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Tuesday, February 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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On Tap: Old brewing method returns with Bellwether’s Braggotfest

Thomas Croskrey, left and Dave Musser opened Bellwether Brewing Co. in 2015. This weekend, the brewery is hosting its first Braggotfest, celebrating the Old World brew that is a honeyed beer/mead hybrid. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Thomas Croskrey, left and Dave Musser opened Bellwether Brewing Co. in 2015. This weekend, the brewery is hosting its first Braggotfest, celebrating the Old World brew that is a honeyed beer/mead hybrid. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Bellwether is about to do for braggot what it did for gruit.

The North Spokane brewery specializes in Old World offerings like braggot, a honeyed beer/mead hybrid, and gruit, a typically hopless ale brewed with herbs and spices.

In February, it packed its cozy space for Gruitfest, featuring a half-dozen of those on tap. And on Saturday, it hopes to attract an equally enthusiastic crowd for Braggotfest, with a dozen examples of that style from several area breweries.

Like gruits, braggots can cover a wide range of beer types from light to dark, mild to strong, malty to hoppy.

“It’s almost more of a method than a style,” said Bellwether brewer and co-owner Thomas Croskrey. “There are all these different beer styles that you can turn into braggots and gruits.”

Braggot traces its origins to the Middle Ages among Nordic and Celtic populations (it’s mentioned in Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales”). They likely started out by blending finished ale and mead, often accented with herbs and spices, then began brewing using a combination of grain and honey.

Not all beers made with honey are braggots, though there’s no clear definition of the term today. It’s simply not something federal alcohol authorities see often enough to establish firm guidelines.

“Honey-based beverages basically died in the 1600s and are just starting to come back in a major way,” said Jeremy Kyncl of Green Bluff’s Hierophant Meadery, co-sponsor of Saturday’s event.

Croskrey considers 30 percent honey content to be the minimum for braggots, though his are typically 50-50. Even so, they’re not necessarily sweet; the sugar ferments into alcohol, leaving behind the flavor components.

And with more than 300 honey varieties in the United States – plus regional variations within those, based on climate and other conditions – there’s an abundance of flavors.

Croskrey uses lighter clover honey in his new Summer Run session braggot (4.6 percent alcohol by volume), a collaboration with the Nu Home Brew supply store that gets its bright, crisp character from a combination of lemongrass, birch bark and basil.

Hearty buckwheat honey goes into his stronger, Scottish-inspired Seawolf (7.9), lending what Croskrey calls “almost a Tootsie Roll chocolate.” And given the natural variations in honey supplies, he said, “Every batch is a little different. This one’s a little more chocolatey, this one has a little more leather. I love that part of it.”

Like Gruitfest, Braggotfest centers around a collaboration – actually, a variation on the same collaboration: the dark, mild We Are Gruit, a joint effort by Bellwether, Young Buck, Whistle Punk and Republic Brewing that included nine herbs and spices.

After that was served straight for Gruitfest, Bellwether and Young Buck aged some of it in merlot barrels. Then it was blended with Hierophant’s Gilead vanilla poplar mead to create a complex, rich (7.5 percent ABV), lightly tart concoction called Casus Fortuitus.

That’s Latin for “happy accident,” explained Kyncl, who came up with the concept while blending his meads with a growler of We Are Gruit that Croskrey brought to a party. “It just fell into place,” he said.

The Braggotfest lineup also includes a blend of Young Buck’s gose (tart wheat beer) with Hierophant’s Matricaria chamomile mead, last year’s Darknut green walnut braggot collaboration by Bellwether and Hierophant, and three more special creations: a big (11.7 percent) brown braggot by Badass Backyard brewed with Fireball Jawbreaker candy; a saison version with lilac and clover honey from Four-Eyed Guys, and a red braggot with knapweed honey by Top Frog.

Also look for the regular Honey Basil Braggot from Northern Ales and seasonal Aegir’s Grog with ginger and juniper berries from Rants & Raves, along with Bellwether’s Seawolf, Summer Run, Honey Hop braggot IPA with blackberry honey and hopless, herbed Kulning with wildflower honey and smoked malt.

Admission is $15, which includes a commemorative 15-ounce tasting mug and your first six drink tickets. Five-ounce pours will cost one to three tickets, depending on the beer (10-ounce pours also available).

Nationally touring acoustic artist Brian Griffing will provide live music from 7 to 9 p.m.

Winner’s circle

Spokane breweries brought home seven medals from last weekend’s Washington Beer Awards, led by River City with gold for its Congratulator Doppelbock and Midnight Marmot imperial stout.

Also earning gold were Bellwether for its Fernweh Baltic porter and Orlison for its Boulder Garden Brown. Silver went to Big Barn’s Mead Honey Lager and Perry Street’s PSB Pils, while Waddell’s won bronze with its wine barrel-aged Blackberry Sour.

Other Eastern Washington winners included Northern Ales (Kettle Falls), gold for Smoked Northporter; Riverport (Clarkston), silver for 5/5 Pepper Beer; and Ten Pin (Moses Lake), silvers for Snake Eye Stout, Angle Amber, Bowler’s Biere de Garde, Barrel Aged BeWILDering B and Groove Pineapple Wheat.

Awards were presented Saturday during the Washington Brewers Festival in Redmond.

No-Li received the Entrepreneurial Spirit trophy in this year’s AGORA Awards by the Greater Spokane Incorporated business development organization, recognizing “innovation, creativity, perseverance and leadership.”

Freshly tapped

Iron Goat has introduced a cloudy New England-style Hazy Days of Summer imperial IPA (7.9 percent alcohol by volume, 71 International Bitterness Units).

The latest in a series of single-hop pale ales from Perry Street (5.4, 40) features floral, citrusy Centennial.

Black Label is pouring a Palouse ESB (6.4, 36) brewed with locally produced Palouse Pint malts and a Crumb Kolsch (5.7, 16) using toasted bread from neighboring Common Crumb Artisan Bakery.

The orange/grapefruit Citrus Setter pale (6.1, 31) is back for the summer at English Setter.

Home-based Bottle Bay Brewing has released its second offering, a smooth, nicely balanced pale ale (4.9, 45) hopped with Chinook, Cascade and Citra; look for it at the Rocket Market and The Lantern Tap House.

Save the date

The Steel Barrel continues its first anniversary celebration with patio parties Friday at 5 with beer pong and street corn from the adjoining Zona Blanca ceviche bar and Saturday at 2 with pineapple habanero margaritas and pork rib al pastor tostadas, plus special beers from in-house breweries Little Spokane, Young Buck and the newly licensed TT’s Old Iron.

Post Falls Brewing’s Summer Kick-Off Party on Friday from 4 to 10 will include $1 off OPC Hefeweizen and shandys, food from Tacos Los Panchos and Malvagio’s wood-fired pizza, and music by Current Flow.

Bottles in Millwood hosts a Georgetown tasting Friday at 5 featuring L.A. Woman Crystal Kolsch, Roger’s Pilsner, Johnny Utah Pale, Lucille and Bodhizafa IPAs and 9lb Porter plus live music and food from Toby’s BBQ.

A community pint night Tuesday from 4 to 10 at Perry Street Brewing benefits Friends of the Centennial Trail, which will receive $1 from each pint sold.

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