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Chouchen (Breton chouchenn) is an alcoholic beverage popular in Brittany, France. A form of mead, it is made from the fermentation of honey in water. Chouchen normally contains 14% alcohol by volume. Traditionally, buckwheat honey is used, and this imparts chouchen's strong colour and pronounced flavour.
In Brittany, the fermentation process is begun by the addition of freshly pressed apple juice. Yeasts can also be used, as in the beer-making process. To reach the required alcoholic strength, for a litre of chouchen, approximately a third of a litre of honey is needed.
Chouchen is drunk chilled (though without ice), and generally as an aperitif. It can also be added to melon, in a similar way to port wine, or as a hot wine in the winter. There are different kinds of chouchen in Brittany, some of which are prepared with a mixture of seawater as well as fresh water and honey.
Originally chouchen was made of cider and honey. The historical reputation of chouchen as a powerful intoxicant arises partly from claims that its effects were boosted by the venom of bees that became mixed up in the brew. While this claim cannot be verified, bees and their venom are not ingredients of the modern product. But, since in ancient times, it was the entire honey comb that was dipped in the cider, it is very possible that a few bees or discarded stingers remained stuck in the mixture and, aided by the fermentation, would see the potency of their venom magnified.
There is another drink similar to chouchen, called chufere, which is made of honey and cider. It is generally of a lower strength in alcohol than chouchen, typically eight to nine percent alcohol by volume, and has become less popular and less common than chouchen.
- Philippe Marchenay and Laurence Bérard. L'homme, l'abeille et le miel, Editions de Borée, 2007, ISBN 2-84494-533-3, p.202
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