How to Brew Your Mead Like a Viking: 3 Bold Recipe Variants

Cocktail Recipes

Portrait of a Viking warrior drinking mead from a horn

The oldest alcoholic concoction in the world, the mead’s history can be traced back to the Middle Ages. Evident in the Scandinavian culture, literature, and mythology, mead played a vital role in the lives of Vikings. How to make Viking mead during the medieval period is an exciting process that many of us would like to know.

It is well-known that Vikings brewed their own drinks, including mead. By combining honey, yeast, and natural flavorings and allowing the mixture to ferment, they make Viking mead the traditional way. What set the Viking mead apart from the conventional mead we all know and love are the ingredients and how brewers during that time procured them.

Honey and Beekeeping

Vikings were knowledgeable when it comes to beekeeping. They used skeps or coiled domes of straw for the honeycombs. They would then collect the honeycombs from the beehive and place them in a cloth bag, allowing them to drain as much honey as possible. To get every drop of honey, they would crush the drained honeycombs (and sometimes, even the beehive) and put them into a pot of water.

The pure raw honey would produce the highest quality of mead, while the crushed combs and beehive would make mead with lesser character. But both meads would be consumed accordingly.

Traditional Flavorings and Additives

In addition to the ones that they could grow in their homelands, Vikings had access to various ingredients, thanks to their extensive trading routes. Common fruits they used for the mead include raspberries, elderberries, cherries, hawthorn berries, crabapple, rowan berries, and rose hips.

For added flavoring and preserving effects, Vikings tried adding herbs to their mead. They also traded for exotic spices such as cumin, pepper, and cardamom, which they could have used for their mead-brewing.

Wild Yeast

Blue Juniper Berries

Today, brewers can easily buy packaged yeast and yeast nutrients from grocery stores. Vikings, on the other hand, did not have this luxury. In fact, during their time, they didn’t even know what yeast was and that they needed it to make their mead. They could have drawn wild yeast from the raw honey, fruits, and herbs to their mead must, initiating fermentation without realizing it.

Here is a mead starter recipe by Jereme Zimmerman—a writer and traditional brewing revivalist who advocates natural and holistic home brewing. This mead starter, as the name suggests, can help in instigating fermentation in your wild mead. You can use it as a replacement for store-bought yeast and brew your mead just like a Viking.

How to Make Viking Mead

Ingredients

  • ½ cup Raw, unfiltered honey
  • 2 cups Spring water
  • Natural yeast - any organic fresh or dried berries, grapes, or plums
  • An additional source of wild yeast and nutrients (Optional) – a small bunch of any wild, unsprayed botanical such as wildflower petals (violets and dandelions are good)

Equipment

  • 1-quart (at least) Open-mouthed vessel (glass jars or ceramic crocks are best)
  • Wooden stir stick
  • Clean cheesecloth, towel, or t-shirt for covering the vessel

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Put the honey and room temperature water into the open-mouthed vessel and mix them.
  2. Use the stir stick to dissolve the honey fully.
  3. Add the berries, dried or fresh, and the optional botanicals.
  4. Place the vessel in a warm, dark place with no direct sunlight. An ideal temperature is about 70 degrees Fahrenheit or 21 degrees Celsius.
  5. Cover it with a cloth.
  6. Keep the stir stick accessible as you will need to stir the must at least three times a day. This way, you can incorporate any yeast that has dropped in into the mead must. It will also provide aeration to ensure a healthy fermentation.
  7. After about five days (or longer during the winter), once the mixture is fizzy and foamy, your mead starter is ready.

Viking Mead Recipe Variations

Now that you already have the wild yeast to help with the fermentation, here are three simple recipes on how to make Viking mead using botanicals that you can easily find in nature.

1. Juniper Hibiscus / Hawthorn Berry and Flower Semi-Sweet Mead

Dried Juniper Berries

This recipe uses hawthorn berries, an ingredient that the Vikings used to add to their mead during the medieval period. It will yield one gallon of semi-sweet mead. 

Ingredients

How to Make

  1. Mix honey with water into a stockpot over medium-low heat.
  2. Stir thoroughly until the honey dissolves fully.
  3. Using a funnel, pour the mead must into a one-gallon carboy.
  4. Add the juniper berries, hibiscus flowers, meadowsweet, yarrow, and raisins.
  5. Add the wild mead starter, or if you prefer, one pack of yeast.
  6. Cover the vessel with an airlock half full of water inserted into a cork.
  7. Place the vessel in a warm, dark area to allow fermentation for at least one month.
  8. After a month, your mead will clarify but will still be too sweet and less alcoholic. To help continue its aging and achieve a more clarified mead with high alcohol content, rack the mixture into another container.
  9. Rack again at least two times, every two to three months, until you have a clear mead with minimal sediment on the bottom of the carboy.
  10. The next step is to bottle the mead. Typically, a one-gallon batch should be ready for bottling in about four to six months. For you to know if it’s time to bottle, drop a bit of sugar into the mead or stir it carefully. If it produces bubbles, then it means that the mead is still fermenting. You may also try to place a lid on the container and wait for a few days before gently opening it. If you hear any fizzing sound, the mead is still fermenting.
  11. Bottle the mead using wine bottles, beer bottles, or flip-top bottles with new caps. Let it age for at least six months to one year. 

2. Spring Wildflower Mead

Spring Blooming Wildflowers

This all-natural recipe will require some foraging during spring when most wildflowers are in bloom. You can use wild violets, honeysuckles, dandelions, clovers, and Rose of Sharon. Be sure to use only the petals, as any greens may cause bitterness. Also, avoid foraging from areas that are not pesticide-free.

You can use other flowers as well, including roses, marigold, lavender, hawthorn (mayflower), and elderflower.

Ingredients

  • 1 quart (about 2.3 pounds) Wildflower honey
  • 1 gal Spring water
  • 1-3 pints of tightly packed flowers
  • 8-10 Organic raisins
  • Lemon or orange
  • A small oak leaf
  • ¼ - ½ cup Wild mead starter or 1 packet (5 g) of Lalvin D-47 or Lalvin 71-B

How to Make

  1. Put the honey and water into a stockpot over medium-low heat.
  2. Stir the mixture thoroughly until the honey dissolves fully.
  3. Pour the must into a one-gallon carboy using a funnel,
  4. Add the flowers, setting aside a few for later use.
  5. Squeeze in some lemon or orange juice. A couple of squeezes should do the trick.
  6. Add the organic raisins and small oak leaf for added tannins and nutrients.
  7. Add the wild mead starter or one pack of yeast.
  8. Install the airlock.
  9. Allow the mixture to ferment for at least one month.
  10. After a month, rack the mixture into another container, adding the remaining wildflowers for a more potent floral aroma.
  11. Rack again at least two times every two to three months.
  12. Bottle the mead if you think it’s ready.

3. Garlic Mushroom Cooking / Dessert Mead

Shiitake mushrooms cultivated the traditional organic way

Besides being a refreshing drink, mead can also be an excellent replacement for wine when cooking. This recipe will produce a delicious dessert mead or cooking mead, depending on the honey-to-water ratio that you will use. With garlic as an ingredient, this mead offers many health benefits, including immune system boosting.

Ingredients 

  • 2 ½ lbs. Honey or 4 lbs. honey for dessert mead
  • 3 gal Spring water
  • 4-12 heads Garlic
  • 2 cups Chopped fresh shiitake mushrooms or 1 cup mushroom tea
  • 8-10 Raisins
  • Wild yeast
  • ¼ - ½ cup Wild mead starter

How to Make

  1. Prepare the must by heating water and honey. Use 2 ½-pound honey for cooking mead or four pounds of honey if you like sweeter, dessert mead.
  2. Peel each garlic clove and chop or smash it. Add the garlic to the must, saving some for later use.
  3. Add the mushrooms. You can do it in two ways.
  4. You may put the mushrooms directly into the must. Or
  5. Prepare a mushroom tea, then add the tea to the must. This way, racking will be less messy.
  6. Add the wild yeast and let the mead ferment.
  7. After a month, add the remaining garlic for a strong garlic aroma.
  8. Bottle the mead.

Back to the Basics

The Vikings made their mead the traditional way, taking advantage of the available resources during their time. The result is a sweet-tasting alcoholic drink that has miraculously made its way to our modern times. How to make Viking mead requires going back to the basics of brewing, using all-natural ingredients, and the simplest of equipment.

Which of these Viking mead recipes is your favorite? Let us know in the comment section below. And if you find the article helpful, feel free to share it with your fellow home-brewers.


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