How to Make Medieval Mead: A 13th Century Recipe

 

Read a sto­ry set in the Mid­dle Ages, Beowulf or any­thing more recent­ly writ­ten, and you’re like­ly to run across a ref­er­ence to mead, which seems often to have been imbibed hearti­ly in halls ded­i­cat­ed to that very activ­i­ty. The same goes for medieval-themed plays, movies, and even video games. Take Assas­s­in’s Creed Val­hal­la, described by Max Miller, host of Youtube chan­nel Tast­ing His­to­ry, as “a his­to­ry-based game of, like, my favorite time peri­od — Sax­ons and Vikings, you know, fight­in’ it out — so I’m assum­ing that there’s going to be mead in there some­where.” He uploaded the video, below, in the fall of 2020, just before that game’s release, but accord­ing to the Assas­s­in’s Creed Wiki, he was right: there is, indeed, mead in there.

Per­haps throw­ing back a dig­i­tal horn of mead in a video game has its sat­is­fac­tions, but sure­ly it would only make us curi­ous to taste the real thing. Hence Miller’s episode project of “mak­ing medieval mead like a viking,” which requires only three basic ingre­di­ents: water, hon­ey, and ale dregs or dry ale yeast. (The set of required tools is a bit more com­plex, involv­ing sev­er­al dif­fer­ent ves­sels and, ide­al­ly, a “bub­bler” to let out the car­bon­a­tion.)

In it he con­sults a thir­teenth- or four­teenth-cen­tu­ry man­u­script (above) called the Trac­ta­tus de Mag­ne­tate et Oper­a­tionibus eius, which includes not just a let­ter on the work­ings of mag­nets — and “a uni­ver­si­ty hand­book on the the­o­ry of num­bers, pro­por­tions, and har­mo­ny” and “the sev­en signs of bad breed­ing; the sev­en signs of ele­gance” — but also “one of the old­est known sur­viv­ing Eng­lish mead recipes.”

“When you think of Sax­ons and Vikings, yes, you think of mead,” Miller says, “but mead actu­al­ly got its start way before that,” evi­denced in the alco­hol-and-hon­ey residue found on Chi­nese pot­tery dat­ing to 7000 BC and a writ­ten men­tion in the Indi­an Rigve­da. “I have tast­ed the sweet drink of life, know­ing that it inspires good thoughts and joy­ous expan­sive­ness to the extreme, that all the gods and all mor­tals seek it togeth­er,” says that sacred text. Even if Miller’s mead does­n’t make you feel like a god, it does have the virtue of requir­ing only a few days’ fer­men­ta­tion, as opposed to the tra­di­tion­al peri­od of months. Toward the video’s end, he men­tions hav­ing set one bot­tle aside to ripen fur­ther, and pos­si­bly to fea­ture in a lat­er episode. That was near­ly three years ago; today, Tast­ing His­to­ry fans can only spec­u­late as to what alco­holic Val­hal­la that brew has so far ascend­ed.

You can find the text of the medieval recipe below:

//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.

Relat­ed con­tent:

How to Make Ancient Mesopotami­an Beer: See the 4,000-Year-Old Brew­ing Method Put to the Test

5,000-Year-Old Chi­nese Beer Recipe Gets Recre­at­ed by Stan­ford Stu­dents

Bars, Beer & Wine in Ancient Rome: An Intro­duc­tion to Roman Nightlife and Spir­its

Dis­cov­er the Old­est Beer Recipe in His­to­ry From Ancient Sume­ria, 1800 B.C.

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Medieval Tav­erns: Learn the His­to­ry of These Rough-and-Tum­ble Ances­tors of the Mod­ern Pub

Beer Archae­ol­o­gy: Yes, It’s a Thing

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.


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