GAG-Mead Mead: collected comments...

 Mead the FAQs.  Lots of FAQs. Good for getting started...

 1.mead -- honey and water with a minimum of herbs, spices, etc.;
 2.metheglin -- honey, water, herbs, and/or spices;
 3.melomel -- honey, water, and fruits or juices;
 4.pymeth -- honey, water, and grapes (like a cross between mead and wine);
 5.braggot -- honey, water, ale, and spices (traditional Welsh drink).

Keep in mind, these are examples. A review of period sources indicates that
they were often used interchangeably -- especially, mead and metheglin.

Ein Buch von guter spise  1345-1354(an excerpt-the mead quote)
This is an electronic version of Ein Buch von guter Spise. It has the German
transcription from a copy printed in 1844. The English is entirely my (Alia's) own translation... This work is copyright (c) by Alia Atlas, 1993

    "14. Wilt du guten met machen (How you want to make good mead)
   Der guten mete machen wil, der werme reinen brunnen, daz er die hant dor
   inne liden künne. und neme zwei maz wazzers und eine honiges. daz rüere
   man mit eime stecken, und laz ez ein wile hangen. und sihe ez denne durch
   ein rein tuch oder durch ein harsip in ein rein vaz. und siede denne die
   selben wirtz gein eime acker lane hin und wider und schume die wirtz mit
   einer vensterehten schüzzeln. da der schume inne blibe und niht die wirtz.
   dor noch giuz den mete in ein rein vaz und bedecke in, daz der bradem niht
   uz müge, als lange daz man die hant dor inne geliden müge. So nim denne
   ein halp mezzigen hafen und tu in halp vol hopphen und ein hant vol salbey
   und siede daz mit der wirtz gein einer halben mile. und giuz ez denne in
   die wirtz, und nim frischer hoven ein halp nözzeln und giuz ez dor in. und
   giuz ez under ein ander daz ez geschende werde. so decke zu, daz der
   bradem iht uz müge einen tae und eine naht. So seige denne den mete
   durch ein reyn tuch oder durch ein harsip. und vazze in in ein reyn vaz und
   lazze in iern drie tac und drie naht und fülle in alle abende, dar nach lazze
   man in aber abe und hüete daz iht hefen dor in kumme und laz in aht tage
   ligen daz er valle. und fülle in alle abende. dar nach loz in abe in ein
   gehertztez vas und laz in ligen aht tage vol und trinke in denne erst sechs
   wucher oder ehte. so ist er allerbeste.
   He, who wants to make good mead, warms clean water, so that he can just stand to put the hand in. And take two maz water and one honey. One stirs that with a stick and lets it set a while and then strains it through a clean cloth or through a hairsieve into a clean barrel. And boil then the same wort against an acre long there and back (as long as it takes to walk this distance and back) and remove the foam from the wort with a bowl with holes. The foam stays in the bowl and the wort does not. Next pour the mead in a clean barrel and cover it, so that vapor can not get out, until one can bear the hand there in. So take then a half maz pot and add until half full hops and a hand of sage and boil that with the wort against a half mile (as long as it takes to walk this distance) and give it then in the wort and take a half nut of fresh yeast (the amount that could be held in a nutshell) and give it there in and mix it together so that it will ferment. So cover also, so that the vapor can get out, a day and a night. So strain then the mead through a clean cloth or through a hairsieve and pour (it) in a clean barrel and let it ferment three days and three nights and fill (it) in all evenings. There after one lets it go down and looks that yeast comes therein. And let it lay for eight days, so that it falls and fill in all evenings. There after let it down in a resined barrel and let it lay eight days full and drink in the first six weeks or eight. So is it the best. "

[HYDROMELI] - circa 77 A.D.

"A wine is also made of only water and honey.  For this it is recommended
that rain-water should be stored for five years.  Some who are more expert
use rain-water as soon as it has fallen, boiling it down to a third of the
quantity and adding one part of old honey to three parts of water, and then
keeping the mixture in the sun for 40 days after the rising of the
Dog-star.  Others pour it off after nine days and then cork it up.  This
beverage is called in Greek 'water-honey' ['hydromeli']; with age it
attains the flavour of wine."
(From Natural History, by Pliny the Elder, Book XIV, section XX, p. 261.)

If the question is "What was the strength of the mead produced in the
medieval period then perhaps the answer is best found in the mead
recipes of the period.  If we look at the recipes in "The Closet of Sir
Kenelm Digby Opened" we find that most of the recipes are, indeed, for a
modern wine strength product.  Just looking that the first 5 or 6
recipes I find that the average ratio of honey to water after boiling
down the must is 1:2 or 1:3.  There was one that came to about 1:4, but
that was specifically labelled as a weaker mead.

One of the earlier recipes in the book "Mr. Corsellises Antwerp Meath"
adds 2 lbs of honey to 4 Holland Pints (which the recipe says is "very
little bigger than the English Wine-pint").  This comes to a ratio of
1:3.  The recipe continues to say that the mead should be so strong that
"an Egge may swim in it with the end upwards."  Since many of the
recipes just say to mix honey and water until it will "float an egg" it
would seem that these recipes call for approximately a ratio of 1:3.

Digby's writing is late period.  The recipes, however, are handed down
from generation to generation (just as Digby collected them for future
generations).  It is unlikely that these recipes were very much
different than those of previous generations.  The quantity of honey is
likely to have been about the same as in earlier periods, as the
breakthrough to modern hive maintenance and honey production did not
occur until the 19th century (approx 1840?), when Langstroth's
movable-frame hive made it possible to harvest honey without destroying
all of the associated comb.

I generally make a mead of about 12% to 13% and I use a ratio of about
1:3 if I am making a traditional mead of just honey and water.  I use
less honey when making a melomel.  It would seem, therefore that Digby's
recipes are mostly for a wine strength mead and earlier period recipes
probably were, as well.


Marc Shapiro                       

THL Alexander Mareschal                         Canton of Kappellenberg
                                            Barony of Windmasters' Hill
                                                    Kingdom of Atlantia

As for early meads, there are a few points to be made.  My opinions here are based on some 18 or so pre-1610 recipes we have found, about half of which we have made, in addition to other materials in our library including early passages on the character of mead.
We currently have on hand 6 recipes for mead dating from the 14th century, of which we have made four.  I know this is a bit later than the original 1000-1300, but I know of no earlier recipes (if you discount going as far back as the Romans).  These recipes use a variable amount of honey.  The recipes come from England (4), France, (1), and Germany (1).  At least four of the recipes are for wealthy middle or for upper class persons.  Of these  recipes, one (already mentioned) is from Menagier de Pairs, two are in Curye on Inglysch, one is from Das Buch von Guter Spisen (German), and the last two are from an English (probably medicinal) manuscript.

Wurzburg mead from Daz buoch von guoter spise (1345-1354) (translated by Alia K. Atlas, 1994)  "He, who wants to make good mead, warms clear water, so that he can just stand to put the hand in.  And take two maz water and one honey". The total boils for about 30 minutes (not much loss of liquid). Therefore the end honey added is about 4 pounds per gallon, an ale yeast is used.  The resulting mead is quite sweet, ameliorated by the addition of hops and sage as the spices.  It is meant to be drunk within 6 weeks of finishing fermentation.

The Bochet from Menagier: We have made this, and the resultsing mead is not overly sweet due to the presence of the spices.  It lasted for about 6 months before going.  I do not have all my notes in front of me, but we found a definition of sester from about the right time and place that with a modern pint gave us just under 3-1/2 lb/gal honey.  Again we used an ale yeast.

Mead from Curye on Inglysch (mead and Fyn Mede & Poynaunt):  The two recipes here are less clear.  The first is a straightforward mead recipe, which has no clear measurements.  Since the recipe calls for letting it stand only a few days before drinking, and uses the honey boiled out of pressed combs (plus a quart of pure honey), we concluded it was probably very light,  We redacted the recipe as about 1 lb honey per gallon.  When we used this same assumption for the apples and spice version (the second recipe) we got a spicy and sharp mead (poignant or piquant as the recipe says) with a life of only a month or so.

The last two recipes are from a 14th century English manuscript.  These both use the same base, with one being a plain mead, and the second a mertheglyn (with hyssop, rosemary, centory, thyme, etc.).  This recipes calls for 1 gallon honey to 4 gallons water, or about 2-2.5 lb/gallon.  This recipe, similar to the Curye calls for one week fermentation before drinking. This comes out somewhat sweet, very active, and quite tasty.

So, in all, we have four recipes with relatively low honey (2.5 lb/gal or less) and two with moderate to high (3.5 to 4 lb/gal).  I don't think there is enough sample to draw conclusions about the general meads made, only enough to say they did vary.  Not surprisingly the latter two are quite sweet and the other four are tart.  One recipe does not state a fermentation or aging time, the others give very short times (a couple of days to about 2.5 months). The basis for this conclusion is a study of the aforesaid recipes in which about a dozen specify a yeast source.  6 generically call for 'yeast' or 'barm', three call for a yeast source specifically from ale, beer, or bread. and three call for previously used fermentation vessels ("some roundlet", "vessel in which something has fermented", and "vessel in which beer has fermented".
...almost half of the recipes in Digby specifically call for 'barm' or beer/ale yeast.

The debate of how much honey was really available in the middle ages is one we have talked about a lot. Keeping in mind that they destroyed bee hives to recover honey, a beekeeper once told us the annual yield from such hives was not too much above 2-3 pounds.  Another thing to keep in mind whe talking about honey is that in later years (around 1600) at least three grades of honey were recognized.  Life honey runs from the combs of itself (once the combs are cut open), the second grade is recovered from crushing combs, and the third from boiling what is left with some water.

Laura and Michael Angotti

Lt Col Robert Gayre, a recognized authority on English mead and its
history, cites in one of his books that the fruit juices were used to
extend the honey, which was available in larger quantities to the upper
class, but nearly non-existent in the lower class.  Thus, what little honey
the lower class could come up with would have been extended as much as

Madoc 7/97

Perhaps this recipe from Le Menagier de Paris, c. 1393, (Power's  translation, 1928, pp. 293-4) will be of some use to you.

To make six sesters of bochet take six pints of very soft honey and set it in a cauldron on the fire, and boil it and stir it for as long as it goes on rising and as long as you see it throwing up liquid in little bubbles which burst and in bursting give off a little blackish steam; and then move it, and put in seven sesters of water and boil them  until it is reduced to six sesters, always stirring.  And then put it in a tub to cool until it be just warm, and then run it through a sieve, and afterwards put it in a cask and add half a pint of leaven of beer, for it is this which makes it piquant (and if you put in leaven of bread, it is as good for the taste, but the colour will be duller), and cover it warmly and well when you prepare it.  And if you would make it very good, add thereto an ounce of ginger, long pepper, grain of Paradise and cloves, as much of the one as of the other, save that there shall be less of the cloves, and put them in a linen bag and cast it therein.  And when it hath been therein for two or three days, and the brochet tastes enough of the spices and is sufficiently piquant, take out the bag and squeeze it and put it in the other barrel that you are making.  And thus this powder will serve you well two or three times over."

Dorothy Hartley, Food in England, pp. 654-7, discusses bees, hives, & honey in England & says "the amount of honey and wax collected in any district was large in proportion to the needs of the district..."  but she does not specify a date.

Monckton, A History of English Ale & Beer, p. 27, briefly mentions mead production in England at the time  of Julius Caesar, & says that "bees were not actually domesticated in Britain until a few hundred years later, perhaps the thirteenth century."  Yet Hartley, p. 654, quotes a 12th century reference to beehives.

Harold McGee, On Food & Cooking, p. 369, states that clay bee hives are depicted in Egyptian works of c. 2500 BC.

Hives made of sheets of mica are described by Pliny:  "The best hive is made of bark; the next best material is fennel-giant, and the third is osier.  Many too have made hives of transparent stone, so that they might look on the bees working inside."
-Pliny the Elder, Natural History, c. 77 A. D., Book XXI, p. 219.

He also describes the transportation of beehives from one spot to another:
"...when bee fodder fails in the neighborhood the natives place the hives on boats and carry them five miles upstream by night.  At dawn the bees come out and feed, returning every day to the boats, which change their position until, when they have sunk low in the water under the mere weight, it is understood that the hives are full, and then they are taken back and the honey is extracted.  In Spain too for a like reason they carry the hives about on mules."
-ibid., Book XXI, pp. 213-5.

"On every hand I'm found and prized by men,
Borne from the fertile glades and castled heights
And vales and hills.  Daily the wings of bees
Carried me through the air, and with deft motion
Stored me beneath the low-crowned, sheltering roof.
Then in a cask men cherished me.  But now
The old churl I tangle, and trip, at last o'erthrow
Flat on the ground.  He that encounters me
And sets his will 'gainst my subduing might
Forthwith shall visit the earth upon his back!
If from his course so ill-advised he fails
To abstain, deprived of strength, yet strong in speech,
He's reft of all his power o'er hand or foot,
His mind dethroned.  Now find out what  I'm called,
Who bind again the freeman to the soil,
Stupid from many a fall, in broad daylight!"
(The Mead, a riddle from the Exeter Book.)
If the man is  "reft of all his power o'er hand or foot,
His mind dethroned", surely the mead was not weak.

Hope this helps!
Yours in haste,
Cindy Renfrow
Author & Publisher of:
"Take a Thousand Eggs or More, A Collection of 15th Century Recipes" and
"A Sip Through Time, A Collection of Old Brewing Recipes"

  detailed recipes (from about 1600) for "Boiled Mead", "White Mead", "Honey
  Mead", "Ordinary Mead", "Boyars' Mead", "Mead with spices", and "Berry
  Mead". One curious thing is that all the recipes include hops!

A period custom. "Das Buch von Guter Speise" has a hopped mead in it.  Some friends of mine make it regularly, and it is MIGHTY tasty. (Dates to the fourteenth century)


Mead Styles and Ingredients - from The Mead Maker's Page

    honey, optionally with flavoring ingredients
    a less common name for mead as well as the French name
sack mead
    same as mead but with more honey
show mead
melomel, mulsum
    honey and fruit
    honey and spices
    honey and mulberries
pyment, pyment-claree
    honey and grapes
    honey, grapes, and spices
    honey and apples
    honey and malt
    mead mixed with wine vinegar
    honey with attar, a rose petal distillate
    honey with chile pepper ....try it, it's not very hot ;-)
    honey with other unusual flavorings [RCD]
    mead and verjuice, the juice of unripe grapes

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