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!


5 responses to “Brewing a Medieval Mumm Ale

  1. This looks fabulous – and something I’d like to try. Do you know whether the herbs and spices were available in Germany also (ie this is similar to the German recipe) or whether this is purely an English version. The period in which it was brewed makes me think that it may have been a hopped beer in Germany, though of course the different regions had different laws.

    • Tamsyn,
      Glad to hear you enjoyed reading about Mumm! Many of the herbs used in Britain were also available in Germany during this period. It turns out it is similar to another non-hopped ale brewed in northern Europe during the same period, called Gruit (Gruut). We just brewed a batch and it reminded me of the Mumm flavor. Hops began to make their way into European beer recipe’s as early as the 10th Century, but they really didn’t catch on for a few centuries after that. Let me know how it tuns out!

  2. Pingback: Mumme Anyone? « Beer and Coding in Eugene

  3. \how did it turn out?

    • Jake, the Medieval Mumm turned out deliciously. Although few remain from that brewing session, a year later it really matured like the medicinal tonic it was designed to be! Think of a Gruit-style ale with a big floral/malt profile and a slightly sour finish. One-of-a-kind to be sure and hopefully fairly authentic to the tradition.

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