Brewing – Hydromel (1664)

The effect of drinking mead, circa 1600This sort of activity usually follows after drinking mead.

Hydromel literally means “water-honey” in Greek. This was our third entry for the brewing competition at the Conferention and results in a drink not unlike a light honeyed ginger beer. Glenda did it on her own and used a 50% proportion to fit the pot but otherwise followed the recipe to the letter. The boil mentioned is a gentle simmer rather than a rolling boil, to not drive off all the aromatic compounds in the honey. The yeast was a little of the English Ale Yeast reserved from the Cock Ale.

The titular Queen Mother in question was Henrietta Maria, who had the title from 30 January 1649 – 10 September 1669. This dates the recipe to the third or possibly fourth edition of Digby, but undoubtedly was common in the middle of the seventeenth century.

We bottled it without any additional sugar source for the secondary fermentation as there was plenty of sugar left over from the incomplete primary. The end result was around 1% alcohol.


Take 18 quarts of spring-water, and one quart of honey; when the water is warm, put the honey into it. When it boileth up, skim it very well, and continue skimming it, as long as any scum will rise. Then put in one Race of Ginger (sliced in thin slices,) four Cloves, and a little sprig of green Rosemary. Let these boil in the Liquor so long, till in all it have boiled one hour. Then set it to cool, till it be blood-warm; and then put to it a spoonful of Ale-yest. When it is worked up, put it into a vessel of a fit size; and after two or three days, bottle it up. You may drink it after six weeks, or two moneths. Thus was the Hydromel made that I gave the Queen, which was exceedingly liked by everybody.

You can say that again!

If you do make hydromel from Digby’s recipe, make sure you drink it within about 3 months. We had our first bottle explosion in 20 years of brewing and another correspondent who used PET plastic bottles reports they ended up barrel shaped and making alarming pinging noises. He resorted to releasing the gas daily until they settle down, I’m not sure what he’s doing with the bottles.


The Closet of Sir Kenholm Digby, Knight Unlocked (1644), p36 in the 1669 edition


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