Alright ren fair people (and other history buffs) – this is your authenticity hat trick. You’ve got the period costume, you’ve learned all the lingo, but have you made Her Majesty’s mead? If yes: wow. I’m impressed. Carry on.
If no: do it! Here’s how.
Above image is original art by Kat Dreibelbis, available for purchase here.
The Queen’s Mead
Before she was queen, Elizabeth had a manor to herself, and was known to have been quite the wiz in the kitchen. Mead would have been a cultural mainstay at this point in time, but in Europe it wasn’t especially accessible to those without the means to import it. At the time, dessert wines were in fashion, and Elizabeth was even known to have sweetened wine that was already sweet. You do you, Your Majesty.
Charles Butler was the Queen’s beekeeper, and luckily for us, he wrote down her favorite mead recipe. He also wrote about the queen’s love for bees. After all, as he writes, “In their labour and order at home and abroad they are so admirable that they may be a pattern unto men both of the one and of the other.”
Also, they ALWAYS respect the queen.
First, a quick note: this mead may or may not be an acquired taste. You be the judge.
The toughest ingredient to find might be the sweet briar, which has been made into a popular tea in Europe for centuries. It’s good for you, too – a cup of sweet briar rose hip tea contains your whole daily recommended dose of vitamin C. It became a staple of nutrition dueing the lean years of World War I, and it was common to hear the expression “we are getting by on our hips and hops,” referring to rose hip tea and beer as sources of vitamin A and C.
It grows naturally (and is even sometimes declared an invasive weed) in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. If you can’t find it to purchase for your mead, you may need to forage or grow your own.
The other ingredients are pretty easy to find. Give it a shot, and let us know how it goes!
Queen Elizabeth’s Metheglyn (adapted from the original)
- 1 gallon water
- 3.5 pounds honey
- 1/4 tsp acid blend
- 1 tbs yeast nutrient
- 1 packet Madeira yeast
- .5 ounce rosemary
- .5 ounce thyme
- .5 ounce bay leaves
- .25 ounce sweet briar
- 1 Campden tablet
- Dissolve honey in primary with acid blend, yeast nutrient, and 1 gallon of room temperature water.
- Rehydrate and pitch yeast.
- Add Campden tablet.
- Attach your airlock and allow it to ferment for 3-5 weeks, until fermentation slows.
- Siphon off your lees and allow it to settle for 6 months.
- Rack back into primary fermentation container.
- Place your herbs in a nylon brew bag, tie it tightly, and place into primary.
- Taste your mead each day, and remove herbs when the taste is to your liking. Remove the bag.
- Age for 6 more months, racking every 2 months or so.
We keep reading about how awful her original mead recipe would have tasted to the modern palate, but we can’t find the text of the recipe – please send it to us if you have it! We’re assuming it calls for boiling the herbs with the must and leaving them in through primary and secondary fermentation, which would have been much shorter in order to produce a sweeter, more pungent (and less alcoholic) drink than the modern version. EDIT: Thanks to commenter bsibly, we know that this is not sweet, is very strong, and needs to age for 6+ months. Check out their variation of the recipe in the comments section below, which is much different than this adaptation and offers a lot of advice on making Charles Butler’s original.
EDIT 7/26/16: Charles Butler’s Original Recipe
As requested by commenters, here’s the original recipe published by Charles Butler in the third edition of The Feminine Monarchie:
First, gather a bushell of Sweet-briar-leaves, and a bushell of Thyme, half a bushell of Rosemarie, and a pecke of bay-leaves. Seeth al these being well washed in a furnace of faire water: let them boil the space of halfe an howre, or better: and then powre out al the water and herbes into a vate, and let it stand til it be cold. Then strain the water fro the herbs, & take to every six gallons of water one gallon of the finest hony,1 and put it into the water cold, and labor it together half an hour: then let it stand two days, stirring it well twice or thrice each day. Then take the liquor and boil it anew: and when it doeth seeth, skim it as long as there remaineth any drosse. When it is clear 2 , put it into the vate as before, & there let it be cooled. You must then have in a readiness a kive of new ale or beere, which as soon as you have emptied, soddainly whelme it upside downe, and set it up againe, and presently put in the Metheglen, & let it stand three daies a working: and then tun it up in barrels, tying at every tap-hole, by a Pack-thread, a little bag of Cloves and Mace, to the valew of an ounce. It must stand half a year before it be drunk of.