In Which I Make a Medieval Braggot

I have been wanting to make a braggot since I first heard about them years ago. And now seemed like a good time to give it a go. I first thought of making one using a modern commercial beer, but then thought it might be better to use a medieval ale. So what I ended up doing was both. Because science.

But what even is a braggot? A common misconception about braggot is that it means mead mixed with ale, this is not the case at all in any of the English medieval or early modern recipes I have found so far, but I don’t know about other countries. Instead, braggot is ale backsweetened with honey and spices.

And there are quite a few recipes to work with. You can find a list of primary sources for making braggots, ales, and other similar drinks here.

The most modern one on that list comes from the aptly, and wordy, titled Dictionary of obsolete and provincial English : containing words from the English writers previous to the nineteenth century which are no longer in use, or are not used in the same sense. And words which are now used only in the provincial dialects, by Thomas Wright published in 1886.

Wright defined ‘braget/braggat/bragot as ‘A sort of beverage formerly esteemed in Wales and the West of England’. He included in his definition two recipes. One dating to an unnamed 14th-century manuscript,

To make a Bragotte Take x galons of ale, iij potell of fyne worte, and iij quartis of hony and putt therto canell Ʒ iiij. Peper schort or long, Ʒ.iiij galingale, Ʒ. J. and cowys, Ʒ.j. and gingiver Ʒ.ij.[1]

The second was a recipe found in our next source, Thomas Coghan’s 1584 The Haven of Health. Chiefely gathered for the comfort of Students, and consequently of all those that have a care of their health[2], another ridiculously long title. And the recipe is as follows,

To Make Bragget

Take three or foure galons of good Ale or more as you please, two dayes or three after it is clensed, and put it into a pot by it selfe, then draw forth a pottle thereof, and put to it a quart of good English Hony, and set them over the fire in a vessell, and let them boyle faire and softly, and alwayes as any froth ariseth , skumme it away and so clarifie it, and when it is well clarified, take it off the fire, and let it coole, and put thereto of Pepper a penny worthy,  Cloves, Mace, Ginger, Nutmegs, Cinamom, of each two penny-worth beaten to powder, stir them well together and set them over the fire to boyle againe a while, then being milke warme, put it to the rest, and stirre all together and let it stand two or three daies, and put barme upon it, and drink it at your pleasure.

We can see a few things from these recipes: all involve spices, like cloves, mace, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper, being added to the honey and ale mixture, that was boiled, boiled again, cooled, added to the rest of the ale, and then drank after adding barm a few days later.

And what is barm? Berm or barm, is defined in the Middle English Compendium as the ‘froth or scum which rises to the top of fermenting ale or beer’ or ‘brewer’s yeast’.[3] So if you have some ale fermenting away you can add the berm from the top of it, or equally, if you don’t have that handy, you can just add some more yeast.

Note that Coghan’s recipe does not call for beer here, defined as a hopped malt beverage, instead it calls for ale, which was unhopped at this time. We know this because Coghan tells us,

 ‘For though both ale and beere be made of like matter and substance, that is to say, of barly, wheate or otes, yet there is a great difference in the making, as good brewers can tell.  And one thing is used in the making of beere than ale, which is hops. So that ale requireth two ingredients, that is, water and malt, and beere is makde of three things, that is water, malt & hops…’.[4]

This book is actually a great source for learning how they brewed ale and beer and has a long bit about the merits of both which deserves its own post.

Our next source is The Customs of London otherwise called Arnold’s Chronicle. The edition here is a reprint dated to 1811, but the original was composed in the early years of the 16th century, right at the end of the medieval period and the beginning of the early modern by Richard Arnold from London.

For Braket.

Take a pott of good ale and put therto a porcion of hony and peper i this maner, Avhen thou hast good ale lete it stonde in a pot ij. daies and tha drawe out a quarte or a potell of that ale and put to the hony and set it ouer the fire and lete it sethe well and take it of the fire and scinne it clene and than set it ouer the fire and scinne it ayen and then lete it keele a while and put thertoo the peper and the set he on the fire and lete hem boyle wel togedur with esy fir ; but peper take iiij. galons of good ale a pynte of fyn tryed hony and the mountenaunce off saucer full of poud’ of peper, &c}[5]

There’s also a recipe called ‘The Craft to Make Ypocras and Braket and Clare’ on the page beforehand which details how to add spice to alcohol, wine in this instance. [6]

And our final source is the recipe I chose to use in the end, primarily because it was closer in date to the medieval ale I had made. It comes from ‘Goud Kokery’ in the Curye on Inglysch edited by Constance B. Hieatt and Sharon Butler.[7] I was able to locate a digital file of this recipe in a compilation of honey and alcohol recipes, meads, metheglins, as well as braggots, created by Susan Verberg. You can find that here. And here is the recipe I chose, first in Middle English and the second Verberg’s modern translation.        

Ad faciendum brakott.

Take xiiii galouns of good fyn ale that the grout therof be twies meischid, & put it into a stonen vessel.& lete it sonde iii daies or iiii, til it be stale. Afterward take a quart of fyne wort, half a quart of lyfhony; & sette it ouer the fier, & lete it sethe, & skyme it wel til it be cleer. & put therto a penyworth of poudir of peper & i penyworth of poudir of clowis, & sethe hem wel togidere til it boile. Take it doun& lete it kele, & poure out the clere thereof into the forseid vessel, & the groundis thereof put it into a bagge, into the porseid pot, & stoppe it wel with a lynnen clooth that noon eir come out; & put thereto newe berm, & stoppe it iii dayes or iiii eer thou drinke thereof. Put aqua ardente it among.[8]

Which Verberg translated to modern English as:

To make braggot.

Take 14 gallons of good fine ale that the wort thereof be twice used, & put it into a stone vessel. & let it stand 3 days or 4, until it is stale. Afterwards take a quart of fine wort, half a quart of live honey; &set it over the fire, & let it simmer, & skim well until it is clear. & put thereto a pennyworth of powder of pepper, & 1 pennyworth of powder of cloves, & simmer it well together until it boils. Take it down,& let it cool, & pour out the clear [liquid] thereof [decant] into the previously mentioned vessel [stone vessel], & the settlement thereof into a bag, into the mentioned pot [stone vessel], & close it well with a linen cloth that no air comes out; & put thereto new berm, & close it 3 days or 4 before you drink of it. Add aqua ardente to it.[9]

Twice used, implies that perhaps the grains have already had two runs over them, so this is a weak ale, hence why my base was a medieval small ale.

The second pressing question is what is aqua ardente. Well, what a fun rabbit hole to fall down. Sergius Kodera wrote a fascinating article about how spirits were distilled in the early modern period. In this work, Kodera stated that the distillation of spirits began in Europe sometime in the 12th or 13th centuries and that the Florentine Taddeo Alderotti called these new distilled spirits aqua ardens.[10] He also argued that the distillation of grains or beer began around 1400.[11] So this is some kind of distilled spirit. The date of the recipe is the 14th century, so it possibly predates the distillation of beer and grains, which commenced in the 15th century, but maybe not. In any event, it’s a distilled spirit, so I opted for whiskey. You could also use gin, maybe a fortified sherry, like sack even, or any kind of spirits really.

Finally, what is the story with putting the settlement or grounds into the bag? It’s like making a teabag of a kind actually. This use of a bag to steep spices into ale or beer is not at all limited to this particular recipe. Liza Picard in Chaucer’s People: Everyday Live in Medieval England, shares another recipe for braggot from Curye in Inglische, where a braggot was made in a similar method, but this time a mix of cinnamon, galingale, grains of paradise, pepper was made into a powder, and after being boiled in the honey ale mixture, were put into a bag and steeped in the braggot for 14 days before consumption.[12] Picard argued that the use of spices in a steeping bag allowed the person to make the drink to more detailed specifications, and also that the spices could be reused over and over until they were no longer flavourful.[13]

I did not do this as my pepper and cloves were very finely ground so there wasn’t really anything to turn into a teabag as such. However, the use of a bag to steep herbs in a beer or ale has broader implications. I have so many thoughts. I am writing up something on herbs and spices in ale in medieval Europe and will have that done shortly.

In any event, I followed this recipe exactly for both the medieval small ale and the commercial beer, with the exception of using a steeping bag for my spices and I also added the honey and spices to a portion of my small medieval ale, not a new fresh wort. It was fairly straightforward, though I did adjust based on the size of my braggot, one gallon. So more maths. 79ml of ale and 2 & 2/3 tbsp honey per gallon, is my best calculations. And my results? Well, you can catch a glimpse in the featured image.

Medieval Small Ale:

              The aroma was bready as before, big bread crust notes with an underlying sweetness, though not precisely honey. Subtle hints of spice from the cloves were also present. It had a little bit of a head initially, but that quickly faded. The flavour was still those big bread crust notes from before, but now there was more honey sweetness to it. The Vienna malt lends itself to a honey-sweet notes so the honey addition just boosted this a bit, with that said, I would not have called it sweet as such, just a bit more of the sweetness mellow in the background. I was actually surprised at how much the change from the honey was given the small amount per gallon. With that said, I think it really just did play up flavours that were already present. The mouthfeel was also thicker, creamier. Also, with the absence of hops or other herbal additives, it really just only had the malt to play with. And the spice was also clearly apparent. A little bit of cloves can have a big impact and that was clear here. The pepper just also added a bit of a kick. All and all, I really enjoyed this and would be happy to make it again.

Commercial Beer:

              I was slightly more sceptical at how this would turn out with a commercial example. I used a beer that was malt forward but with an emphasis on hop flavour and not bitterness. Since this recipe also wanted something stale, I did pick one that was well past its best before date. This actually turned out well and I would encourage you to give it a go with a similar beer. For me, it changed the mouthfeel and bit and made the beer slightly creamier. In fact, the beer seemed to coat your tongue, which is not an attribute that this beer displayed before. The hints of spice from the cloves and pepper paired well with the hop flavour of the beer which leaned more toward citrus. There was a mellow sweetness to it, very subtle, but I could pick up the honey. Both the spices and the honey lingered well into the finish. Overall, really enjoyed this.


[1] https://archive.org/details/dictionaryobsol02unkngoog/page/n264/mode/2up?q=bragot

[2] page 267 https://ia800500.us.archive.org/22/items/havenofhealthchi00coga/havenofhealthchi00coga.pdf

[3] https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/middle-english-dictionary/dictionary/MED4191

[4] P.249-250 ps://ia800500.us.archive.org/22/items/havenofhealthchi00coga/havenofhealthchi00coga.pdf

[5] Richard Arnold, The Customs of London  otherwise called Arnold’s Chronicle, p. 188; https://archive.org/details/customsoflondono00arno/page/186/mode/2up?q=braket

[6] Richard, Arnold, The Customs of London’, p. 187

[7] Constance B. Hieatt and Sharon Butler[7] (ed). Curye on Inglysch, English culinary manuscripts of the 14th century (including Forme of Cury). Early English Text Society. London: Oxford University Press, 1985. Part V Goud Kokery, MS Royal 17. A. iii

[8] Of Hony, p. 69-70. https://www.academia.edu/31052051/Of_Hony_A_collection_of_Mediaeval_brewing_recipes

[9] Of Hony, Ibid. https://www.academia.edu/31052051/Of_Hony_A_collection_of_Mediaeval_brewing_recipes

[10] Sergius Kodera, The Art of the Distillation of ‘Spirits’ as a Technological Model for Human Physiology. The Cases of Marsilio Ficino, Joseph Duchesne and Francis Bacon, p. 139. Can find it here: https://brill.com/view/book/edcoll/9789004229204/B9789004229204_008.xml

[11] Kodera, ‘Distillation’, p. 140

[12] Liza Picard, Chaucer’s People: Everyday Lives in Medieval England, ebook: https://books.google.ie/books?id=aDk_DQAAQBAJ&pg=PT155&lpg=PT155&dq=what+is+%22live+honey%22+in+medieval+cooking&source=bl&ots=MoVyp1Jizt&sig=ACfU3U1lM8rxezmvv3brBh3y7WWBGM-hcQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiw67iu35X2AhXMQEEAHSQnAlMQ6AF6BAgCEAM#v=onepage&q=what%20is%20%22live%20honey%22%20in%20medieval%20cooking&f=false

[13] Picard, Chaucer’s People, ebook.

4 thoughts on “In Which I Make a Medieval Braggot

  1. Martyn Cornell

    “Twice used, implies that the grains have already had two runs over them, so this is a weak ale, hence why my base was a medieval small ale.”. Mmmm. My interpretation of “good fyn ale that the grout therof be twies meischid” is that this is a double ale using a “return wort”, ie that the wort from the first mash is put back through the grains to pick up more sugars, thus “twice mashed”, and it is thus an extra-string beer: I can’t think that wort from a third mash would be called “good fine ale”.

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    1. braciatrix

      Yeah, definitely a fraught concept, but I definitely can see what you mean there. I’ve seen and read, historians argue quite a bit about twice-brewed or twice used. Either saying it’s a weaker version and also that it’s stronger. I think both arguments are possible in any number of circumstances given the information, depending on contexts etc etc. I might edit to point out the other arguments. Another possibility is that perhaps it’s neither particularly weak or strong and it’s just a regular ale, which is what they wanted in all the other recipes. Given that it’s then re-fermented and then also adding in the spirits, I went with a weaker ale (though I did not use an ale made from the second run of the wort as I interpreted it here, just made a small ale) based on this context. Equally, our recipe writer could be trying to make the most alcoholic of all alcoholic drinks which is definitely the desired result for people now as ever lol. It was a fun experiment, in any event, next time, maybe I’ll use a double ale version and see just how high of an ABV I can get with this. I’ll do some more digging and pondering on this one.

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