There are a couple of methods out there for making braggots, one of my favorite styles. Basically the goal of a braggot is to have a melding of mead and beer, such that you have characteristics from both. The goal is not to be a mead with beer, or a beer with mead, but something that is balanced and has elements of both.
I’ll describe a method for making a braggot that doesn’t boil the honey, or require two separate fermentations. The general idea is that you make a beer (with modifications) and add honey into the active secondary fermentation (3-5 days into primary).
I prefer to use a beer recipe that I’ve brewed a few times, and one I feel pretty comfortable with. I’ll modify the recipe to increase the body, and perhaps decrease the alcohol of the beer, then add honey to get me to 30-70% of the fermentables to be from honey. It all depends on how dominant the honey is versus the beer.
With this method you don’t have to make a huge beer, you can make a standard 5-8% beer, and then add honey to get the rest of the alcohol that you want. A decent rule of thumb is 1lb of honey per 5 gallons gives about 1% ABV. So to do a 12% braggot that’s 50:50::grain:honey you’ll make a 6% beer, and add about 6 lbs of honey.
Of course, we’ll be pushing the beer yeast to 10% or higher, so picking a yeast that can handle the higher alcohol is very important. Dry English, French Saison, and most trappiest yeasts have worked well for me. Dry English is clean and attenuates well, and the belgian yeasts are well suited for braggots – the dryness and fruity esters work well with honey.
The primary change you need to make in your beer recipe is to up the mash temp (4-5F usually), and potentially add carapils, wheat, oats, etc to create a bigger body. A good trick is to add a bit of honey malt, as it adds body and sweetness. If you don’t up the body you’ll end up with a super thin braggot because the honey will thin it out considerably. You’ll also definitely want to add some nutrients to the boil (Wyeast yeast nutrient is my current choice).
The biggest choice you have is your honey. Orange Blossom can be noticeable in as low of quantities as 5%, alfalfa tends to be 20% or more. Of course, it depends on the beer it is going into. A dark, roasty beer will need a stronger honey such as buckwheat or avocado blossom, or require more honey to be noticeable. A sweet beer might take less honey, but you’ll need to up the sweetness of the beer for the added honey not to make it dry.
As it is fermenting for the first couple of days you’ll need to decide when to add the honey. I prefer to add it when the fermentation is still quite active, kind of like a step feeding. This is usually in the 3-5 day range, but the real aim is to be about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way done fermenting the beer. In a clean sanitized fermenter you’ll add your warmed honey, then do what is called a dirty racking. That is, rack and make sure you take a good portion of the yeast cake. You’re basically bumping up the gravity to either the original gravity again, or a bit above. Don’t worry too much about getting complete mixing, the yeast will grab the honey when they’re ready for it.
At this time you’ll also want to add some nutrients. Shoot for 150 ppm if 50% honey or less and under 12% ABV, do 200 ppm if more than 50% honey or over 12% ABV. Do about 1/3 of your nutrients from organic sources, and the rest from DAP (with Fermaid-K and DAP that’s about 3:1::Fermaid-K:DAP by weight to get about 1/3 total organic nutrients). Staggering the nutrients over a couple of days is also a good idea, just make sure not to add them too late into the fermentation (after 2/3 sugar break equivalent).
Stirring lightly, and/or oxygenating for the first couple of days after adding the honey is also a good thing to do. You’ll have happy yeast, and you’ll be able to smell for potential off flavors, not to mention add your nutrients appropriately.
You’ll also want to keep your fermentation temps relatively low, and ramp them up towards the end. The higher temps at the end is to help finish out the ferment. And the lower temps to start are to prevent fusel alcohols. Step feeding tends to promote the production of fusel alcohols, so keeping the temps low for the first couple days after adding the honey is important.
Once the fermentation is done, simply treat it as a big beer from the aging point of view. You may have a difficult time in bottle conditioning, unless you add a yeast like DV10 at bottling.
Now let’s walk through a couple of general recipe ideas with modifications.
Exercise 1: Brown ale, 5% ABV, normally mashed at 152F, using WLP007.
Answer 1: To convert this to a braggot with this method: Up the mash temp to 156 or 157. Maybe add a touch of honey malt to maintain the sweetness. Then add 4-5 lbs of a fruity/earthy honey such as alfalfa to get a 10% braggot.
Answer 2: Up the mash temp to 157, scale the recipe to 8% (direct scale on base malts, and 50% scale on specialty malts), then add 5 lbs of fruity/earthy honey to get a 13% or so braggot. This will maintain a bit more sweetness from the long chains sugars obtained from mashing high. This will also be a touch more beer dominated.
Exercise 2: 7% Saison, normally mashed at 148F, using Wyeast 3711.
Orange blossom is noticeable in a saison at 5-8%, but isn’t dominant. My normal Saison recipe is 13% orange blossom honey, and it is apparent, but not anywhere close to the first thing you pick out.
Answer 1: Mash at 152F, no other beer recipe changes. Add 3-5lbs of orange blossom honey to the secondary, making sure to add nutrients at the 200ppm level (3711 can get stinky if stressed). This will make a nice crisp 10-12% imperial saison braggot.
Answer 2: Scale the beer down to a 5% beer, and add 3-4lbs of orange blossom honey, 150ppm YAN should suffice. This should get a nice crisp 8-9% saison braggot.