hist-brewing: Strength of early medieval mead?

Phil & Carol Reed pcr at ic.net
Sun Jun 8 18:03:16 PDT 1997

To the historical fermenters, greetings!

I've been doing some thinking about the potency of early mead,
in the 1000-1300 AD time frame. The tentative hypothesis I'm
coming to is that it's unlikely that mead would have been 
what we normally run in to (i.e. wine-style), due to the amount
of honey that would have been available.

My typical mead uses 3+ pounds of honey per gallon. This means
a case of mead (in traditional wine bottles) might take 15-20
pounds of honey. My question is - how much honey would have
been available in early medieval times? If 15-20 pounds of honey
put a substantial dent in the regional honey supply, how likely
would it been for the honey to be diverted to this purpose?
Certainly the end result would have been that wine-style mead
would be amazingly expensive.

The normal mode of thinking is that people fermented what they
had available, and what they could afford. In the warmer climates
of southern Europe, grapes were relatively easily grown, so
grape wine would be produced. Move further north, where 
grapes don't grow so well, and we find beer from grain. Move 
yet further north, and we find less grain and thus more fermentation
activity using honey.

However, if there isn't much honey available, then it seems unlikely
that the resultant mead would be wine style. It seems to me more 
probable that the mead would be what we call 'quick mead' - a 
quickly-produced, fizzy, slightly alcoholic honey drink.

I'm interested in reactions to this hypothesis. Anybody got any
input for or against it?

To support or dismiss this thesis would require information on the
amount of honey produced per year in a certain region. The only
place I can think of to get this kind of information would be medieval
tax records. Does anybody have any ideas on how to proceed to 
get access to this kind of info?

phil reed
pcr at ic.net

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