Bochet – Burnt Honey Mead, 1393

caramelizing honey for Bochet
boiling honey for Bochet

Thoughts:

The smell of this mead in progress is awesome. The whole house smells of toffee and burnt sugar, and, inexplicably, brownies, and the delicious aroma lasts for days. Coming home to that smell is a joy.

When it’s bottled, the color is very dark, like a porter, but with incredible clarity. The flavor is a combination of burnt sugar and a kind of almost maple flavor. One friend said it tasted the way a cotton candy machine smells, and I think that’s accurate.

The finished mead, at three months, is a beautiful dark color. The flavor is unique, with spices abounding, and a slightly bitter, almost tannic element. In future batches, I would lessen the amount of spice compared to the proportions I used below, since medieval spices wouldn’t be as potent as our modern ones, not to mention very expensive. I’ll update this post with a photo of the finished mead once I crack open the next bottle!

I think the possibilities with this style mead are countless. Candy apple cysers, toasted marshmallow mead, salted caramel, and something with vanilla. I’d also love to make a fortified version with whiskey. What ideas does it give you?

Bochet Recipe

A Note on Process: I looked at a lot of examples of this brew on forums, including photos and video. I think that many brewers mistake the direction about “black smoke” that appears in some translations as “black honey”, and perhaps overcook the honey. I watched as I brewed for a moment when the honey was forming sort of globules that spat smoke, and with my batch, that happened right around 25 minutes. I was briefly tempted to go darker, but instinctively felt that I was where it should be.

“BOUCHET. To make six sesters of bouchet, take six pints of fine sweet honey, and put it in a cauldron on the fire and boil it, and stir continually until it starts to grow, and you see that it is producing bubbles like small globules which burst, and as they burst emit a little smoke which is sort of dark: and then stir, and then add seven sixths of water and boil until it reduces to six sixths again, and keep stirring. And then put it in a tub to cool until it is just warm; and then strain it through a cloth bag, and then put it in a cask and add one chopine (half-litre) of beer-yeast, for it is this which makes it the most piquant, (and if you use bread yeast, however much you like the taste, the colour will be insipid), and cover it well and warmly to work. And if you want to make it very good, add an ounce of ginger, long pepper, grains of Paradise and cloves in equal amounts, except for the cloves of which there should be less, and put them in a cloth bag and throw in. And after two or three days, if the bouchet smells spicy enough and is strong enough, take out the spice-bag and squeeze it and put it in the next barrel you make. And thus you will be able to use these same spices three or four times.” -Le Menagier de Paris, France, 1393

Ingredients for 1 gallon:

  •  1 1/2 pints (3.6 cups/2.6 lbs.) honey
  • 1.4 gallons water
  • .8 cup ale yeast barm (or dry ale yeast)
  • .2 oz. each fresh ginger, long pepper, grains of paradise
  • .05 oz. cloves

Before you start this process: Pick a large pot that can handle approximately 4-5 times the volume of honey you start with, as it expands during cooking. Pour 1 gallon of water into this pot and make a mental/visual note of where the level of liquid comes up to: You’ll be reducing the mead mixture to this level in a later step. Pour the water out.

Pour 2.5 lb. honey into a large pot, and begin to heat over medium-high. You’ll need to stir as you go, so have a spoon ready.

As the honey cooks, it will begin to bubble and rise considerably. Take a look at the pictures below of the raw honey level compared with the level at the end. Constant stirring is key to keeping it from getting out of control.

When it gets to a dark color, and begins to spit puffs of steam, I turn mine off. You’ll not go wrong turning it off sooner, but knowing when takes both fierce attention, good instincts, and some luck.

Gradually add the water (careful, it spits like mad as it touches the honey!), then boil the whole mixture until it is reduced to the previously noted 1 gallon level, about 30 minutes in my case. Allow to cool completely, then pour into a carboy and add the ale yeast.

When racking into secondary carboy, add the spices in a mesh bag. Let those soak for 2-3 days, then remove. When the mead is done working, bottle.

 

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19 Comments Add yours

  1. Kingsley says:

    So when you say that you would “lessen the amount of spice” next time, and in the recipe to spice it for “2-3 days” … so now you would spice it for 1-2 days ? The spice will probably mellow with age too though.

    1. Chelsea says:

      Actually, I would decrease the actual amount of spices I used, and taste the bochet as it infused. Definitely on my list to try again…

  2. Kim Shaneyfelt says:

    It seems as though you are making caramel from the honey, then fermenting it

    1. Chelsea says:

      Pretty much, except you don’t add the butter and cream to finish the caramel. But you could, and those would be some awesome caramels. 😉

      1. rose says:

        Omg yes!! Now I need honey caramels!!

  3. How long is the fermentation period, approximately? Also, it’s three months after bottling that it’s drinkable, right?

  4. MightyLolz says:

    Love the sound of this recipe but it would only be my 2nd brew, so a few questions. Firstly, I’d have to use dry ale yeast, when you say .8 of a cup what would that be in grams or ounces? (assuming its not a liquid measurement). Secondly how long do you leave it before racking and adding spices? I would be tripling this recipe to make about 4 litres. Thanks!

    1. MightyLolz says:

      Sorry, not tripling, got my conversions mixed up

  5. Kingsley says:

    “Barm” is the foamy yeast from the top of an on-going brew.
    So I assume this is a liquid measurement.
    I’m not sure Chelsea has unit-converted it, but 1US cp == 137 millilitres.

    I used 10 grams (1 packet) of US-05 yeast, which is probably a bit too much.
    But I would guess 5-10 grams would be OK. There’s quite a lot of very active yeast cells in barm.

    I’m about to put mine on top of the spices after 4-5 weeks in the fermenter.
    I will use the amounts listed in the recipe, and they will stay there for some weeks.
    So mine will take quite a while to smooth, if ever 😉

  6. Nikki says:

    Can’t wait to try this, but am not sure as to what “long pepper” and “grains of paradise” could be, please help!

    1. Bjorn_Snaersson says:

      They are spices that were much more common in Medieval Europe than today. Grains of Paradise is similar to modern black-pepper, but a bit more complex taste. A good general substitution is just slightly less black-pepper. Long-pepper is also similar to modern black-pepper, but stronger. Just use black-pepper in equal proportions. Hope that helps!

    2. Sharon says:

      Some whole foods and organic food stores sell Grains of Paradise. You’ll often find it in the bulk spices section.

    3. harbqll says:

      Another good place to look for period spices, if you don’t have a local specialty shop,is Amazon. You’d be amazed what you can find there.

  7. harbqll says:

    Mistress Chelsea,

    (I always wonder what your SCA name might be, when I post here. But anyway…)

    Finally had a chance to try this recipe Saturday last (2 days ago, at this writing), and I have a question. I made a double batch – if I’m going to open a keg of honey, may as well use all of it, right? – and so I needed to reduce my total volume to 2 gallons. I didn’t think about it until AFTER I added the water (2.8 gallons for a double recipe), but why are we adding so much water to this recipe? Wouldn’t the same results be reached by only adding 2 gallons of water, and then boiling off the volume of the honey? Or even better, just add water gradually, titrating until you hit the 2 gallon mark, and then transferring to the carboy for cooling?

    I also notice my fermentation is a little feeble. But then, I have been making a lot of beer lately, so maybe it’s just that I’m used to seeing the beer being a little more vigorous. What sort of activity have you seen in your batches?

    Brother Michael of Glymm Mere, Kingdom of An Tir
    (mka Rich)

    1. Taryn East says:

      It’s not necessary to add extra water then boil down. I suspect this may have been important in the distant past to make sure that the water was boiled until thoroughly safe for drinking. When I made my versions of this, I did not bother with this and it turned out great.

      For my recipe (with step-by-step pics):
      http://iseabailsca.blogspot.com.au/2014/10/bochet-making-black-mead-from.html

  8. Bjorn_Snaerison says:

    Doing some number crunching on this recipe and trying to figure out where your numbers came from. How did you determine that you needed 1 1/2 pints of honey to the 1.4 gallons of water?

  9. terrycadymt says:

    Just curious…why do you think that medieval spices wouldn’t be as potent as modern? Is it a matter of distance X time?

  10. Erik says:

    Hi, I was reading about why this might be burnt instead of just simply “mead”. If honey is “wildflower” it likely contains nectar from plants that are pollinated both by bees and flies….Like daisies. Apparently when fermented in their natural state these meads can taste and smell like rotting flesh or feces. I bet the burning would get rid of that flavor and smell. I am going to try this recipe with burnt sugar and some non burnt clover honey to see what I get. (I am too much of a cheapskate to burn honey in case I make a mistake)

    1. Needs Mead says:

      The title “burnt honey” is somewhat of a misnomer- I’m an addict of all things honey, and I think it would be a serious crime to actually burn honey! It’s more of a caramelization process, which isn’t quite as scary. Still, I understand the trepidation. Let me know how it turns out!

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