hist-brewing: Strength of Mead

Cindy Renfrow renfrow at skylands.net
Wed Jun 11 19:09:50 PDT 1997

>The recipe from Le Menagier de Paris which Cindy Renfrow posted is
>getting us on the right track (trying to find earlier period recipes to
>see if they match those in Digby's for strength).  Unfortunately, this
>one does not seem to help much.
>If a sester is two gallons, as an earlier post by Phil suggests, then we
>have a recipe for 12 gallons which contains only 3 quarts of honey.
>This would be a ratio of 1:16.  This would not even give a reasonable
>beer strength.  It is also possible that, in this case, sester refers to
>some measure other than two gallons.
>Since this was to be a recipe for the sick it is also likely that it has
>little bearing on regular mead strengths of the time (other than that it
>is probably lower than normal).
>If anyone can find other early period recipies that give more specific
>amounts and which apply to a more regular mead it would go a long way to
>answering this question.
>Cindy, have you got anything else in all of your collection which can
>shed more light on this?
>Marc Shapiro                                 mn.shapiro1 at mindspring.com
>THL Alexander Mareschal                         Canton of Kappellenberg
>                                            Barony of Windmasters' Hill

The original French 'sextier' is explained by Jerome Pichon, in his notes
to the 1846 transcription, as "Sans doute le setier de huit pintes plutôt
que celui d'une demi-pinte (ou chopine)."

(BTW, if anyone is interested I'm slowly posting the culinary chapter from
Le Menagier,  to the Medieval & Renaissance Food Homepage,

Here is the oldest mead/hydromel recipe I have; it uses a 3:1 ratio of
water to honey.  I'm told there may be more info in Cato, but I don't have
that work here.

[HYDROMELI] - circa 77 A.D.

"A wine is also made of only water and honey.  For this it is recommended
that rain-water should be stored for five years.  Some who are more expert
use rain-water as soon as it has fallen, boiling it down to a third of the
quantity and adding one part of old honey to three parts of water, and then
keeping the mixture in the sun for 40 days after the rising of the
Dog-star.  Others pour it off after nine days and then cork it up.  This
beverage is called in Greek 'water-honey' ['hydromeli']; with age it
attains the flavour of wine."
(From Natural History, by Pliny the Elder, Book XIV, section XX, p. 261.)

Hope this helps!

Cindy Renfrow
renfrow at skylands.net

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