The first observation I would like to make is that honey is heavy. The three barrel batch called for ten gallons of honey; five of orange blossom, five of clover. Each five gallon bucket weighs about sixty pounds; in my eagerness to be of use, I carried one up to FBC’s second-story brewery. Thank goodness for the elevator!
According to both the 2008 and 2015 editions of the Style Guidelines published by the Beer Judging Certification Program (BJCP), “A Braggot is a mead made with malt.” But this is where the definition gets sticky; as I understand it, for commercial licensing purposes, mead (and cider) is generally considered a wine, which is why you don’t see a lot of breweries putting out straight meads or ciders. A 2010 “All About Beer” article describes braggot as, “…the melding of mead and beer.”†
A historical style, braggot is often thought to hail from medieval Britain.† It may originally be Welsh, or Irish; some historians believe it’s even older, and that we have the Picts of Scotland to thank for it. Whoever first brewed the stuff, braggot is either beer blended with mead, which was a common way of doing it way back when, or, as is more popular with modern breweries, a beer where honey makes up about half of the fermentables. FBC’s Blackwatch Braggot is of this latter type.
Upon first hearing that Fairport called their version Blackwatch, I assumed that it referenced the legendary Highland Regiment of the British army. But it’s actually named for a neighborhood in Fairport. Less interesting for me, but probably cool for locals who are intimately acquainted with Rochester’s various tiny suburbs.
Brewing at Fairport
Paul Guarracini, FBC co-owner and brewmaster, and Upstate New York Home Brewers Association (UNYHA) member, was ready for us with a recipe that included fifteen or twenty pounds of oat malt, some Sterling hops, and Belle Saison yeast. Doug handed me his camera and proceeded to grind the malts, pouring them into a hopper that resembled a larger version of the Barley Crusher in my garage.
Admiring the brewery’s triple row of three-barrel fermenters and twin seven-barrel fermenters—large, shiny, glycol-cooled, professional versions of my two Fast Ferment vessels—I came down with a pretty bad case of what Doug diagnosed as “stainless steel envy.”
And then there was the brite tank, labeled “Mike,” and the mash tun, with its rake that kept the mash in slow but constant motion.
Adam Odegard—another UNYHA member and prolific homebrewer, whose annual post-Thanksgiving stress-reduction party is an event not to be missed—showed up with some homebrew to share. And then we were four.
The process of making beer is basically the same, regardless of scale; grinding grain, heating water, combining the two in a mash tun for a while, sparging, boiling and cooling the wort (and for braggot, adding honey), putting it into a fermenter, and pitching the yeast. But every step in the process can be handled in a number of different ways, and I had a lot of fun working with Paul’s much larger and shinier setup. They even let me clean out the mash tun.
An impatient month later, the braggot is finally done and on tap at the FBC retail outlet.
The nose is very much Belle Saison; some cloves, a hint of citrus, pear, maybe a touch of bubblegum. Some floral notes, and lots of fruity esters here.
It’s a cloudy, pale honey color. Doug noted that it had cleared up a bit since he tried it on Saturday, when it first went on tap.
The flavor follows through on the strong saison-ness, with a phenolic character that Ben described as “verging on the plastic-y, but not quite there.” Also, he tasted “a lot of pear.”
The honey fermented out, as indicated by the 9.5% ABV, leaving a thick, fruity, floral saison that is strong enough to be a one-pint, or maybe even a half-pint, session. Oh yes, and it has a dry, alcoholic finish. Ben described it as “that dry, vaporous feeling on the tongue. It’s not hot, but it’s alcoholic.”
Lindsay, the bartendress who served us, related that a friend of hers who usually prefers ciders, “absolutely loved it.” With its fruit notes and dry finish, I can see how the Blackwatch Braggot would be popular with cider lovers, in addition to folks who like strong, Belgian, historic, or just unique beers.
I’m very glad I got to participate in this brew. My thanks to Doug and Paul for letting me help.
“Mead Style Guidelines.” 2015 Style Guidelines. 2015. Accessed July 23, 2015.
“Category 26 – Other Mead.” BJCP 2008 Style Guidelines. 2008. Accessed July 23, 2015.
Klemp, K. Florian. “Sweet, Sweet Braggot.” All About Beer, May 1, 2010.
Perozzi, Christina. “Braggot Is What Happens When Honey Meets Beer.” Eater, March 24, 2015.
“Raising of the Regiment.” The Black Watch. Accessed July 23, 2015.
Dornbusch, Horst. “Braggot: Style Profile.” Brew Your Own, October 1, 2003.