Some ancient beverages are too good to be lost to the past. Viking Braggot Co. in Eugene, Ore., is the only brewery in the country to exclusively brew braggots—a drink pioneered by the Vikings that combines hops and honey.
“We do the hybrid between mead and beer,” Viking co-founder Dan McTavish says. “Mead is 100-percent honey that’s closer to a wine, and beer is all barley that you ferment. We do the grain and the honey that we ferment together. Like a honey ale.”
Although mead is arguably one of the oldest-known fermented beverages, braggots aren’t far behind, according to the American Home Brewer’s Association. Honey has been traditionally used throughout history as a strengthening agent in fermented beverages, which were most popular in Europe throughout the post-Renaissance period up until the 1800s.
Viking Braggot was established in 2013 by McTavish, 30, and Perry Ames, 32. When McTavish was in his senior year at the University of Oregon, he had the idea that he wanted to form a brewery. A friend of his at the time was working in a meadery. “I thought that was different,” McTavish says, “brewing with honey.”
McTavish started with his own homebrewing at the time, playing with the concept of braggot style, but he knew that in order to go from the five-gallon scale to the 200-gallon scale the company is now operating at, he would need someone with more experience.
That’s where Ames came in. He had brewery experience, having worked at a small brewery in Florence, off the Oregon Coast, for a few years. At the time he was part of a homebrew club—Brew of O, a play on the University of Oregon—which was how he met McTavish.
“It was perfect timing that he had the experience with a small-scale brewery and was looking to get back into it,” McTavish said.
With two Eugene locations and 18 employees, Viking Braggot brews four flagship beers and two to four rotating seasonal beers each quarter. Although they are eventually looking to grow their own hops and keep their own bees, at the moment they partner with small, local farms.
Their primary hop supplier is based in Philomath, and honey for their year-round brews comes from Hummingbird Wholesale.
“[Honey] can go anywhere from super light in color and thin and viscous, to really sweet, to a buckwheat that is pretty much black and really thick, which tastes smokey on a level,” McTavish says. “It’s really wild.”
Their flagship drinks appeal to traditional craft beer tastes, with their dry hopped IPA and red, as well as a stout and blonde. Freyja, their blonde ale, combines barley, wheat, and subtle hops with a South African herbal tea called honeybush that is blended with wildflower honey.
Battle Axe, their dry hopped IPA, combines a light wildflower honey with four varieties of hops followed by a dry hop to create a balanced, floral and fragrant IPA.
For their seasonal braggots, they source from Honey Tree Apiary in Alpine, which produces pumpkin blossom honey and turnip blossom honey, among other kinds.
“It’s cool because honey is so seasonal that when the bees pollinate whatever is flowering at the time we really look at what we can get for honey,” McTavish says, “and then we build a recipe around the seasonal honey.”
Ames is the mastermind behind those recipes, creating flavor profiles like Winter Squash Porter, which combines roasted winter squash and turnip honey conditioned on vanilla beans and cocoa nibs. In Spring, he brews Shield Maiden, a French-style saison with raspberry honey and raspberry puree, in honor of female Viking warriors.
The biggest challenge Viking Braggot has faced is with educating the public about their modern take on the old-timey drink. Particularly with the name, McTavish often has to correct that it’s “braggot” and not “braggart.”
“Braggot style is a historical style that no one is really familiar with, so [it’s] trying to explain what braggot is,” he says. “Then people’s preconceived notions that with honey it’s going to be sweet. Definitely the educational aspect right out of the gate has always been a challenge for sure, but we love educating people about it.”
In tune with the Viking theme, Viking Braggot also serves food to complement the Norse tradition and mythologies. For their Sunday brunch, customers can order ӕbleskiver, a Danish treat similar to pancakes.
“We came across a revival of Scandinavian comfort food, so we’re doing bar food with a Scandinavian flair, which has been fun to experiment with,” McTavish says.
Viking Braggot’s next big step is looking into canning, which they were planning to do in early spring; however, due to COVID-19, they are pushing canning to the end of summer. Like other breweries, the virus has been a challenge for them, but the company is forging onward, offering delivery and curb-side take out for both braggot and food.
The company has also embraced antiquity in regards to ancient grains, brewing small batches using spelt, amaranth and rye. The rewarding aspect for McTavish is seeing how those experiments pay off.
“It’s cool being in the braggot category because as long as we use a lot of honey, which we do, we have free rein to do whatever we want,” McTavish says. “We like getting weird and trying new, non-traditional things for sure.”