Chouchen (pronounced Shou-shen) is a regional specialty of Brittany, and is fairly unique to the area. It is a marrying of cider and mead into a new beverage that has a rather unique flavour. Naturally I had to meet a traditional chouchen maker, which was how I ended up at the door of Jouny Arnaud.Jouny was absolutely amazing to talk with. He plied us with glass of his homemade organic apple juice (for the kids), chouchen and cider (for the adults), while touring his facilities.
Though his cider and calvados were both delicious it was his chouchen that I was most interested in. Apparently chouchen starts out like cider, with apple juice starting the fermentation process, then honey is added to finish the fermentation. The resulting beverage is more alcoholic than cider and doesn’t require sulfites to cap the fermentation. (I wasn’t exactly clear on his explanation as to why it didn’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.
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 surprisingly 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 home brew. Though the beverage would be flat and warm, he assured us that it just the right temperature for proper enjoyment.