Mead: The Drink of Vikings, Saxons and Celts…

I’ve been making wine for the past year or so, but recently decided to give mead a try. Being an avid student of all things Germanic and Celtic, naturally I’ve come across plenty of references to the old ‘honey-liquor’ in novels, movies and research. It’s one of the oldest alcoholic beverages in the world and is mentioned in the ancient Indian Vedas and by Aristotle. It was particularly popular in Northern Europe with seemingly everybody from Ireland to Scandinavia to the banks of the Rhine drinking it.

“May Maelgwn of Mona be affected with mead, and affect us,
From the foaming mead-horns, with the choicest pure liquor,
Which the bees collect, and do not enjoy.
Mead distilled sparkling, its praise is everywhere.” – Kanu Y Med by Taliesin

It’s pretty simple stuff – honey, water and yeast is just about all you need but many choose to add various fruits and spices to give it a little extra flavour. I went for the simplest recipe I could find, wanting to replicate the bog-standard fare Beowulf might have drunk before I start experimenting with berries, nutmeg and ginger. This recipe makes about 5 litres.

2kg honey

4.5 litres of water

yeast

yeast nutrient

Juice of 1 lemon (yeast works best in a slightly acidic environment)

Bring the water to the boil in a large pot (or do it in 2 batches as I did) and dissolve the honey into it. Allow to cool and pour into a sterile container (I used a couple of 5 litre plastic containers). Add the lemon juice. When the temperature drops to below 30 degrees (celsius), add the yeast and yeast nutrient. Fit air lock and leave for at least a couple of weeks.

When it takes longer than 1 minute for an air bubble to exit through the lock, the mead is just about ready to be siphoned off into a second sterile container. I added a clearing agent at this point which worked well. Leave for a couple of more days before bottling.

Some people recommend leaving mead to age for at least 6 months before drinking. Personally I couldn’t wait that long and tried some. Not bad! Nice and sweet and about 17-18% in strength. Next time, I’ll make a larger batch as it’s a lot of time and effort for only 5 litres.

What I really want now is a big, gold-rimmed horn to drink it from…

Cheers!/Skål!/Iechid Da!/Sláinte!/Wæs Hæil! etc.

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