Describing a beer as bittersweet is always a little odd for some, and I can understand why that might be the case. Beer, as a beverage, is replete with words like “malty,” or “full-bodied,” and “rich.” Beer as a beverage doesn’t revel in terms like “sweet,” as most sugars are being fermented out of the beer – certainly as much as possible to create a dry, clean finish for most ales – and certainly for most, if not all, lagers. Beer, in its ideal form, should be a clean and crisp beverage, devoid of the hallmarks of incomplete fermentation. Malt sweetness is an ever-present part of beer, but not in a traditional syrupy, candied kind of way. At most, descriptors such as “light sweet graininess” or “moderate malt sweetness” are more apropos, as opposed to simply “sweet.”
Bitterness in the beer should really only come from the bittering of the hops, or possibly some other adjunct that is added to create a pleasant bitterness that complements the flavors of the beer. Bitterness can certainly be assertive, but should always strike a balance with the rest of the beer – even in aggressively bittered styles such as an American IPA/DIPA. It is certainly bitterer, but should be rounded out and balanced by the presence of maltiness of the beer. In essence, a well-balanced beer will be bittersweet in a fairly loose sense of the word, but the firm balance between bitterness of the hops and maltiness (or malt sweetness?) is always something we as brewers strive to achieve.
In contrast to traditional styles, some relatively “newer” beer styles, such as a radler (or the relatively new “graf”) rely on the addition of secondary sugar to either back sweeten (radler) or coferment to add an impression of sweetness (graf/braggot). Thorough fermentation can dry out beverages such as a graf or a braggot, but terminating the fermentation can easily leave residual sweetness. This is common in cider-making and is responsible for the demarcation of a dry, off-dry, and semisweet cider. Bittering as normal during the brewing process lends the typical hop bitterness, or employ of herbs/gruit can provide the same thing.
In experiments I’ve performed in the past, treating a braggot in much the same way as a big Belgian ale can yield surprisingly excellent results – a extremely big-bodied, high ABV brew that is spicy, eatery, and pleasantly bittered by using a combination of Indian coriander (not European), and bitter orange peels. The bitterness tends to be floral, pithy (from the orange), and zesty. It can fade relatively quickly, depending on the level of turbulence and off-gassing from fermentation, but adding it as a dry hop can round out the initial bittering charge, and lend additional complex flavors from the herbs and zest.
There’s quite a bit of space to play around in, and it’s something that most people that are home brewing write off as “incomplete” or “off” because of a perceived lack of attenuation. On the other hand, if the point is to brew a semisweet, or off-dry mead, a braggot is a fun way to build something that can be refreshing (albeit boozy if you aren’t careful!).
I Don’t Mean to Braggot
5.0-5.5 gallon batch (60 minute boil)
5 pounds German Pilsner
- Sacch Rest 1: 155F / 45 minutes
- Sparge: 168F / 55 minutes
- 5 pounds honey (added @5-10min)
- 0.5 oz Indian Coriander (freshly ground) (@60 min)
- 1.0 oz Bitter Orange Peel (@60 min)
- 0.5 oz Indian Coriander (freshly ground) (dry hop 4-5 days @45F)
- 1.0 oz Bitter Orange Peel (dry hop 4-5 days @45F)
- 1.0 oz Dried Hibiscus (dry hop 4-5 days @45F)
- Propagate Labs MIP-340 (ferment at 88F, DiAc@97F)
- Imperial A43 Loki (ferment at 88F, DiAc@97F)