From the HBD Archive
From: Michael Bergman <>
Subject: Meads (additives) and also an old recipe
Date: 1989-03-24 00:55:45 GMT

This got lost in some mailer problems, so it may seem like a bit of a
non-sequitur. Worse still, it may have gotten out and me not realized
it, in which case it will be a duplicate. Let's all cross our fingers.

> Date: 03 Mar 89 12:03 -0330
> From: <>

1! Any damn-fool mead maker knows better than to BOIL
his/her mixture. It is maintained at a temperature
well below boiling for a protracted (1-5 hours) period,
which, in the cases of either metheglyns or melomels
aids in mingling the various essences of the ingredients
as well as in sterilizing.

Well. I know many damn-fool mead-makers who don't know better than to
boil their must. Let me quote one:
"Take nine parts of warm fountain water, dissolve in it one
pint of pure White-honey, by laving it therein, till it be dissolved.
Then *boil* it gently, skimming it all the while, till all the scum be
perfectly scummed off, and *after that* boil it a little longer, so
that at least one third part may be consumed. About a quarter of an
hour before you cease boiling, and take it from the fire, put to it a
little spoonful of cleansed and sliced Ginger; and almost half as much
of the thin yellow rind of Orange, when you are even ready to take it
from the fire, so as the Orange boil only one walm in it. Then pour
into a well-glased strong deep great Gally-pot, and let it stand so,
till it be almost cold, that it be scarce Luke-warm. Then put to it a
little silver-spoonful of pure Ale-yest, and work it together with a
Ladle to make it ferment: as soon as it beginneth to do so, cover it
close with a fit cover, and put a thick dubbled woollen cloth about
it. Cast all things so that this may be done when you are going to
bed. Next morning when you rise, you will find the barm gathered all
together in the middle ; scum it clean off with a silver-spoon and a
feather, and bottle up the Liquor, stopping it very close. It will
beready to drink in two or three days; but it will keep well a month
or two. It will be from the very first very quick and pleasant."

>From the writings of Sir Kenelm Digby, published posthumously in
1669. Digby was apparently fairly well known, and was chancellor to
the Queen-Mother, which apparently included cooking and brewing for

Next week I'll post a modern translation of this recipe. For the
moment, I'll point out that this recipe appears to have been for a
"table-mead" intended to be drunk with food, and to be pleasant and
light but certainly not anything like a "fine wine". I believe the
intent was something much more like ginger-ale, but lightly alcoholic.
Digby has many recipes for Meads, ranging from 4/1 honey/water ratio
to 10/1.

2! I have been making meads, some of which have taken
prizes at competitions, for ten or fifteen years, and I
have never found it necessary to add nutrient to my brew.
Let it be known now, also, that I dislike "sweet" meads,
considering them useful only for sundae syrups, and that
I also find "small" meads without character.

Well, I don't like meads that are *that* sweet either. But this is
all a matter of taste. "Character" is not something I would expect
from a drink that is billed as "light and pleasant."

I do not consider that my brews warrant the cognomen
"great", nonetheless. I do add acid and tannin IN
NATURAL FORMS, (i.e., citrus fruit and strong tea). It
is worth noting that discarding the inner rind and pith
of the citrus fruit, while using the zest, juice, and
fruit pulp, minimizes unpleasant bitternesses. I use
one orange and one cup of double-strength tea for a 1-2
gallon batch, more accordingly for larger.

I believe that "great" in this context has to do with
alcohol content and complexity of taste. Acid is the
primary nutrient that Duncan and Acton recomended, most
of the rest they said were optional (except the epsom
salts, which were to correct a defect in their water,
that you might not suffer from). Discarding the inner
rind of the fruit peel is recomended in the old recipes
I have and in the modern translations that I have
access to. Acton and Duncan simply don't offer any
recipes calling for peel, I guess they really believe
in their acid blends.

3! Perhaps this book suggests a need for nutrient because
it uses wine yeast. It is a proven fact that bread yeast
works better on meads than "brewer's" yeasts. The use of
bread yeast also makes for HEAVY sediment and a real NEED
for aging, however, the aging need not be as long as the
two years stipulated previously. A four-month minimum is
sufficient, although the products tend to continue to
improve significantly up to about 18 months.

"Brewer's yeast is only suitable for producing the
ale-like meads in vogue in Napoleonic times and
earlier. It is no use at all for producing wine-meads."

They then go on to say that bread yeast produces
acceptable results but is tricky to work with. If you
rack carefully at the correct times, you should get
fine results with it. I see no real conflict between
what you have to say and what they say.


--mike bergman

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