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Oldest Known Mead Recipe

Jeff Johnston is a medieval reenactor and avid history fan. He is also the publisher at Living History Publications.

oldest-mead-recipe

An Ancient Mead Recipe From 60 BCE

In my article about The History of Alcohol I proposed that mead is probably the first alcoholic beverage known to man, and I do believe this whole heartedly. One must then assume that there are mead recipes from history scattered about, but in reality there aren't many from antiquity, and none known prior to 60BC.

Now there are both beer and wine recipes from Egypt going back much much further than this, but this doesn't mean that those drinks are older than mead. There is some evidence that Egyptians drank mead as well as wine and beer, but there is even stronger and older evidence that mead existed much much earlier than any earlier references to either beer or wine. Written recipes are not our only link to the history of food and drink, there are many things that we have no evidence of that we know ancient man consumed. For instance I know of no written recipe for Wooly Mammoth steaks.

Columella

Of the Roman Empire

Columella was a Roman living around 60BCE (Before Common Era), during his life he wrote a book entitled De Re Rustica, well to be exact he wrote twelve volumes of this title, the books were advice to another Roman named Publius Silvinus. The advice ranged all over the map of Columella's vast stores of knowledge and experience. One of these volumes contained information on viniculture (the production of wine).

In Columella's advice on viniculture there is a brief paragraph which can be said is the oldest known extant mead recipe.

Take rainwater kept for several years, and mix a sextarius of this water with a pound of honey. For a weaker mead, mix a sextarius of water with nine ounces of honey. The whole is exposed to the sun for 40 days, and then left on a shelf near the fire. If you have no rainwater, then boil spring water.

Mead is a wine that is made with honey and water instead of fruit juice. Want to know more about the wonderful beverage of mead, read some links and find out all the joys of mead, Wassail and enjoy your journey.

  • The Mead Hall
    Your one stop shopping site for all things mead, contains articles recipes reviews and much more, its all about mead.
  • What is Mead
    What is Mead? Very few alcoholic beverages have captured imaginations quite like mead has. If you've ever read historical fiction or fantasy novels then you've probably heard of mead, but what is mead exactly? The Vikings called mead the drink of the
  • Mead and The History of Alcohol
    Man has been making Alcohol since before recorded history. Know one know when alcohol was first discovered, or how long man has been drinking alcohol, but there is reason to believe mead, or honey wine, could have been the first alcoholic beverage to

Why is this recipe so darned dangerous?

Need more info about the risks, well I aim to please folks

I've been asked, why didn't the romans die drinking this if its so darned dangerous. Well this is a complex question really, but let me expand upon the threatening warning that I wrote above.

Reason #1 Some did die from drinking these wild fermented beverages

Reason #2 The areas predominate wild yeast is exactly the kind of yeast that is needed to produce good alcoholic beverages, or at least relatively palatable ones. It may not be able to compete with the laboratory grown yeasts we now use, but they worked. In many parts of the world however most of the wild airborne yeasts are not the proper yeasts you want and may produce the wrong kind of alcohol. There are many types of alcohol and humans can only barely handle one, all others are extremely dangerous.

Believe it or not the stagnate rainwater is the safest component of this recipe (other than the honey), while the rainwater would have gathered some rather nasty bugs sitting still for a long time those bugs will not survive the alcohol produced by the fermentation process and in fact in the end, despite there being some risk that some of the wild yeast that grows in the mead might be the kind that produces alcohol that might kill a man, the fact remained it was still safer to drink this mead on average than it was to drink most of the water available, you were statistically less likely to get seriously ill.

But What About Lambic, Isn't That Safe?

Lambic Brewing is wild fermentation done in Belgium, and yes it uses wild yeasts, and yes it is open air fermented. There are safe ways to do it, if you insist on experimenting make sure you know what you are doing first. I still maintain that using wild fermentation in North America where the yeasts are so vastly different then Eurpoean yeasts is dangerous at best. It is possible to cultivate wild yeast that does work well for brewing, but always make sure you use the strictest safety procedures to ensure quality yeast production.

© 2012 Jeff Johnston

Guestbook Comments

Catalina from Curitiba / PR on April 23, 2018:

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Jeff Johnston (author) from Alberta Canada on November 25, 2016:

Wild fermentation is possible, and can be done safely, that being said there are inherent dangers. As this article is introductory I didn't want to give people with no idea of the different yeast strains the idea they can just allow spontaneous fermentation to occur and it would be safe. I admit I overstated the dangers.

The Jewish Monk on October 30, 2016:

Wild fermentation is never advisable? Tell that to the Belgians. I'm sure they could use a laugh.

AJ Fisher on September 13, 2016:

This is silly. You're not going to die from a wild ferment. I'd like to see some real data that says otherwise

Rob on August 06, 2015:

Okay, I know this is an old article but I gotta say, the whole boogeyman story about wild yeast is ridiculous.

If you've ever had wine, you've almost certainly drank a wild yeast fermentation - very few vineyards, including north american ones, use added yeast. Instead, they rely on wild yeast found on the grapes to provide the bugs for fermentation.

For that matter, so do many beer brewers. There's plenty of folks in north america that regularly harvest wild yeast, and some homebrewers have contests to see who can find the nicest strains. I've personally harvested wild yeast on several occasions, and while the flavor results have been mixed (it's certainly very easy to get unpalatable yeast this way) nobody's ever gotten sick as a result of drinking the end product.

Obviously you have to exercise a bit of caution - if you see mold in your collector, it's best to toss it and try again, but if you just get a nice bubbling fermentation that's mold free, chances are the worst thing that's going to happen is you'll have a sour drink.

I encourage people to experiment with wild yeast, just don't use mold. The best way to collect yeast is simply to make a half dozen mason jars half full of must or wort and covered with a light mesh to keep bugs out. Toss them all out in the yard for a few hours, then collect them, put the covers on (but don't entirely seal them unless you want them to explode) and put them somewhere warm but not hot, then wait a night or two to see what happens. Chuck any moldy ones, sniff the rest and see if you like the aromas. If you do, a quick taste will tell you if you're on track, and if you are... congrats, you found a good strain.

Jeff Johnston (author) from Alberta Canada on May 13, 2013:

@Gypzeerose: I don't know about THE expert, but I've done a fair amount of research into it :D

Rose Jones on May 13, 2013:

I love your mead lenses! You are obviously the expert.

Jeff Johnston (author) from Alberta Canada on May 06, 2013:

@Carashops: Moniak is nice, but I prefer a dryer mead :D thus I make my own ;)

Cara on May 06, 2013:

I'm rather partial to a glass of Moniack Mead. Slàinte mhath!

Jeff Johnston (author) from Alberta Canada on April 16, 2013:

@Anthony Altorenna: actually making mead is quite safe, its the use of wild yeast in certain parts of the world, North America for one has some pretty nasty yeasts floating around in the wild. There are safe ways to ferment with wild yeasts, but the process is more involved then I've ever bothered with due to the risks. Using cultivated yeast strains (aka commercial strains) is to me the safer and easier bet, it provides a consistent product and no risk of producing poison by mistake (assuming you follow safe brewing practices) :D

Anthony Altorenna from Connecticut on April 16, 2013:

Very interesting! I didn't realize that making mead was potentially hazardous -- other than consuming too much! I thought that back in old days, mead was safer than drinking much of the local water because the fermentation process.

Jeff Johnston (author) from Alberta Canada on February 21, 2013:

@SetlikeJelly: Thanks... the beard is gone now, may yet grow it back....

The Mead Hall is in the process of changing over to a strictly recipe site, working on that, so it's a little light on content right now.

David from Europe on February 21, 2013:

Savage beard!!! i've made 2 successful meads (a simple honey, and a cyser) as well as adding honey to some of my homebrews from time to time. defintely going to check out the mead hall. hmmm...but i may yet try a wild yeast fermentation (so if you don't hear from me...)

Fabian Cornejo from Colorado on February 19, 2013:

Impressive! Haven't heard of Mead until this lens. I can say I learned something new today. I've been sober 6+ years but after reading this I certainly feel like I was just an alcoholic and didn't know anything about it. Lol!!!

VictoriaKelley on December 20, 2012:

Making mead is something my husband and I have been talking about for quite some time. Glad too see this

Tony Bonura from Tickfaw, Louisiana on October 12, 2012:

I have read a lot about mead in the fantasy novels that I love so much. Even Marvel comic books had references to mead way back when.

TonyB

Rosetta Slone from Under a coconut tree on August 31, 2012:

Mmm I love mead and history, so this lens was a treat to read.

Terrie_Schultz on August 27, 2012:

How interesting! I love mead.

Jeff Johnston (author) from Alberta Canada on August 13, 2012:

@Lady Lorelei: When it comes to interests I am a magpie, I see something shiny and I am instantly interested. Thanks for your thoughts :D

Lorelei Cohen from Canada on August 13, 2012:

You really are a wealth of information. Reading your articles it is easy to see how knowledgeable you are on a wide variety of subjects (or you do great research). Glad you are sharing here at Squidoo as it sure makes for interesting reading with my morning coffee.

kevkev227 lm on July 31, 2012:

This is very cool...love ancient recipes, they really help you to imagine living in those times. First time I tried mead was at Bunratty Castle in Ireland, also first time I tried snuff. Needless to say, I don't remember much of that night, except that there were bagpipes present and apparently I misplaced my jacket and cell phone :)

Nathalie Roy from France (Canadian expat) on May 03, 2012:

I love mead. I tasted it the first time in an open air food festival in Montreal. As for the roman recipe asking for rainwater kept for several years...thanks but no thanks!

SadSquid on May 02, 2012:

Very cool lens, I am originally from Poland, where mead was historically the tradiitonal drink, many historical tales have the aristocracy drinking mead in large quantities. I have tried it myself a few times.

Tolemac on April 21, 2012:

I always enjoy reading the history of different items, so thanks for the information. I have a good friend who lives in Denmark half of the year, and he sends me various Scandinavian meads. My current favorite is Viking Blod. ;-)

JeanJohnson LM on January 29, 2012:

I don't plan on trying my own batch of this stuff, it's not worth dying for!

Jeff Johnston (author) from Alberta Canada on January 22, 2012:

@greenspirit: LOL yes, but they were very serious about their mead ;).... at least you had the option of using boiled spring water.

poppy mercer from London on January 22, 2012:

rainwater kept for several years...the mind boggles!

rayray131 on January 22, 2012:

Thank you for such an insiteful lens.

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