Chouchen (pronounced Shou-shen) is a regional specialty of Brittany, and it is fairly unique to the area. It is a marrying of cider and mead into a new beverage that has a rather unique flavour. So while in Brittany I made it a priority to meet a traditional chouchen maker.
On a drive between St. Malo and Dinan I dropped in to visit Jouny Arnaud. Jouny was absolutely amazing to talk with. He plied us with glasses of his homemade organic apple juice (for the kids), and chouchen and cider (for the adults). He also gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of his facilities.
What is chouchen?
Though his cider and calvados were both delicious, it was his chouchen that I was most interested in. Apparently chouchen starts out like cider, however, after the apple juice has fermented, honey is added to boost the fermentation. The resulting beverage is more alcoholic than cider and doesn’t require sulfites to cap the fermentation.
— Though, I’m not exactly clear on his explanation as to why it doesn’t require sulfites… my grade school French only goes so far. But his explanation had something to do with the temperature and speed of the ferment. I suspect that the alcohol levels might also be a factor. —
The chouchen that we sampled tasted like an earthy wine with a hint of apple. It was surprisingly dry for a beverage that is about 1/3 honey, and I believe that the earthiness comes from the use of buckwheat flower honey. It is generally served chilled under a patio umbrella, but it would also be nice drunk with a richly flavoured meal.
A tea cup of cider
While chouchen has fallen out of favour with the locals, cider is still the drink of choice. Every restaurant and bar seems to offer a number of different varieties which are all served in a tea cup! Apparently, that tradition is leftover from when cider was homemade and rather cloudy. Drinking it from a tea cup meant that you wouldn’t notice all of the floating bits leftover from the fermentation.
However, Jouny said that drinking homemade cider right from the barrel is really how it is drunk among those who brew their own. Though the beverage would be flat and warm, he assured us that it just the right temperature for proper enjoyment.