Boiling up Bochet, medieval style

The obscure history of Bochet, a sweet French honey drink.

Interested in my video tutorial? Check out the Mother Earth News Fair Online  where it is featured alongside tutorials by Jereme Zimmerman of “Make Mead like a Viking” and Hannah Crum of “The Big Book of Kombucha” fame.

Not all that long ago, the homebrewing community discovered Bochet, a medieval French beverage, and the resulting burnt-honey mead style has gathered quite a few enthusiast followers. This enthusiasm is in large part due to the unique and challenging way of process, as the modern interpretation of bochet is a mead made from caramelized honey, spices optional. Hearing the stories of smoking honey and tasting the delicious caramelly results I wanted to know more about this unusual mead. Surprisingly, I found that the modern mead variety is based off of just one historic recipe from 14th century Paris, France. When Le Ménagier de Paris (1393), a medieval household manual detailing a woman’s proper behavior in marriage and running a household, was newly translated and republished as The Good Wife’s Guide: a Medieval Household Book by the Cornell University Press in 2009, its collection of recipes – including one for bochet – became easily available to the general public. As the word bochet is not connected to a modern definition, the original French name of the recipe using caramelized honey was retained, and the word bochet became to signify the product of this one recipe: a mead made with caramelized honey.

Let’s take a closer look at historic bochet
There are not many historic sources that mention the product bochet, but while Le Ménagier might be the most elaborate source, it is not the only source. Interestingly, these other sources more or less collectively point at a different definition for what makes a beverage a bochet. The word itself is not currently in use in modern French, with the governmental Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales defining bochet as a drink made with water, sugar, honey and various spices (especially cinnamon). Cursory searches on-line find that Bochet as well as Boschet are in active use as surnames. Eighteenth century French sources use both words as a diminutive of Bois (forest): boschet (small bush; thicket) and bochet (Le bois / la garenne / le bochet; second decoction of sudorific woods). The connection between bochet and sudorificus, from Latin sudor ‘sweat,’ is intriguing, as the ‘sweat’ of forests could be interpreted as honeydew, a sticky sweet sap exuded by certain trees during specific weather conditions and likened to honey in medieval times. Along this same line of thinking falls the bouchet pear, plausibly likened to bochet due to its sweet juice.

The earliest variants of bochet as a beverage are: bochetus (1292); bocheto (1301); boschier (1330); bochet vero [true bochet], boischet, boschet & bouchet (1348); bochet (1385) and boschet (1404).

The earliest literary mention of bochet does not give much information about the beverage itself.

1301 CE: Item pro uno Bocheto, sito in loco ubi dicitur en Bruier. Boschet, ibid. (Carpentier 1766, 569) Also in place of a Bocheto, in this location called Bruier. As well as Boschet.

Another source, contemporary to Le Ménagier by nearly a decade, confirms bochet is a beverage, and indicates the beverage is (served) hot.

1385 CE: Ledit Alain comme tout esbahi, bout a arrière de li ledit Gieffroy, & en c’est boutement a çopa ledit Gieffroy, s’il qu’il che en une cuvée de Bochet, qui mise y estoit pour reffroidier. (Carpentier 1766, 569) Said Alain all appalled / amazed, at the back of said Gieffroy, & in this raising of his cup by said Gieffroy, in that he cheers with a vessel of Bochet, which is put there to cool down.

The most interesting source in regards to this article is the inspirational recipe from Le Ménagier de Paris, “the Parisian Household Book” from 1393. Le Ménagier includes two detailed recipes for bochet, as well as detailed instructions on how to caramelize honey for this bochet.

Bochet. To make 6 septiers of bochet, take 6 quarts of fine, mild honey and put it in a cauldron on the fire to boil.  Keep stirring until it stops swelling and it has bubbles like small blisters that burst, giving off a little blackish steam. Then add 7 septiers of water and boil until it all reduces to six septiers, stirring constantly. Put it in a tub to cool to lukewarm, and strain through a cloth. Decant into a keg and add one pint of brewer’s yeast, for that is what makes it piquant – although if you use bread leaven, the flavor is just as good, but the color will be paler. Cover well and warmly so that it ferments. And for an even better version, add an ounce of ginger, long pepper, grains of paradise, and cloves in equal amounts, except for the cloves of which there should be less; put them in a linen bag and toss into the keg. Two or three days later, when the bochet smells spicy and is tangy enough, remove the spice sachet, wring it out, and put it in another barrel you have underway. Thus you can reuse these spices up to 3 or 4 times. (Greco 2009, p. 325)

Surprisingly, the recipes from Le Ménagier du Paris are not the only historic recipes available detailing the making of bochet. Jean Longis included one in his 1556 book “The great owner of all things, very useful and profitable for keeping the human body healthy [as instructed by 13th century] Bartholomaeus Anglicus.” This recipe could, or could not, confirm bochet used caramelized honey – the description is not detailed enough, and the translation ambiguous. The word in question is cuyte (cuit) which derives from cuisine (cooking) and most likely translates as the verb cooking. But it could also translate to burnt (brûlé, incendié, cuit, carbonisé) which could indicate the caramelization process explained in the Le Ménagier recipe. This recipe does not indicate any fermentation, and also includes the use of herbs “to keep it longer & to give it a scent.”

Bochet is in Latin called Medo & is water and honey to drink, when the Bochet is undercooked & the honey is not well cooked [burnt?], it bites the belly hard & generates the diarrhea & makes great suffering: but when it is well cooked & scented it is delectable to the taste. And smoothens the voice & clears the throat & the pipes of the lungs & comforts the heart & gives it jubilation. And nourish the body: but it is not good for those who have badly burning spleen and who have the [kidney] stone and the gravel, because it restrains their conduits and to the humors. We put aromatic herbs in the Bochet to keep it longer & to give it a scent, & in Bretagne we put in absinthe which is a very bitter herb for that to trust. (Longis 1556, p. ccvij)

Another recipe detailing the herbs and spices needed as well as some cursory instruction on how to make bochet comes from Le Thresor de santé (1607) by Jean Huguetan. This recipe is interesting, as the process described again connects bochet with heating, but then connects this heating process with the making of hippocras, a type of mulled wine which is spiced and can be sweetened with honey or sugar.

We take, freshly boiled water, … a pot.
Crushed cinnamon,… half ounce.
Sugar,… half pound.
The whole thing happens by heat, in the fashion of hippocras. You can change the amounts, taking:
Fine sugar in powder,… four ounces.
Cinnamon, as much as above. – – – –
Boiling water,… four pounds.
The whole mixed together cools down into a well-covered bowl of pewter or earthenware. In fact, we pour it through a white sheet to use it. It is good for gouty people. (Huguetan 1607, 110)

The sources in context
The historic sources show a slightly different characteristics for the beverage bochet then found in popular writing. In that regards the instructions from Le Ménagier are in stark contrast to the other sources. Not only is Le Ménagier the only source instructing to caramelize the honey, it is also the only direct source instructing fermentation. Some sort of alcoholic content is indirectly inferred from its association with other alcoholic beverages, like beer, cider and perry, but it is not explicitly stated elsewhere. There are several sources equating bochet with barley water, infusions and broth – none particularly known for their alcoholic contents. Perhaps the connection of bochet with hippocras can shed light on this question: “The whole thing happens by heat, in the fashion of hippocras” (1607). Perhaps the word bochet is not an indication of a general product (like wine, or mead) but instead of a specific process? To answer this question, we need to take a closer look at the defining features of bochet to pin down its characteristics (see table 1).

1385 1393 1393 1556 1607 1611 1684 1695 1725
HEAT, boiling &c. X X X X X X X ?
Honey X X X ?
caramelized honey X ?
Sugar X X
Fermentation X X
Infusion X X ? X X X
Hypocras X X
Kitchen spices X X X X X X
Medicinal herbs X X
Ginger X
Long pepper X
Grains of paradise X X
Cloves X X
Absinthe X
Cinnamon X X X
Coriander X X
Aniseeds X

Table 1: the characteristics of historic bochet.

The results
Honey & Sugar: Modern bochet is defined as a mead, a honey wine, flavored by caramelizing (part of) the honey. Historic bochet seems to be more diverse, and indicate bochet could be made from either honey or sugar.

Fermentation: There are indications middle Age bochet was fermented but that later bochet is not. It is unclear from the later recipes if fermentation or the addition of yeast is not mentioned because fermentation was not part of the process, or because fermentation was an obvious fact which did not need repeating. Usually this omission of process is more likely in earlier recipes than in those more recent, putting this interpretation into question. It is also a possibility the product bochet changed over time, from an alcoholic infusion akin to hippocras, to a non-alcoholic infusion, akin to modern sodas, teas and tisanes.

Process: The use of heat – boiling the (sweetened) water – is consistently mentioned, as is the technique of infusing the added spices into this hot liquid. It is likely the resulting infusion, a type of tisane or infusion by heat, was consumed at room temperature as the recipes indicate the sweet tisane is cooled down slowly (“well-covered”) and filtered before consumption.

Spices: The addition of spices is mentioned consistently as well, indicating to be another characteristic of bochet. The changing of types of spices used over the decennia could be indicative of the change in flavor preference from medieval times to early modern times; transitioning from obscure medieval cooking spices to the more typical modern baking spices.

The modern definition of bochet as a mead flavored with caramelized honey still stands, but seems to place too much weight on a singular source. The defining factors of historic bochet seem more fluid. In a way, historic bochet was similar to hippocras: they both are sweetened with honey/sugar, spiced and steeped (mulled). But the base of hippocras is wine, not water, and while it might be heated for consumption, it is less likely to be boiled as part of the mulling process, as that would drive off the alcoholic content. Bochet can also be seen as similar to mead or hydromel (the French word for mead); both use honey as a source of (fermentable) sugar. Perhaps fermented bochet could even be the French word for metheglin, a spiced or medicated variety of mead associated with Wales. The difference between bochet and metheglin could be how the spices are added: with bochet the spices are boiled as part of the whole, and with most metheglin recipes the spices are added in a little spice pouch and dry-hopped during primary fermentation. And as mentioned previously, it is not at all unlikely the beverage itself evolved throughout the ages from an alcoholic spiced honey drink, to a non-alcoholic sweetened and spiced tisane.

This change of function is not at all unusual in the world of historic brewing and illustrates the importance of historical awareness, the authenticity of traditional beverages, to the homebrewer and craft brewer alike. With the ever-growing interest, and commercial market, in traditional brews it is easy to fall into the trap of plausible assumption, and letting this assumption shape our modern perception of historic products. For instance, neither modern braggot, a mead variety using less than 50% malt in its production, and modern gruit ale, an uphopped ale using any variety of herbs, existed in this form in history. Historic braggot is actually a honeyed ale and gruit beer used very specific herbs, and possibly hops.

This misconception can have real life consequences when registering for brewing competitions, as well as licensing for commercial production. Perhaps the modern brewer can make a little room for both modern specifics, and historic fluency, and enjoy the bounty our combined history has to offer. What we can say about bochet specifically with more certainty now is that what characterizes an historic bochet is not so much that it is made of (caramelized) honey or sugar, nor if it is fermented, or not – what characterizes a bochet is how it is made. The defining features of an historic bochet are that it is made by boiling sweetened water with spices and letting the concoction slowly cool down, infusing into a wonderful tasty beverage, and anything else just makes the resulting brew that much more special!

For the complete article including more samples and specific citations, please check:

Abbreviated bibliography


How Viking is mead, exactly?

Anyone thinking of Vikings also thinks of mead, the two seem inextricably linked. It should seem surprising to then find that there was basically no local honey production in Norway and most of Sweden before the middle of the 18th century, and even after, access to honey was extremely limited. Maybe the reason mead is mentioned so often in the Saga’s is because it was such a rarity – was it truly only a drink for kings and the Gods? The earliest recorded account of the production of mead in connection with the Northern lands is in the Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus (History of the Northern People – 1555) by Olaus Magnus – Archbishop-in-exile of Uppsala, as at that time Sweden was not Catholic anymore. During his exile Olaus Magnus wrote extensively about his home lands, including a chapter with instructions on making mead. He then added two chapters on making Polish, Lithuanian and Goth mead. As this broadly overlaps with the trading areas of the Viking era one wonders if most of the mead consumed by the Vikings was imported from down south, way down south. Another early cookbook with mead recipes of the Scandinavian region is the Danish Kogebog (1616), which literally means cookbook. It includes two chapters on mead, with much practical information including which herbs work well to spice the mead, and the numerous health benefits of mead. It is clear mead was made by the Danish, but then, even though Denmark is part of Scandinavia it is geographically connected to Germany, not the Scandinavian peninsula, and much more southern and more hospitable to beekeeping.

Magnus-BookXIII OCR-9

From Chapter 23 of Olaus Magnus: “On the voluntary drowning of King Hunding in mead or hydromel.”

And that is the crux of the matter: looking closer at the geographical setting of the Northern lands as compared to the geographical distribution of bees shows something interesting. Scandinavia lies just on the cusp on the natural range of honey bees. The south of Sweden and Denmark are within the native distribution of honey bees, but their natural range ends just south of Norway. This excludes central and northern Sweden and near all of Norway from local honey production, although theoretically, honey bees might survive in the south-eastern corner, right around Oslo and down along a little way on the western side of the Oslo fjord. The reason for this is not the cold, as one might assume, but the short duration of the flowering season. Honey bees collect pollen and nectar from flowering plants, which is their food. They concentrate nectar into honey as an emergency food supply for the hive, among other uses. As the flowering season that far up north is too short, the bees run out of honey and starve to death before the next season begins.

Chased by Suttungr, Odin spits the mead of poetry into several vessels. Some of it accidentally goes out the other end. Illustration by Jakob Sigurðsson, an 18th-century Icelandic artist. (Public Domain)

If that is the case, then why is mead so often mentioned in the Norse mythologies? Maybe it truly was a matter of wishful thinking. There is less mention of mead in the sagas, which claim to be stories about actual people. One of these mentions from Egil’s saga recounts of someone sailing to Denmark to buy honey, as well as other things, which makes sense if there was no local beekeeping. There are other mentions, but on average it seems real people mostly drank milk products and beer. Surviving records show wine was considered the best by the Norse, with records of wine traded from the Mediterranean up to Scandinavia back to the year zero, then mead, likely imported either as honey or fermented, and then locally-produced beer (coincidentally, or maybe not, this is the same order in which Olaus Magnus has listed his wine, mead and beer descriptions and recipes). True to human nature, it was not the easily available product which was considered finest – after all, it is always that which is hard to get which is valued above all others.

But: there does seem to be one caveat in dealing with Viking age beekeeping from a modern point of view. Much of the Viking era coincided with the Medieval Warm Period, which happened from about 950 to 1250 CE. It is conceivable beekeeping was possible then, even if only in an opportunistic wild beehive robbing sort of way. Eva Crane’s World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting recounts of a find of “tens of thousands” of dead bees from 1175-1225 CE in the Old Town of Oslo, which could mean purposeful beekeeping. Or it could be a singular large hive which died spectacularly all over the town, as one hive can contain from 10,000 to 60,000 individuals. But it is feasible people did keep bees in at least part of Norway during that time, and later lost the knowledge when the climate changed again, and the northern lands became too hostile for bees. More likely is that local beekeeping never was very widespread, but as the famous traders and raiders the Vikings were known for, they bought and plundered honey from abroad.

The popularity of mead waned in the rest of medieval Europe as the production of honey slowed and prices rose and the consumption of beer spread. When The Medieval Warm Period was followed by The Little Ice Age, lasting from about 1350 to about 1850, this also contributed to the decline of medieval honey production, especially in short season climates like northern Europe and southern Scandinavia. And with the increase of population and thus agriculture, old growth forests which provided nectar were cut down and wild flower meadows were planted with grains, which yield no nectar at all. By the 14th century a gallon of French wine was cheaper than the honey needed to make a gallon of mead, and by the 17th century imports of cheap sugar from the West Indies mostly replaced the use of honey in cooking and brewing. Mead survived well into the 18th century in central Europe, where raw materials were easy to get from the large forests they still had, and in the rest of Europe in different versions as a drink for the sick. It could well be that mead did not only decline because of cost, or the improving quality of other drinks, it could also be because mead was said to be so good for the drinker’s health, it became associated with the sick and the weak.

Example of sheltered beekeeping from the European Alps (left –, in which individual hive boxes are communally housed within a larger structure to help the hives make it through the winter cold. Another concept for Viking Age appropriate hives, similar to log hives as found in illuminated Medieval manuscripts (right –

Whether or not the Vikings were active beekeepers, from the numerous mentions of mead-drinking in the Saga’s we know they sure enjoyed the results, or at least wished they could. Surprisingly, it took until the middle of the 18th century for someone to figure out how to keep bees successfully in the Oslo area. He did this by closing down his hive with a perforated screen in early spring to prevent the bees from flying and feeding the bees watered down honey. That far up north, the bees run out of honey and wake up too early in spring to go in search of flowers while there still is snow on the ground. They go in search of food because they are starving, and instead freeze to death. Keeping them cooped up and fed they can be kept alive until the rest of nature wakes up and there is food for them to find – the similar as our modern practice of feeding sugar water. From that point on, beekeeping spread, and resulted in a strong tradition of beekeeping, especially in the south-eastern corner of Norway and southern Sweden, that grew into a local mead-making tradition.

Much of this information comes from an ethnographic survey on farmhouse brewing issued by the Norwegian Ethnographical Research Institute (NEG) in 1952 and 1957. This questionnaire ran 103 questions, and questions 99 to 103 dealt with mead, and the results were surprisingly consistent: most of Norway at that time had no mead-making and barely any mead drinking tradition at all – except for a small cluster south of Oslo, and down into southern Sweden. Of the small handful of Norwegian responses, one replied people collected wild honey, and four replied independently that people who kept bees sold the honey, but then made mead from the honey that remained stuck to the wax combs. The beekeepers would dissolve the honey in hot water, boil it, add some spices, and then ferment it. A process very similar to the washed comb mead making techniques found in medieval cook books.


Modern beekeeping in Sweden, from Biodlingsföretagarna, the Swedish Professional Beekeepers website (


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  • Garshol, Lars Marius. Norwegian Ethnological Research. Posted in Beer on 2014-09-15 15:38
  • Garshol, Lars Marius. Mead: a Norwegian tradition? Posted in Beer on 2018-04-15 12:16
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  • Husberg, Erik. Honung, vax och mjöd : biodlingen i Sverige under medeltid och 1500-tal.
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