Metheglin (pronounced meth-egg-lin) is simply a flavoured mead. It predates even wine made from grapes, so it is a pity it has gone out of fashion. Traditionally it was made stronger than mead. A seventeenth-century writer says that it is ‘Strong in the superlative… doth stupifie more than any other liquor, and keeps a humming in the brain’. I can find no one who makes metheglin commercially, so if you want to hear that humming you will have to make it yourself. The name metheglin comes from the Welsh meddyglyn, equivalent to meddyg, which means healing. There was considerable congruence between food, drink and medicine in times past and the herbal nature of many metheglins reflects this.
There are endless old recipes; the seventeenth-century The Closet of Sir Kenelme Digby lists several dozen with names such as ‘Sir Baynham Throckmorton’s Mead’ and ‘Mead from the Muscovian Ambassador’s Steward’. An array of flavouring ingredients were used – virtually anything with a strong taste that was not poisonous (at least not very poisonous) and preferably good for you: watercress, fennel, ferns, liverwort, marshmallow roots, scurvy grass, cloves, borage, marjoram, flowers and so on. There is, incidentally, a third species of honey wine called ‘braggot’. This is a halfway house between wine and beer as it uses hops and sometimes malt.
Broadly, metheglins fall into four categories – herby, spicy, floral and weird. You can use whatever takes your fancy – the ingredients listed below just happen to be ones I found either in my garden or foraging basket. The garden herbs and mugwort are perfectly safe but leave out the wormwood if you are of a nervous disposition.
- Yield: 6 75cl bottles
- 2 kg honey for dry, medium or sweet metheglin
- ¼ tsp grape tannin
- 2 lemon juice pared zest
- 1 Campden tablet, crushed (optional)
- 1 level tsp Tronozymol yeast nutrient
- 5 g sachet Lalvin D47 wine yeast
- 2 tbsp chopped rosemary
- 2 level tsp thyme leaves
- 2 level tsp mugwort
- ½ tsp wormwood
- 4 bay leaves
- First stand your jars of honey in warm water to make it a little more runny or to liquefy if your honey is set.
- Place all the flavouring ingredients in a fermenting bucket and pour on 4.5 litres boiling water. While it is still hot, stir in the honey until dissolved. Allow to cool, then add the grape tannin, lemon zest and lemon juice. This brew should be sterile but if you want to be sure add a crushed Campden tablet. Leave for 24 hours.
- Strain the liquid into a sterilised fermenting bucket. Aerate, then add the yeast nutrient and pitch the yeast. Cover and leave to ferment for 6 days, stirring every day except the last, then siphon into a demi-john and fit an air lock.
- Rack off into a second demi-john when fermentation appears to have ceased and bottle once the wine is clear. Leave to mature for a year before drinking.