In the simplest sense, mead is fermented honey.
It’s been around forever and was immortalized by Norsemen who gave it the reputation of the party drink of the ancients. Traditional meads include dry meads, semi-sweet meads and sweet meads. It gets more interesting from there. A fruit mead is a melomel, and a melomel made with apples is a cyser. A pyment is a melomel made with grapes. Metheglin is mead made with spices and braggot is a beverage that uses both honey and malt that’s used in brewing. It sounds a lot like Dungeons and Dragons stuff to me, but it’s always interesting and provides an alternative to beer. But braggot interests me the most, especially since I discovered one that truly blew my mind.
“I’m always experimenting,” explained Snow Goose Restaurant and Sleeping Lady Brewing Company brewer Clay Brackley. Brackley came on board at the Goose in the middle of last year and immediately set out to tweak the brewery and the beers. Once he got the place cleaned up and the system sorted out, he set out to broaden the fermented offerings at the downtown pub. “I’m trying to make a little bit of everything,” he said. He credits part of his inspiration to the increasingly prolific Celestial Meads, the state’s second commercial meadery and the local place where a braggot might seem more logical. “Everyone around here (Anchorage) seems to be crazy about the stuff. I thought it was neat that Celestial Meads even existed.” Still, Brackley came up with the recipe all on his own.
“I took an English style summer ale and dosed it with a bunch of honey,” Brackley said. He did this instead of making another big monstrous beer as all of our local breweries are gearing up for the Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival in January. This festival is all about big beer and Brackley wanted more than just the brewery’s traditional — albeit medal-winning — Old Gander Barley Wine. “I thought it would be the perfect balance for my darker, hoppier barley wine, but something of similar strength, but lighter in color.” Brackley’s reaching out to the timid folks who crowd the tables at the event every year.
Despite the formidable 8.8 percent alcohol, this sneaky little goblet filler goes down incredibly smooth, sweet and with a long, easy dry finish. The base English style beer is easily identifiable, as is the creamy, sweet contribution of the honey. Both the beer and the honey sing in harmony in this beverage, and although my experience with mead is admittedly limited, I found it hard to tie the style to its roots. This is hardly a negative because the melding makes for a joyous, albeit dangerous, easy sipper. Don’t expect hops in the aroma or flavor or even huge bitterness; a scant amount is tossed in only to balance the sweetness and keep the beer from being cloying.
The brew was conditioned in three separate retired Jack Daniels barrels, but these barrels are so used (having had other beers run through them a number of times before), the contribution isn’t the heated, vinous, bourbonesque flavor in the more aggressive runs. Instead, a nice touch of custard-like vanilla makes the beer seem softer yet. Brackley thumbed through some notes and figured the barrels he’d used had various incantations of doppelbock, imperial stout and barley wine run through them in years past by previous brewers. This had a huge taming effect on the oak. Brackley describes the result as “freer, sweeter and easier to drink, much more approachable by a curious, unaccustomed drinker.” I couldn’t agree more.
I asked Brackley if this was just a one-off curiosity for him. I think it was intended that way, but apparently he’s been getting good feedback. “I’ll probably brew it up again. I’m even thinking of entering into the World Beer Cup competition.” This is a good sign. Before I tossed back the final sip, I paused. “Hey, wait. What are you calling this stuff,” I asked? “I don’t have a huge marketing department. It’s just another in a long, emerging line of specialty ales at the Goose. Call it what you want or leave it up to the servers,” he said almost indifferently. I could tell he was preoccupied conjuring up his next fermented treat.