Monthly Archives: July 2013

My Lord Hollis Hydromel

On the Lochac Brewer Facebook group there has been a bit of talk about having a case swap at Festival 2014. This is going to be my contribution to the swap. I chose this recipe for two reasons. The first was timing, as when I brewed it it was about twelve months to Festival and the recipe calls for that amount of ageing. The second was it is a nice simple mead with a few additions of easily accessible spices making it a great starting point for the new mead maker. This recipe also gives a few options to customise it, which I will try at another time.

Recipe From The Closet Of Sir Kenelm Digby

In four parts of Springwater dissolve one part of honey, or so much as the Liquor will bear an Egge to the breadth of a Groat. Then boil it very well, and that all the scum be taken away. He addeth nothing to it but a small proportion of Ginger sliced: of which He putteth half to boil in the Liquor, after all the scum is gone; and the other half He putteth into a bag, and hangeth in the bung, when it is tunned. The Ginger must be very little, not so much as to make the Liquor taste strongly of it, but to quicken it. I should like to adde a little proportion of Rosemary, and a greater of Sweet-bryar leaves, in the boiling. As also, to put into the barrel a tost of white bread with mustard, to make it work. He puts nothing to it; but his own strength in time makes it work of it self. It is good to drink after a year.

My Redaction

Ingredients for a 5l batch.

  • 1 l or 1.3 kg (approx.) honey
  • 4 l of Water
  • 10 g of fresh ginger
  • 2 g of Wyeast yeast nutrient
  • 2 ml of lactic acid
  • 5 g of Vintner’s Harvest VR21


  1. Take 4 l of water and place into pot on the stove.
  2. Add honey and stir through as it comes to the boil.
  3. Once the scum from the honey comes to the top scrape it off. This will help produce clear mead.
  4. After the scum has finished rising add in the ginger.
  5. Cool.
  6. Move into sanitised fermenter.
  7. Pitch yeast.
  8. When the yeast has finished working, rack.
  9. After one month rack again.
  10. Age for ten months then bottle & drink.

The honey I chose was a generic blend, because the only single origin honey that I can find is from Australian native plants (unsurprising on this big island, really) and I felt that any particular flavours they imparted would be out of place in recreation brewing. The water for this mead was sourced from my local water supply (the tap in my kitchen). For the ginger I used Zingiber officinale which is the common ginger that is found in supermarkets. This form of ginger has been known in Western Europe since Roman times and was one of the most commonly traded spices during the middle ages.

In Digby’s notes the bread and mustard are effectively the medium and nutrient for the yeast respectively. Preferring bread and mustard with my ham, rather than in my mead, I replaced them with a single strain English country wine yeast and yeast nutrient because this is more sanitary. Better sanitation will result in a beverage that is palatable to the modern taste – we would described Digby’s mead as ‘off’.

The second last line of  Digby’s notes indicates what we would now call “Wild Fermentation” which meant he wouldn’t have intentionally put yeast into this must: he would have unknowingly let wild yeast find its way in (yeast is everywhere, like air). As two of the most common wild yeast are Brettanomyces and Lactobacillus, it is likely this is what would have landed in his tun of mead. Both of these yeasts have a souring effect on the must by lowering its pH, and much like the bread/mustard combination too much of this in the resulting beverage is not nice to drink. (Think of it like salt – a little makes the food taste good but too much ruins the meal.) A lower pH in the must also means that the yeast will ferment more efficiently.  So, since I haven’t used wild yeast, but I want a lower pH and a little bit of sourness, I included a small amount of lactic acid* which will have the same effect.

It would be an interesting and challenging taste-wise if a person was to ferment this mead with wild fermentation. I have chosen not to in this case because I am hoping to share the product with the brewing community, some of whom may not be ready to try something that far out of the box!  As a future experiment I will try this in summer when there is plenty of wild yeast in the air, as the boiling process will kill any that are in the raw ingredients.

*This is not needed, I used it because I have some for other purposes.


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Hard core Gruit.

At Rowany in 2013 I continued with my experimentation of brewing at events over a fire and using dark-ages equipment. Rowany however offered an opportunity that other events don’t:  to go from brewing through fermentation and then consumption.

So I took this opportunity and  made a Gruit ale from (as best I could) locally sourced ingredients.  The whole experiment from making the wort, fermenting and drinking was done on site using a variety of Dark-ages domestic cooking equipment.

The ingredients

I used a blend of modern malt to approximate what I believe the taste of medieval malt. The malt was built from floor-malted Halcyon and dark Munich malt. Halcyon is one of the oldest varieties of base malt that is still in production and the dark Munich was used to bring the overall colour up. I used a blend of three different smoked malts and roasted malt to try and provide a generic smoked flavour that would be found in malt that was cooked over a fire (as would have occurred in period), rather than a particular ‘flavour’ of smoke (which would have come through if I hadn’t blended them).

The bittering agent was dandelions that were found at the festival site.

The yeast was sourced from the bottom of the fermenter of my previous batch of beer – as yeast was often recycled in period.

Making the ale

I mashed the brew over a fire. This was quite involved!

On the day of the brew I started chopping wood at 6.30 am which got me a few odd comments from those I camp with but this was ok, because it was in the pursuit of beer. With a cart load of wood I stopped to eat breakfast and to prepare everything else I needed for the day.

At about 10 am I lit my fire and waited for it to burn down into a good bed of coals. Once I had sufficient and stable heat I set up the smaller of my cauldrons and dry roasted the dandelions until they took on a bitter taste.  I added the malt and the water to the pot and over the course of 2.5-3 hours (the time was measured by tracking the sun across the sky) and brought it up to a temperature that I could not put my hand into. I compensated for fluctuating temperatures and increased the heat mass by adding rocks that had been heated by the fire into the brew, this was inspired by a video called Billy and Dec’s Bronze Age Beer.

I then took the cauldron off the fire and started to separate the wort from the grain and returned the wort to the fire. I brought the wort to the boil and simmered it for 15-30 mins (sun again) with a little more dandelion by the time this was all done it was about 5 pm .

I then let the wort cool to pitching temperature, added the yeast and fermented it onsite in a spare cauldron. The following morning there was a fine thick Kräusen and it tasted fine.

The enjoyment

We started to drink this seriously after about 48 hours of fermentation until the end of Festival.  I noticed a significant flavor change about every six hours or so and I feel it tasted best at the 72 hour mark.

This brew was well received by those who dared to try it. Comments ranged from “No f****** way” through to “It’s good, not what I was expecting.”

I feel that this brew really challenged those who tried it and changed the perceptions of what can be done at an event. It is also a demonstration of what can be done with primitive equipment and no measurement tools which stands in contrast to a hobby/industry that is driven by technology.

I don’t think I could brew with any less equipment and will continue to do this kind of brewing at events. Come and join me!

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Filed under Class, Medieval Brewing