In this video and blog post, I’m exploring the use of Maillard reactions as a way to produce a unique and tasty bochet (caramelized honey mead). A traditional bochet is prepared using honey that has been heated until it caramelizes. The resulting mead will have flavours of caramel, toasted marshmallows, and if caramelized darkly, roasted and even burnt notes. Maillard reactions are quite different – these are what give bread crust or a nicely seared steak their wonderful flavour.
Maillard reactions occur when a sugar is heated in the presence of protein, especially under basic (alkaline) conditions. The sugars react with the amino acids in the protein, and undergo a complex series of reactions, producing hundreds of flavour and colourful products. Maillard reactions produce a range of flavours including nutty, stone/dried fruit, as well as caramelized flavours.
Maillard reactions are what drive flavour formation in Belgian-style candi sugar. Over the years I’ve developed a refined methods for making Belgian-style candi syrup at home – producing a product that cannot be differentiated by most drinkers from commercial candi syrup. So I’ve decided to apply these methods to a mead, to see how this would change the flavour compared to a traditional (caramelized) bochet. If you are interested in my approach to making Belgian candi syrup, please see this blog post and this youtube video.
The video that accompanies this blog post can be found at the bottom of the page, or at this Youtube link.
To ensure I had something to compare to, I replicated my Bourbon Bochet recipe from earlier this year – going to the extreme of even using the same honey from the same bee hive. The recipe was simple, and straight forward:
The recipe for this mead is very simple. For 4L (~1.2 US gallons):
- 1.25 kg caramelized honey
- 1.2 g of Lavin K1V-1116 yeast
- 3.6 g nutrient additions (White Labs W1000 nutrient)
- ~12 charred medium American oak cubes
I heated the honey to just above boiling (100C) in a large pot, and once a firm boil was reached (temperature around 115C) I added a tablespoon (15 ml) of 1 M food grade lye (I prepared 25 ml total, by dissolving 2 g of lye/sodium hydroxide into 25 ml of water). I heated, holding the temperature between 125 and 135 C until the desired darkness was reached – a deep mahogany brown.
Once the honey was dark enough, I added ~2L of ice-cold dechlorinated water to cool the sugar. This was then poured into a 4 L fermenter, and the yeast nutrient mixed in. I then topped up with more dechlorinated cold water, and once everything had cooled to pitching temperature (18C), I added the rehydrated yeast.
Fermentation was straight-forward. I held the mead at 18.5 C for 4 weeks. It stopped bubbling around the 2.5 week mark, but I left it for the full four to ensure it cleaned up any off flavours. I then cold-crashed the mead and transferred it to a clean fermenter with a dozen heavily charred medium-toast American oak cubes. The mead sat on the cubes for a week. This was not nearly long enough – but I was following the Bourbon Bochet recipe exactly. At the end of the week I transferred to a clean fermenter, stabilized with potassium metabisulfite and potassium sorbate, and bottled.
Tasting Notes – Maillard Bochet
Appearance: Deep red-brown.
Aroma: Dried dark fruits (figs, raisins), marzipan/almonds and caramel.
Flavour: Port-like, with a deep and rich dried fruit flavour, overlaid on a nut and caramel base. Appreciable honey flavour, although it is a minor note hidden behind the bolder fruit, nut and caramel flavours. Despite its higher finishing gravity (1.019), only modestly sweet. Slight “burnt” astringency, some modest alcohol heat (likely due to the young age of the mead). After taste is a lingering caramel sweetness with a hint of honey and burnt raisins.
Mouthfeel: Rich and coating. Much like a port or dessert wine.
Overall: One of the best meads I’ve ever brewed, and hands-down the best bochet (if it can be called that) that I have ever tried. Rich and complex, well balanced and interesting flavours, and a wonderful finish. Everything a mead should be. My only regret is only making four litres of it.