Category Archives: Brewing Archaeology and History

Milwaukee’s Historic Southside Breweries Rediscovered

Legacies of Milwaukee Brewing: South Side Brewing History Tour

Saturday September 25th brought together an enthusiastic group of Milwaukee brewing aficionados to pay homage to the extensive brewing legacies located throughout southern Milwaukee. More than thirty participants boarded the coach bus at 10:00am for this second Legacies of Milwaukee Brewing Heritage Tour, developed through the Distant Mirror Archaeology Program at Discovery World. During this epic tour, we visited a dozen historic sites in a dozen Milwaukee south side neighborhoods, the highlights from which are discussed here.

Our first disembarking off the bus was at Milwaukee’s very first verifiable commercial brewery site, the German Brewery, begun possibly as early as 1839 by Simon Reutelshofer on the southeast corner of S. 3rd St. & Virginia St.  It was here that we cracked open the special batch of Himbeere Hefe-Weizen that I brewed exclusively for this tour.  Sampling this Bavarian raspberry wheat beer at the former German Brewery site was a fitting honor, as we toasted to the origins of  Milwaukee’s heralded brewing tradition.  It was also a perfect way to begin our day with a cordial toast of 6% ale at 10:30am!

The group then strolled a block north to view the architecturally interesting cream city brick buildings built by the Pabst Brewing Company in 1892 and 1898. The original purpose of these buildings is unclear, yet it is likely they were used by the Pabst Brewing Co. as a cooperage (barrel manufacturing facility) or for manufacturing custom Pabst brewania.  While we were unable to obtain access due to open elevator shafts, etc. we were able to peer in the windows and examine the interesting exterior of the buildings.

Moving four blocks west, we pulled into the site the former Menominee Brewery, built in 1850 by Francis Neukrich.    In 1853 this large brewery was owned and operated by Charles T. Melms, who would go on to become Milwaukee’s first true “beer baron”. In 1864, C.T. Melms built an enormous Italianate-style mansion beside the brewery, however his premature death in 1869 caused by a tetanus infection would leave the family business in substantial debt.  This would lead to the transfer of the brewery site to the Philip Best Brewing Company, which was being operated out of the Empire Brewery in downtown Milwaukee. Subsequent ownership went to the Pabst Brewing Co. and it was in 1892 that the abandoned Melms mansion was torn down. Today, all that remains of the original brewery is the bottling house, built by Philip Best 1881.


Following a nice walk around the property with two Melms family historians, Margaret Berres and Tom Ludka, we made our way to the Milwaukee Brewing Company’s 2nd St. Brewery for a catered lunch and a custom tour lead by brewery president and founder, Jim McCabe. Jim gave us some great inside history on the names they chose for several of their celebrated ales.  For instance, the “Flaming Damsel” is named for a theatrical performance that took place in Milwaukee during the early 1900s in which a performing artist made her living by lighting herself on fire and diving from a 40-foot platform to the water below.

After lunch and a great tour of the Milwaukee Brewing Company’s south side brewery, we once again boarded the bus and made our way along National Avenue, to drive by several noteworthy Milwaukee brewing historic sites, including the sites of the former Graf and Madlener Weiss Beer Breweries, and the little known Excelsior Weiss Beer Brewery.  Now a residential structure, this former brewery was established by J.F. Cruscynski in 1884 on the southwest corner of S. 15th and W. Becher St.

By 1:30pm the coach bus arrived at Forest Home Cemetery as we sought out the final resting place of several Milwaukee beer barons, including those involved in the establishment of former brewery’s we had just visited.  Blatz, Schlitz and Pabst are household names, but Bills, Melms, Munzinger, Neukrich and Owens should be added to the list of famous Milwaukee brewery owners.

Our next stop took us to the former site of the Milwaukee Brewery Company (1892-1919) on S. 13th and W. Arthur St.  The plans for this elegant 19th century brewery were drawn by August Martizen of Chicago, sadly it was demolished during prohibition.  Nearby on S. 14th and Cleveland St. we passed the  site of the former Milwaukee Independent Brewing Company (1901-1962).  Today it is a petrol service station, but in its heyday, the brewery was noted for its famous “Braumeister” lager.

By 3pm we were once again getting thirsty, so we paid a visit to the newly established Horny Goat Brewing Company, to meet with Dave the brewmaster and sample a variety of their brews.  While they are yet to brew on the premises (by mid October) they currently contract their production with Point Brewery in Stevens Point, WI.  All were in great spirits as we sampled some nice versions of a Milk Stout, Pale Ale, Belgian Saison, Red Ale, etc.

Continuing down KinnickinnicAve. on the south side Milwaukee historic brewery trail, we passed near the former site of the Munzinger Weiss Beer Brewery (1890-1906) {2428 S. Burrell St.) as well as the contemporary Bay View Brew Haus.  However, due to a wedding in the Brew Haus, we rolled by on our way to our last stop on the tour, the St. Francis Brewery.  Coincidence would have it that this new brewery was celebrating Oktoberfest with live music, lederhosen laden lads and fair frauleins in froks (how about that for alliteration).  This was a great way to finish this second Legacies of Milwaukee Brewing tour amidst the sights, sounds and great tastes of this cities enduring tradition.

After traveling through a dozen Milwaukee south side neighborhoods to visit a dozen  historic brewery sites and three contemporary breweries, we were all feeling a wee bit weary but a whole lot more appreciative of the Milwaukee’s lasting legacy as our nations true brewing capital.  We are only beginning to put these historic breweries back on the map and we hope to launch two additional Legacies of Milwaukee Brewing tours next year, as we explore this cities west side and north side historic and contemporary brewing sites.  Watch for that in Spring 2011!

Listen to an interview about Milwaukee’s brewing history, recorded on 89.7FM Milwaukee Public Radio’s  Lake Effect program.

http://www.wuwm.com/programs/lake_effect/le_sgmt.php?segmentid=6614

Milwaukee Downtown Brewing History Tour

April 17th turned out to be an epic day of experiential learning about Milwaukee’s storied brewing past and present during DISCOVERY WORLD‘s inaugural Legacies of Milwaukee Brewing tour.  A crisp yet sunny spring morning set the stage for an unforgettable tour of several downtown Milwaukee’s brewery sites.  With Kalvin at the helm of a full coach bus, Leonard Jurgensen as the Milwaukee Brewery Historian and myself as archaeological tour guide, we made our way to one of Milwaukee’s first brewery sites.

Begun in 1840/41 by three Welshmen, known as the Milwaukee Brewery and then the Lake Brewery, it is now home to the Milwaukee Co. Transit bus garage, with a rooftop garden.  It was on this rooftop garden with a commanding view of Lake Michigan, where we sampled a special brew I made in commemoration of the occasion called “Old World Welsh Ale”.  This is an all-grain strong ale with hints of smoked barley, in the style of a Scotch Ale meets a British Bitter.  Although a little young, it was packed with flavor and reminiscent of the kinds of ales brewed on that site as early as 170 years ago!

Now called the Mackie Building: 225 Michigan St. Milwaukee

Stop two brought us to the Milwaukee Grain Exchange building, on Michigan St. designed by the esteemed architect Edward Townsend Mix and completed in 1879.  For more than 50 years preceding WWII, this building with its ornately decorated Victorian interior was where the global price of wheat was set.  The opulent three-story trading room is a testimony to Milwaukee’s industrial and agricultural wealth during this period and how the brewing industry as a result benefited from this global commodity exchange.

1891 Lithograph of Brewery

Continuing on to the Blatz Brewery complex (1846-1959), which has been converted into condominiums, we disembarked from the bus and walked the perimeter of the complex to get a sense of the exterior features of the former brewery.  While the original brew house is now gone, we stood on the spot of where the massive kettles once stood and marveled at the immense size of this former brewery.

Adapted from a photo by Dan Lenz

On our way to our next stop at Lakefront Brewery, we went by another former brewery site, the Ogden Brewery (SW corner of Broadway and Ogden) which apparently may have intact lager cellars beneath the hill.  As we eventually arrived along Commerce St. and to the front door of Lakefront Brewery, Jim Klisch (former owner and co-founder of Lakefront Brewery) welcomed us in while Russ Klisch (president and co-founder of the brewery) poured each participant a fine micro-brewed beer of their choice.  After a brief history of the brewery, Jim led the group on a memorable tour of the facility, ripe with colorful commentary on the brewing process and insights into their “Frankenstein” brewing equipment.


Photo by Michael Lerret

Photo by Michael Lerret

By this time it was getting on towards 11:45 and we had lunch to get to at the Best Place in the historic Pabst Brewery.  This was not before we had a chance to see the remnants of the old beer rail line outside Lakefront Brewery, as well as the former sites of the Gipfel Brewery (1843-1894) on the SW corner of 4th and Juneau  and the Eagle Brewery (1842-1866) on the NW corner of 8th and Highland.

We entered the ongoing redevelopment of the Pabst Brewery complex in time for our lunch at Best Place and were greeted by Jim Haertel, owner and developer of the former offices of Captain Frederick Pabst.  While inside the beautifully fresco-ed rathskeller, we ate a fine catered lunch while washing it down with, what else, but Pabst Blue Ribbon.  After a brief history of the brewery by Jim, the group were given a guided tour of the undeveloped section of the building, including Captain Pabst’s office.


Reflection of Best Place, Brew House Kettles, Grain Elevator

From here we were led out into the brewery grounds by Michael Murvis and Dan McCarthy who represent Towne Investments that are overseeing the redevelopment of the brewery complex.  Mike and Dan were very kind to show us through a handful of buildings on the property, including the bottling plant, the Methodest church, the brew house and finally the observation room above the newly renovated home of Cardinal Stritch University.

By far, this intimate insight into the enormity of brewing at this site was a true highlight of the tour, particularly seeing the massive copper kettles inside the brew house, which we were told will remain intact and some day soon will be incorporated into the lobby of a grand hotel.

After the bus pulled out of the Pabst Brewery complex, we were off to visit the site of the former Cream City Brewery (1853-1937)  located on the NE corner of 13th and Cherry.  While the horse stables built in 1910 are still intact, sadly all that remains is a parking lot.  Our local brewery historian, Leonard Jurgensen, shared a personal story of playing inside this brewery as a child when it sat vacant for many years.

Greg Walter explaining brewing process

Our tenth location of the day was across I43 at the Leinenkugel’s 10th St. Brewery, where Gregory Walter, master brewer and facility manager met us for a tour of his brewery.  As the group were treated to a newly brewed yet-to-be released “mystery beer” in the hospitality room, Greg gave an overview of Leinenkugel’s history and the recent merger with Miller-Coors.  Next we were guided into the brewery where we got to see their state-of-the-art operation that is rarely viewed by the public.

1886 Sangurbund p.70

Next it was on to the oldest complete standing brewery structure in Milwaukee, the E.L. Husting Brewery (1877-1933), whose name is still embossed along an upper cornice of the cream city brick building, which incidentally is now home to Great Lakes Archaeological Research Center (a former employer of mine).   A block away on the NW corner of 5th and Cherry is the recently demolished site of the J. Obermann Brewery.  Prior to the tour, I used ground penetrating radar around the perimeter to determine if the sub-cellars were still detectable, as it turned out they were, some 10 feet below street level.

Tower and Brewery Sign

Finally, our final stop would be the Schlitz Brewery complex.  Pulling along side the former stables, one can still see the horse head carvings and stable sign.  Then we pulled into the brewery along side the wash house where we disembarked and made our way into the old Brown Bottle bar, which is now home to Libiamo Restaurant where the group were treated to a bottle of Schlitz each.  Taking these out into the courtyard we were able view into the brew house windows, though because of the dangerous state of the interior we were unable to access the interior.  Leonard gave a nice historical overview of the brewery, as he is the eminent scholar on the brewery’s history and is also owner of one of the largest private collections of Schlitz brewania, including a fully restored Schlitz Beer Wagon.

As the sun lowered on the horizon we boarded the bus one last time bound for DISCOVERY WORLD where we began our day more than 8 hours before and after visiting eleven brewery sites along the way. Much like the 19th hole in golf, the twelfth brewery stop for this tour was the after party at the Milwaukee Ale House where several participants met for more laughter and a well earned meal washed down with more unique locally-fermented beverages.

Photo by Michael Lerret

I think I can speak for all in that this was a momentous tour of Milwaukee’s proud brewery history and one that will certainly be repeated at a later date.  In fact, a similar-styled historic brewery tour of Milwaukee’s south side will take place on July 10th.  Stay tuned for more details on that tour!

Exploring Milwaukee’s Historic Breweries

Legacies of Milwaukee Brewing

“Milwaukee is today the acknowledged queen of the world in lager beer, the name being familiar in every country, civilized or uncivilized; and her sway universally acknowledged.”  (The Sentinel: July 31, 1892)


This urban archaeology expedition of Milwaukee’s Brewing history will begin at Discovery World  at 9am on Saturday April 17th before boarding a coach bus to explore several of Milwaukee’s downtown brewing gems.  This Distant Mirror adult program is designed to bring the general public into contact with Milwaukee’s brewing history by accessing a variety of locations/facilities associated with the production and consumption of beer.  This includes visiting the locations of former breweries within the Milwaukee area, as well as the infrastructure associated with the brewing industry such as warehouses, stables, rail systems, etc.  Moreover, this expedition will visit modern breweries currently in operation, to tour the facilities, sample their beer and meet head Brewmasters.  Space is limited to the first 50 people to sign up, so don’t wait or the beer bus will leave with out you!!

DOWNTOWN BREWING HISTORY TOUR

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

All Day

$75 members of Discovery World | $85 non-members of Discovery World

Fee includes transportation, beer samples, lunch, and more.

Start time:

9:00am – Discovery World welcome, overview, and bus departure.

5:00pm – Return to Discovery World

Scheduled stops:

Milwaukee Grain Exchange, Blatz Brewery, Lakefront Brewery, Pabst Brewery (tour of brew house), Schlitz Brewery, Leinenkugel’s 10th St. Brewery, as well as the former sites of Lake Brewery, Gipfel Brewery, Eagle Brewery, Cream City Brewery, and  J. Obermann Brewery.

Featuring:

Catered Lunch at the Pabst Brewery with an after party at the Milwaukee Ale House.

Call 414.765.8609 for more information

Coming later this summer…Southside Brewing History Tour

Check back at www.discoveryworld.org for details.

Brewing a Viking Era Ale

During the final Ale through the Ages brewing session of the season we brewed a Scandinavian Sahti on March 4th.  This recipe is inspired by the traditional style still being brewed in Finland today.  This was an all-grain batch where we used Pilsner Malt, Rye Malt, Crystal Malt, as well as a small amount of specialty grains that I had previously smoked over pine and juniper boughs.  Once we transferred the wort from the mash-tun to the boil kettle, juniper berries and Hallertau hop cones were added.  However, one exception was made to the traditional Sahti-styles, we used a European Ale yeast to ferment the beer, rather than the normal bread yeast.  This was to ensure a complete fermentation and a bit more carbonation than the usually less carbonated Sahti’s of Finland. Our specific gravity prior to pitching the yeast was 1.072, so, we should expect this sahti to ferment out to around 7% ABV.  At the moment it is bubbling well and should settle down in a few days, at which point I’ll transfer into another fermenter to remove the remaining sediment, before bottling on March 18th.

The Anthropology and Archaeology of Scandinavia

The current population of Scandinavia stands at around 23 million. It is comprised of distinct linguistic and cultural communities with proud and enduring traditions. Humans first entered into southern Scandinavia during the upper Paleolithic (ca 10,000 years ago) where they used stone tools to hunt and forage for wild foods. The earliest evidence of pottery and agriculture comes from the Ertebølle Culture who lived in Neolithic Period, which began in 5th millennium BCE.  Overtime, people began using copper and eventually bronze, which defines the Nordic Bronze Age (ca.1800-500 BCE). This period is characterized by the use of bronze and long distance maritime trade of Amber to the Mediterranean region. By around 2500 years ago, the introduction of Iron marks a new cultural revolution with increased contact and influence with northern European cultures, particularly Germanic tribes. However, one of the most iconic Scandinavian cultural periods began around 1200 years ago with the rise of the Vikings. These marauding men would eventually consolidate power and spread their influences (for better or worse) across much of Europe.

The Origin of Sahti

It is in this period that we look to for evidence of the kind of ale people were consuming in this part of the world.  In fact, the word “ale” is likely derived from the Viking word “aul”.  Moreover, the Swedish word is öl, the Finnish olut, the Danish and Norwegian for ale is øl.  One ale in particular that seems to have great antiquity in Scandinavia and particularly in Finland is a beer called Sahti.  Sahti was traditionally made by women Brewster’s in nearly every village in Finland, some say for more than one thousand years. It traditionally contained malted barley, malted rye, juniper boughs and hops.  Generally, saunas were used to kiln dry or smoke the malted grains (Sysila 1998).

Archaeological evidence for Shati comes from the remains found inside of a wooden barrel that was placed in an elaborate Viking ship burial in Oseburg Norway that dated to ca. 800.  The ship was excavated in 1904 by Professor Gabriel Gustafson of the University Museum of Antiquities in Oslo.  Other sahti barrels were also found on a sunken Viking wreck off Norway in the 1930s. The design of the barrels was dated to the 9th century (Asplund:25)

The earliest known Finnish references to beer date to 1366, when it was noted that a large quantity of Sahti was consumed during the burial of a Bishop Hemminki. Moreover, the Finnish epic known as the Kalevala contains 400 stanzas related to brewing. The exact age of the Kalevala is uncertain, but many believe it was an oral tradition passed down since the Iron Age, before being first written down in 1835 by Elias Lönnrot.

Traditional Methods of Brewing Sahti


There were often two brewing cycles: The first was called tupulisahti (strong sahti) for the men and the second called jälkijuoma (nosedrops) i.e. weak sahti for the women (Ovell 1996).  During the brewing cycle, juniper boughs are placed at the bottom of a hollowed out aspen log called a Kuurna, which is basically a lauter tun for extracting the flavors of the juniper and sugars from the malted grains.  The bottom of the Kuurna is lined with rung-like straight pieces of wood to create a false bottom.  One end of the Kuurna is fitted with a bunghole at the level of the bottom for draining the wort.  In this rendition of Sahti, we placed fresh boughs of juniper at the bottom of our mash-tun.

While it took some time before we could drain off the wort through the juniper boughs, we were able to generate at least 8 gallons of shati that is sure to be delicious!  Now all we need are a couple of drinking horns and we’ll be right back in Viking Period.  We promise to keep the marauding to a minimum!

References

Peter Ovell 1996: Finland’s Indigenous Beer Culture

Ilkka Sysila 1998:  Sahti: A Remnant of Finland’s Rustic Past

Brewing an Iron Age Ale

Brewing an Iron Age Anatolian Ale

During the most recent “Ale through the Ages” brewing series (February 4th 2010) , we brewed up an Iron Age Anatolian Ale, which is based on molecular archaeological analysis of residues found inside bronze vessels found in a 2750 year old tomb of a king at the site of Gordion in modern Turkey (McGovern 2009:134).  In 2000, Dogfish Head Brewery recreated this recipe in a widely celebrated version called “Midas Touch” (Calagione 2006:146).  Therefore, using this basic recipe as a basis for our experimental Anatolian Ale, we brewed 10 gallons of what is sure to be a deliciously strong beer, reminiscent of a barely wine.  It had an original Gravity of 1.074 which was fermented for three days at room temperature, before adding the very sweet Muscat grape concentrate.  We can expect this unique golden ale to be a full bodied grape flavored ale with a distinct smokey finish, from the smoked barley. This delicious ale with both will gain strength and character with age.

Who Were The Phrygians?

Gordion became the royal seat of the Phrygian culture who originally migrated into Anatolia (Turkey) from Southeastern Europe ca. 1200 BCE. They were a sophisticated culture and drew influence from a variety of Mediterranean and Near East traditions. They spoke their own language and even created an alphabet, which was based on a combination of Greek and Semitic. However, their cultural influence declined after a defeat by the Cimmerians of the southern Caucasus Mountains in 695 BCE. In 278 BCE., King Nicomedes I of Bithynia (an ancient kingdom located just to the east of modern Istanbul) welcomed 20,000 European Celts (known as Galatai) to establish their presence at the ancient city of Gordion. They marched into northwestern Anatolia with thousands of warriors, civilians and merchants and quickly took up residence.

Where is Gordion?

The site of Gordion is located about 60 miles southwest of Ankara in central Turkey. Identification of Gordion is based on geographical information from ancient authors, as well as the archaeological evidence uncovered over the past century, mainly by the University of Pennsylvania Museum 1950s -1990s (Young,  De Vries, Sam, Sumner, Voigt, et al.).  The site is situated in an agriculturally rich valley, ideal for cereal grain cultivation.  In addition to the remains of several buildings identified as possible breweries/bakeries at Gordion of charred grains, germinated barley, grinders, ovens and ceramic vessels indicative of beer consumption have also been identified at Gordion.

When was the King Buried?

Particularly noteworthy evidence of a fermented beverage came from the residues found inside a large number of bronze vessels that were buried with a 60-65 year-old male who was laid to rest inside a wooden tomb, over which an enormous earthen mound was constructed.  Known as Tumulus MM (Midas Mound), this elaborate burial was believed to have been for a Phrygian King, initially interpreted to be King Midas.  However, recent tree ring analysis of the tombs timbers indicate a construction date of 740BCE, several decades before King Midas was known to have assumed the Phrygian throne. Therefore, it may be the burial of his father Gordios, after which the city became known.

What was this Kings Drink?

Buried with this elderly king were 14 pieces of wood furniture believed to have been used as serving and dining tables for a funerary banquet eaten by the mourners during the burial ceremony. There were also three large bronze cauldrons that could hold at least a 150 liter capacity.  A lion-headed bucket (situla) and a ram-headed situla were also discovered in addition to two jugs with long spouts, nineteen small jugs and at least 100 bronze drinking bowls.

Upon closer scrutiny of the residues found inside these vessels, it was determined by Dr. Patrick McGovern at the University of Pennsylvania Museum that these residues included Calcium Oxalate which is indicative of barley fermentation, tartaric acid, which indicates grape wine, as well as beeswax compounds, which suggests a fermented honey or mead addition.  The resulting “Phrygian grog” as McGovern calls it (ibid), was likely a braggot style ale fermented with barley, grapes, honey, and the potential addition of saffron for color, taste and preservation.  If the Midas Touch ale is any indication of the unusually delicious flavors to expect, our recreation should be just as interesting, if not even better!

Designed by K.Cullen

Anatolian Ale Bottle Label

References

McGovern, Patrick

2009   Uncorking the Past: The quest for wine, beer, and other alcoholic beverages. The University of California Press, Berkeley & Los Angles, CA.

Calagione, Sam

2006   Extreme Brewing: An Enthusiast’s Guide to Brewing Craft Beer at Home. Quayside Publishing Group, Beverley, MA.

Brewing a Medieval Mumm Ale

During the latest “Ale through the Ages” brewing seminar (January 14th) we brewed a Medieval Period strong ale known as “Mumm” (also spelled mum or mumme). Mumm ale is truly an historic beer, where it earned the reputation from Germany to England as being “strong as six horses, coach and all” (Anonymous author ca.1720). Many attribute its origin to the northern German city of Braunschweig and a brewer by the name of Christian Mumme in 1492. However an invoice dated to 1390 for beer sold to the city of Braunschweig for a feast mentions the drink “mumm”. Therefore it is doubtful that, “mumme” actually derived from the name of a Christian Mumme, because the account was created 102 years before the alleged formulation (Roloff 1955:175).

By the mid 1500s more than five varieties of mumme were being brewed in Braunschweig. Over time the term “Mumme” became a general designation for “dark beer” (Mack 1911:17). By the 16th Century Mumm was being exported to England where it was enjoyed greatly as a potent tonic. It was soon copied and endured as a popular strong ale into the mid 18th Century. “…with Mr. Norbury near hand to the Fleece, a mum-house in Leadenhall, and there drank mum, and by-and-by broke up” (Pepys 1664). The decline of Mumm production in Germany began in the 18th Century due to heavy taxation in addition to changing laws. Today, very few breweries still produce Mumm(e), these include the German breweries of Nettelbeck and Wismarer.


While the brewing of mumm was a closely guarded secret, the version we brewed is based on an English recipe written in The Receipt Book of John Nott that dates to the late 1600s.

“To make a vessel of sixty-three gallons, we are instructed that the water must be first boiled to the consumption of a third part, then let it be brewed according to art with seven barrels of wheat-malt, one bushel of oat-malt and one bushel of ground beans. When the mixture begins to work, the following ingredients are to be added: Three pounds of the inner bark of fir, one pound each of the tops of the fir and birch; three handfuls of dried Carduus Benedictus [blessed thistle], two handfuls of flowers of Rosa solis [sundew]; of burnet, betony, marjoram, avens, pennyroyal, flowers of elder and wild thyme, three ounces of bruised seeds of cardamom, one ounce of bruised bayberries. Subsequently ten new-laid eggs, not cracked or broken, are to be put into the hogshead, which is then to be stopped close, and not tapped for two years, a sea voyage greatly improving the drink” (John Nott 1680).

Therefore, the following recipe is based on this English Mumm recipe and converted to a 6 gallon batch.

It required a significant amount of malted grain (nearly 20lbs of grain) to brew this strong ale, whereby resulting in a specific gravity of 1.80 (i.e. 9% -10% ABV). After the Thames River Valley yeast began to ferment the wort, all of the herbs were added three days later. Mind you, these herbs were first steeped in boiling water for 5minutes to minimize bacterial contamination.


Nevertheless, this ale is sure to be very unique in flavor and quite strong, much like a barley wine. As there are very few examples of this variety of beer still being brewed worldwide, it will be a surprise to taste how it turns out!

Brewing a Drink of Kings

Brewing an Ancient Irish Mead:
Continuing with the popular brewing series “Ale through the Ages: The Anthropology and Archaeology of Brewing” on December 2nd we brewed a heather mead inspired by the drink imbibed by the ancient kings of Ireland. Having just returned from Ireland the day before, I was pleased to share photographs from Tara and other ceremonial sites in Co. Meath where ritual feasting and consumption took place as early as the Neolithic Period. We brewed 10 gallons of mead which consisted of 22lbs of honey (10 pounds were generously donated by kind folks at the Urban Apiculture Institute, three pounds of honey malt, six ounces of heather tips and two ounces of elderflowers.

We boiled the wort for a total of 20 minutes, but added the local raw honey from the Urban Apiculture Institute during the last couple of minutes to ensure maximum flavor retention. A specific gravity of 1.078 was obtained, indicating a maximum alcoholic potential of ca. 10%. Normally mead should stay in the fermenter for several months, however we will try to speed up the fermentation process and then stop it in its tracks in two weeks before bottling. Currently the mead is in a vigorous state of fermentation with blow-off hoses attached in case it overflows. These hoses will eventually be replaced with airlocks, once the rate of fermentation decreases. This mead is sure to be sweet with subtle floral hints of heather and elderflower. As with any beer or wine, aging will only improve its character and illicit visions of its glorious past.

A Mead By Any Other Name:
Mead is a wine-like alcoholic beverage principally made of fermented honey. It continues to be enjoyed around the world under different names. It can have a wide range of flavors, depending on the source of the honey, additives, the yeast, and aging procedure. A mead that contains cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg or herbs is called a metheglin. A mead containing fruit, such as raspberries, blackberries, etc. is called melomel. Meanwhile, a mead fermented with grape juice is called a pyment.

Human Procurement of Honey:
Human’s love affair with honey extends back into the unknown depths of time. Exactly how far back may never be known, however one of the earliest examples honey collecting is depicted in Matopo Hills of Zimbabwe that is circa 10,000 years old (Pager 1973:54(2)).

When it comes to apiculture, i.e. keeping bees for their honey and wax, the earliest examples come from Egypt. One notable example of beekeeping can bee seen in a stone bas relief in the tomb of Queen Pabasa at el-Asasif Egypt that is dated to ca. 2400 BCE. Moreover, in 2007 archaeologists from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University were excavating the ca. 3,000 years old ruins of Tel Rehov in northern Israel, when they uncovered the earliest archaeological evidence of beekeeping. In all, there were 30 intact beehives made of straw and unbaked clay, with a hole at one end to allow the bees in and out and a lid on the other end to allow beekeepers access to the honeycombs inside.

Etymology of “Mead”:
The earliest surviving written notation of mead comes from a hymn in the Rig-Veda, one of the sacred books of Hinduism dated around 1700–1100 BCE, in which it states “In the wide-striding Vishnu’s highest footstep, there is a spring of mead.” The etymology of the word mead can be traced to the Sanskrit word, madhu, which became the Old English word Medu and the Irish word Miodh, the precursor to “mead.” Indeed, the term “honeymoon” is considered to be derived from the tradition of newlyweds drinking mead for one month (one moon) following their wedding to ensure fertility. In pre-historic Europe, mead was considered the drink of Celtic royalty and has been found in many archaeological contexts from Germany to Ireland.

Two Archaeological Examples of Mead:

While there is abundant written evidence of meads importance in Europe, from Shakespeare’s Beowulf to Odin’s thirst for mead the in Viking Sagas, there are also several archaeological sites that have yielded empirical data. One noteworthy example comes from a Celtic chieftain’s burial at the site of Hochdorf in southwestern Germany. This burial mound (tumulus) dating to ca. 550 BCE was excavated by Jörg Biel in 1978-79. Beneath the mound a log chamber was found, which held the remains of an elite male laid out on a bronze bench surrounded by drinking and feasting equipment. Of particular note was huge bronze cauldron imported from northern Italy, which contained the desiccated remains of an estimated 92 gallons of mead. Moreover, there were nine large gold decorated drinking horns, (likely from the extinct auroch), the largest of which hung above the chieftain’s head and could hold 10 pints of mead.

An example of the importance of mead in Ireland can be seen at the ancient royal site of Tara in County Meath, which at one time was the royal seat for the high-kings of Ireland. Most of the archaeological remains at the site were used as burials and open-air enclosures for ceremonial purposes. Today there are around thirty visible earthworks immediately around the hill of Tara’s summit and at least 30 more have been revealed through aerial photography and geophysical prospection (Fenwick and Newman 2002). Of specific interest is the presence of a huge banquette hall called Tech-Midchuarta or “Mead Hall.” Built around the 5th – 8th Century, this massive structure was 250 meters x 30 meters and was intended to unite the ceremonial landscape of Tara. An illustration in the Book of Leinster (AD 1100) shows a seating arrangement at the great mead hall, highlighting the entrenched social stratification during this period.