Skull Splitter/Blood of My Enemies
Aesir Meadery, Everett; Whiskey Ridge Brewing, Arlington
Style: Irish Stout Braggot/Amber Braggot
Stats: Both are 14 percent ABV
Available: 22-ounce bottles at Whiskey Ridge and Everett’s Sno-Isle Coop
My thoughts: Two years ago, the Arlington Viking Festival was looking for a mead producer to pour in its beer garden, so it reached out to Erik Newquist of Aesir Meadery. One problem: Festival organizers didn’t have a license to pour mead, which at the time was categorized as a winery.
But Newquist had an idea: Make a braggot. In its simplest form, a braggot is a combination of beer and mead, with about half of the fermentable sugars from malts and the other half coming from honey.
Newquist connected with Jack and Francine Hatley of Arlington’s Whiskey Ridge Brewing and asked if they’d be interested in making a braggot. They tasted one another’s products and agreed to collaborate.
The three decided that Whiskey Ridge’s amber ale and dry Irish stout would work best as the base ales for the two braggots. Newquist took some notes of the flavor profile and went back to his shop to figure out a honey pairing. He ended up choosing fireweed honey, which he said has a spicy, cinnamon flavor, to pair with the amber ale and a sweet blackberry honey to go with the stout.
One other change was the use of Cote des Blanc wine yeast, a yeast strain Newquist uses often and that he said worked better with the honey.
Because a braggot is licensed as a beer, it had to be brewed at Whiskey Ridge (meaderies cannot have any grains on site). So early last year, Newquist packed up his honey and headed to Arlington. The brew day took about 14 hours and the braggots took three weeks to ferment. Both were a big hit at the Arlington Viking Festival, and the rest was stored away to age for more than a year.
I’m hardly a braggot expert, but I really enjoyed both. Of the two, the amber ale is the most like a mead, with the slightly rounded sweetness of the honey pairing well with the biscuity quality of the amber ale. The dry Irish stout maintains its roasty characteristics with a honey flavor coming on strong as it finishes. At 14 percent ABV, both of these beers are “warmer” than typical beers and a great complement to the Christmas table.
Unfortunately, the timing of the release of these braggots is due to the closing of Whiskey Ridge. The Arlington brewery didn’t have enough foot traffic or customer base to cover the overhead on its downtown Arlington taproom/brewery space. Francine Hatley said they plan to keep brewing, but not commercially, and will be looking for a less expensive space to house the brewery in the new year.
As for Aesir Meadery, a recent rule change has Newquist looking up. After years of classifying meaderies as wineries, Washington state recently became the first state in the country to have its own meadery category. That means meaderies like Aesir Meadery no longer have to pay burdensome fees to the Washington State Wine Commission and can now fill growlers out of its brewing space.
From the brewery: Skull Splitter: A dry Irish stout brewed with blackberry honey, this braggot tastes of strong coffee and chocolate cordial with blackberry currant undertones. Blood of My Enemies: An amber ale brewed with fireweed honey. The flavors are reminiscent of hearty toasted bread smothered in spicy honey.
More new releases
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Winter Wonderbeast, Lake Stevens Brewing: Reminiscent of a Cascadian Dark Ale, with a big malt body and a solid hop backbone. Available on tap at the brewery.
Double Citra Jack, Skookum Brewing: This double IPA is an 8 percent tribute to Citra hops. Available on at the brewery.