Braggots are meads made with malt. This section provides enough background on the ingredients used to make the style so that they can be adequately judged in competition. This isn’t meant to be a full background discussion on beer making. For more detailed information on Beer styles, ingredients in beer, and the brewing process can be found in the BJCP Beer Exam Study Guide. Process-specific details on braggot making are contained in the next section on the Mead Making Process.
Braggots will always contain malt, and may contain hops. Beer brewers are usually well-versed with these ingredients but meadmakers coming from a wine background may not have the same familiarity. Standard brewing references (and even web-based catalogs from major homebrewing retailers such as Beer, Beer and More Beer and Northern Brewer) are excellent sources of information about these ingredients.
Malt primarily affects the appearance and flavor of mead, but also can affect the aroma and mouthfeel. Malted barley is a starch source that must be converted to sugar before it can be fermented. Brewers typically do this by mashing the grain (mixing crushed grain with water at specific temperatures to allow various enzymes to convert starches to sugars). Mead Makers that make braggots by combining beer with mead may use this method, but most meadmakers simply use prepared malt extract, a liquid or dry commercial product that contains concentrated converted malt sugars. Brewers have more control over flavors when mashing their own grains, but malt extract is very convenient and saves a great deal of time and effort.
Malt is kilned (heated at controlled temperatures with certain water content for specific times) to provide the finished color and flavor profile of the malt. Kilning is done by the maltster, who provides the finished product to the brewer. Not all malt of equal color will taste the same, but the color does provide some indication of the flavor. Paler malt has a lighter, more neutral malty flavor possibly with bready and biscuity overtones. Amber malts may have caramelly, nutty, or toasty flavors. Darker malts may be chocolate, coffee, roasty or burnt in flavor. However, the specific aroma, color and flavor contributions depend on the specific type of malt used.
Malt contributes considerable proteins to a mead, and allows the resulting mead to actually maintain a head (if carbonated). The malt may also add to body and mouthfeel of a braggot, depending on the type of malt used.
Hops are the flowering cones of the hop plant (humulus lupus). Hops contain a bittering compound (alpha acids) and various volatile aromatics that contribute flavor and aroma. Hops must be boiled to extract bitterness, which occurs when the alpha acids isomerizes and become soluble in wort. Longer boils favor greater bitterness extraction, but tend to drive off the volatile aromatics. Hops used for bittering purposes are usually added earlier in the boil, while hops that provide flavor and aroma are added near the end of the boil. Depending on the variety of hop used, the flavor and aroma can be citrusy, spicy, earthy, woody, minty, piney, floral, or grassy.