Never heard of it? No neither had we..
Metheglin, which is simply a flavoured mead, pre-dates even wine made from grapes, so it is a pity it has gone out of fashion.
Mead was one of the first drinks I ever tried (owing to a girlfriend who took a worrying interest in Celtic rituals in which mead was apparently an essential ingredient). But beware of asking for it in a pub. I did once, only to be told “I am terribly sorry, Sir, but we don’t serve plonk here”. While mead is still being produced commercially, I can find no one who makes metheglin, so if you want to try this ancient drink you will have to make it yourself.
“Mead” and “metheglin” are basically the same words, coming, according to one source, from the Welsh “meodyglyn”. The only difference is that metheglin is a mead with flavourings added. There are endless old recipes for metheglin; the 17th century “The Closet of Sir Kenelme Digby” lists several dozen with snappy names such as “Sir Baynam Throckmortons’s Mead” and “Mead from the Muscovian Ambassador’s Steward”.
A vast array of flavouring ingredients are used – virtually anything with a strong flavour which isn’t actually poisonous (at least not very poisonous): watercress, fennel, liverwort, marshmallow roots, scurvy grass, cloves, borage, marjoram, ferns, flowers, and so on.
There are many modern recipes which are equally imaginative and it will be necessary to try a few before you find the one you like best (Pattie Vargas and Rich Gulling’s Making Wild Wines and Meads is an excellent source, listing over two dozen).
Last year I made a batch using dried mugwort and a very small quantity of wormwood (both Artemisia species). The flavour was something of an acquired taste, which unfortunately I never managed to acquire. At the same time I made a garden herb version. This is safer while still being local and seasonal.
Of course it is only the hardy perennial herbs that are available in February and a quick expedition out of the back door has found thyme, bay and rosemary. The flavours survive the brewing process fairly intact, but not too strongly. A good drink to have with lamb, of course, and if you find you don’t like it, an excellent thing to use in cooking.
1.4 kilograms of runny honey
4.5 litres water
About two tablespoons of chopped rosemary
One level dessertspoon of thyme leaves
Six bay leaves
Juice and zest of two lemons
Grape tannin – quarter teaspoon
Yeast nutrient – follow instructions on sachet
White wine yeast, one sachet – follow the instructions
Put the water in a large pan on the hob and turn on the heat. Once it is just too hot to touch, pour in the honey and use some of the hot water to wash the remaining honey into the pan. Stir until the honey is dissolved and bring to the boil for ten minutes, skimming off any foam.
Turn off the heat and immediately stir in the herbs, grape tannin, lemon zest and lemon juice. Cover and leave to cool.
Transfer to a sterilised fermenting bucket and add the yeast nutrient and the yeast and cover. Allow to ferment for about three days then pour into a demi-john using some muslin cloth draped into a funnel to get rid of all the bits. The funnel, muslin and demi-john should be scrupulously sterilised. Fit a bubble-trap and leave for two months. Rack-off into a new demi-john and bottle when clear.
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