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.


1 Comment

Filed under Medieval Brewing

One response to “My Lord Hollis Hydromel

  1. I’m interested in the Rosemary/Sweet Bryar combination in the original. Is he possibly referring to rosehips?

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