hist-brewing: Strength of Mead

Marc Shapiro mn.shapiro1 at mindspring.com
Tue Jun 10 18:04:43 PDT 1997

If the question is "What was the strength of the mead produced in the
medieval period then perhaps the answer is best found in the mead
recipes of the period.  If we look at the recipes in _The Closet of Sir
Kenelm Digby Opened_ we find that most of the recipes are, indeed, for a
modern wine strength product.  Just looking that the first 5 or 6
recipes I find that the average ratio of honey to water after boiling
down the must is 1:2 or 1:3.  There was one that came to about 1:4, but
that was specifically labelled as a weaker mead.

One of the earlier recipes in the book "Mr. Corsellises Antwerp Meath"
adds 2 lbs of honey to 4 Holland Pints (which the recipe says is "very
little bigger than the English Wine-pint").  This comes to a ratio of
1:3.  The recipe continues to say that the mead should be so strong that
"an Egge may swim in it with the end upwards."  Since many of the
recipes just say to mix honey and water until it will "float an egg" it
would seem that these recipes call for approximately a ratio of 1:3.

Digby's writing is late period.  The recipes, however, are handed down
from generation to generation (just as Digby collected them for future
generations).  It is unlikely that these recipes were very much
different than those of previous generations.  The quantity of honey is
likely to have been about the same as in earlier periods, as the
breakthrough to modern hive maintenance and honey production did not
occur until the 19th century (approx 1840?), when Langstroth's
movable-frame hive made it possible to harvest honey without destroying
all of the associated comb. 

I generally make a mead of about 12% to 13% and I use a ratio of about
1:3 if I am making a traditional mead of just honey and water.  I use
less honey when making a melomel.  It would seem, therefore that Digby's
recipes are mostly for a wine strength mead and earlier period recipes
probably were, as well.


Marc Shapiro                                 mn.shapiro1 at mindspring.com

THL Alexander Mareschal                         Canton of Kappellenberg
                                            Barony of Windmasters' Hill
                                                    Kingdom of Atlantia

                       Visit 'The Meadery' at:

"If you drink melomel every day, you will live to be 150 years old,
unless your wife shoots you."
--Dr. Ferenc Androczi, Winemaker of the Little Hungary Winery

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