Mead – made the medieval way

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Medieval mead

We should not talk about mead without knowing its real roots.
So in this article, I will talk about how I went to museum documents (online), found a mead recipe from medieval times, and recreated it at home….

For Mead it was said

//ffor to make mede. Tak .I. galoun of fyne hony and to þat .4. galouns of water and hete þat water til it be as lengh þanne dissolue þe hony in þe water. thanne set hem ouer þe fier & let hem boyle and ever scomme it as longe as any filthe rysith þer on. and þanne tak it doun of þe fier and let it kole in oþer vesselle til it be as kold as melk whan it komith from þe koow. than tak drestis of þe fynest ale or elles berme and kast in to þe water & þe hony. and stere al wel to gedre but ferst loke er þu put þy berme in. that þe water with þe hony be put in a fayr stonde & þanne put in þy berme or elles þi drestis for þat is best & stere wel to gedre/ and ley straw or elles clothis a bowte þe vessel & a boue gif þe wedir be kolde and so let it stande .3. dayes & .3. nygthis gif þe wedir be kold And gif it be hoot wedir .i. day and .1. nyght is a nogh at þe fulle But ever after .i. hour or .2. at þe moste a say þer of and gif þu wilt have it swete tak it þe sonere from þe drestis & gif þu wilt have it scharpe let it stand þe lenger þer with. Thanne draw it from þe drestis as cler as þu may in to an oþer vessel clene & let it stonde .1. nyght or .2. & þanne draw it in to an oþer clene vessel & serve it forth
// And gif þu wilt make mede eglyn. tak sauge .ysope. rosmaryne. Egre- moyne./ saxefrage. betayne./ centorye. lunarie/ hert- is tonge./ Tyme./ marubium album. herbe jon./ of eche of an handful gif þu make .12. galouns and gif þu mak lesse tak þe less of herbis. and to .4. galouns of þi mater .i. galoun of drestis.
(source: Reynolds Historical Library)

The mead manuscript – for us who dont read medieval…

Yeah – even I had a hard time with this one ..
So – let’s make a quick translation – not directly translated, but more readably translated:

“To make mead.
Take 1 gallon of the finest honey, add to that 4 gallons of water, and heat till it be at length (?).
Dissolve then the honey, and set this over fire to let boil. Scum for as long as filth rise (to surface). Take it off the fire and let cool in a different vessel, until it is as cold as milk straight from the cow.

monk sneaking meadThen take lees (dead yeast) from the finest ale, or else yeast froth, and cast this into the brew – stir it all together.
But first- look before putting your yeast in that, the water and honey, and (use) a clean tub. Then put in your yeast or lees, and mix this well together.
Lay straw or else cloth around the vessel, and above, if weather is cold. Let this stand for 3 days and 3 nights if the weather is cold. And if it is hot weather – 1 day and 1 night is enough at the full. But ever after 1 hour or 2 at most assay thereof and if you wish it sweet, take it sooner from the lees. If you wish it sharp, let it stand the longer therein. Then draw it from the lees as clear as you may, into another clean vessel. and serve it forthwith.”

The last 2 lines speaks in the original manuscript of spicing and flavouring the mead, and as I don’t think it’s critical to the procedure itself, I won’t be focusing on it in this article.

The ratio 1:4 Honey to water can turn out a sweet mead, given the short fermentation period. This is somewhat similar to three lbs of honey per gallon.
The water is heated to a boil, then honey added.
My take from the original recipe is to remove the water from the heat source, then dissolve the honey in it.

This is a sound advice, as it would avoid caramelization of the honey. The part of ” at length” i assume discusses the time to cook the water. Bringing it to a boil should be enough.

The mead manuscript mentions lees from the finest of ale, and otherwise fresh frothing yeasts from the top of a batch (of ale.) This i believe is to give more nutrients to the brew, as honey and water in itself brings little healthy nutrients to this experiment.
Then the recipe asks for the brew to sit until the temperature is that of fresh milk straight from the udders. This, being around 37 degrees Celsius, would give the yeast time to activate faster, while the mix itself cools to room temperature.
Adding lees from a prior batch to start a new is a practice still used today. Notice also the focus on insulating the fermentation vessel, if the weather isn’t hot.

We need to note the way the medieval manuscript uses several vessels in this starting part of the brew. Transferring from the first to the second, would help bring the temperature down, but also aerate, and add oxygen to the mix, a process we also use today (aeration). Transferring again, then does the same, before the yeast is pitched, and the brew is left to ferment over time. All adds to a healthy environment for the yeast (As far as they understood back then)

Medieval mead – my process.

I needed to get this into metrics, so i recalculated for a 15-litre mead-batch.

I used 3 litres of honey to 12 litres of water.
The first step was to bring water to a boil (a sound advice in any case)
Then I added the honey and dissolved it, before bringing the must back to a boil.
While I don’t like to heat honey to these temperatures, I had to follow the recipe. I skimmed foam until there were none left, then took the must of the stove.
I transferred the whole thing to another cookpot (clean of course) to let it cool down.

oak barrel for meadI had already a good batch off IPA beer going into secondary before this recipe, so i had saved lees from this batch.
Into the mix it all went, and i then let the mix cool down.
I accidentally waited a little too long, so the temperature was a 35 Degrees Celcius when I pitched the yeast. I didn’t have any fresh batch going on, neither of beer nor mead, so I cheated, and used fresh White labs WLP002 beer yeast. I figured I’d stay as close to real recipe as I could, this seemed like a good choice.

The brew was set to work its magic early that first day, December 21 last year.  I had a somewhat colder room, only some 15 degrees Celsius to brew this, so I packed the fermentation oak barrel (which I got as an early xmas gift from my wife) with blankets. My hope was that since fermentation does give off some heat, the insulation would help the brew perform well. In December 23, in the evening, I racked it into some 2.5 litre growlers I bought for this specific purpose.
Finally – it was brought with me to friends, where we went – literally – medieval on its … bottles ..

 

Høvdingen
Høvdingen
Høvdingen - Norwegian for Chieftain, is the nickname of the main author on Viking-mjod.no This is a guy who despite having a full job at a normal company, dedicate all his free time to the pursuit of Viking knowledge, especially the use of natural ingredients in food and drinks. This is not to say that this guy is an expert on the subject - just very very interested ... Mead is one of the main interests, but the poor guy, this Chieftain - he has for some odd reason more an interest in the flavors, and less in the effect the alcohol has. Therefore- most of the mead he makes throughout the year - and that could be quite a lot - ends up with his VERY happy friends... ( and no .. there's no waiting list to be new mead-tasters ....)