Bourbon Bochet

While I blog exclusively about fermented beverages (and to a lesser extent, foods), another thing I enjoy is whisk(e)y – especially scotch and bourbon. I’ve also been a long-time brewer of mead, and am a newly minted beekeeper. A style of mead that has always intrigued me is bochet – a mead made of caramelized honey. But given the cost of buying honey I never went down that road. But I had a bumper-crop of honey this year, so I thought I’d give it a go.

I wanted my first bochet to be a “pure” bochet – i.e. without too much flavouring aside from the honey and yeast. While reading recipes I found a number of people making a bourbon-inspired bochet, usually by ageing the finished bochet on oak and vanilla. I decided to go that route, but rather than using vanilla, I decided on a process similar to that used to make bourbon.

The second consideration was how dark to caramelize the honey. Darker should give more of the caramel notes present in bourbon, but also carries the risk of becoming astringent. This is my first bochet, so I decided to try the middle ground – dark, but not black. I also needed to choose a method; you can caramelize your honey in a pot over a stove, in a slow-cooker, or in a pressure cooker. The later two methods reputably give a smoother mead, but the former gives a stronger caramel/roasted marshmallow character. I decided to go with the later.

The Recipe

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
  • 4 x 0.9 g nutrient additions (White Labs W1000 nutrient)
  • ~20 charred oak cubes

Caramelizing the Honey

boiling honey
Boiling the honey.

The first step is to caramelize the honey. As I mentioned above, I did this on the stove as I believe it will give the best flavour profile for what I am trying to achieve. I took frequent samples which I spotted out on a white plate to monitor colour development (see the header image for this post).

A mahogany-brown colour was reached after 26 minutes of boiling the honey, at which point I killed the heat and immediately began to stir in cold, dechlorinated water until I had ~1/2 the final volume. I then let the honey cool to ~40 C and then poured it into my 4L fermenter. The fermenter was topped up with more dechlorinated water and the rehydrated yeast added. I ended up with a 1.104 OG.

The Ferment

I followed a standard TONSA 2.0 addition schedule, adding 0.9 g of nutrient at 24, 48 and 72 hours post-yeast pitch, and a fourth addition on day 6. I fermented in my basement, which held between 16 C and 17 C (61-63 F), for a total of four weeks. The mead was then transferred to a secondary fermented and allowed to age another two months.

charring oak cubes with a torch
Charring the Oak

To get a more “authentic” bourbon character I decided to char some medium-toast American oak cubes. I simply charred these with a propane torch, about 2 weeks before adding them to the mead.

The cubes were added to the mead two weeks before bottling. At bottling I stabilized with 0.9 g of potassium sorbate and 0.2 g of potassium metabisulfite. Even though the mead finished at 1.000 – for a nearly 14% alcohol content – the caramel notes provide enough sweetness that additional back-sweetening was unneeded.

Tasting Notes

Appearance: Very clear golden brown. It is a little lighter than I had planned, but well within the colour range of a bourbon.

Aroma: Honey, caramel and toasted marshmallows.

Flavour: A toasted marshmallow note dominates the flavour, without any burnt-like astringency. The wood and vanilla character from the oak is present, but milder than I had hoped for. There is a honey note that emerges once the marshmallow note begins to fade, with the aftertaste being sweetness with a bit of caramel . There is a bit of an alcoholic burn deep in the chest after each sip, but nothing in the mouth or throat.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied, coating on the palate, with no hint of dryness or astringency what-so-ever.

Overall: This is a great mead, although not quite what I was hoping for. The flavours are interesting and well balanced, with enough layering of flavours to keep things interesting. I wish there was more wood and vanilla character; something which could easily have been achieved by aging longer on the wood. I also wish I had caramelized the honey a little darker – perhaps an additional 2 or 4 minutes longer in the pot would have added a lot more flavour and colour. That said, I will be making bochets again, as soon as I have another honey crop.

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