6th Century CE Hopped Mead
Brewer: Magnús hvalmagi
Recipe Name: A 6th Century CE Hopped Mead Based on the Trossingen 58 Grave Find
Category: Division 2
Time/Place Paneled: EK Brew U, April 2014
Panel Score: 96
Background and Basis
In 2001/2002, a grave find at Trossingen, Germany was unearthed. The grave contained a human corpse with a number of well-preserved wooden artifacts, among them a bottle made of maple. Dendrochronological analysis puts the date of the grave at 580 CE. A booklet detailing aspects of the find was published in 2010, and recently became available outside of the museum where the find is housed.
The maple bottle contained numerous (~3500) pollen grains from various plant sources, including cereals, grape, bee activities, and hops.
I analyzed the pollen grains and, using a variety of research and assumptions, attempted to map the pollen content to mass of ingredients and from that reconstruct a plausible recipe for the product that may have been contained in the bottle.
Ingredients and Process (~2 liter batch size)
65 grams hopped leaven biscuit (~2/3 cup)
1 lb wildflower honey (~1 1/3 cup)
Lalvin EC-1118 yeast
A leaven biscuit was prepared by mixing 63 g ground malted grain (ground in a rotary hand quern constructed of concrete) with old wine (made from commercial grape juice and Lalvin EC-1118) in sufficient quantity (approx. 100 mL) to make a dough. 2 grams of ground Hallertau hop pellets were mixed in with the biscuit, and the mass was baked at 200F until it was completely dry. Additional Lalvin EC-1118 was mixed into the dried biscut, as I was uncertain as to the health and vitality of the yeast in the wine.
65 g of biscuit mix was placed in a sanitized growler, and 1 cup of warm water was poured onto it. Biscuit was allowed to sit overnight to begin fermentation. 1 1/3 cup of honey was added along with 5 1/3 cup water (a 1:4 honey:water ratio by volume). It was discovered during processing that 65 g of biscuit occupied a volume of 2/3 of a cup, and that 1 lb of the honey occupied roughly twice that volume – so a proportionate ingredient system is evidenced (1 part grain, 2 parts honey, 8 parts water). The mixture was allowed to ferment for 4 days before being transferred to an appropriate container for presentation.
I used honey that I had on hand. I do not recall if it was local raw honey or commercially-purchased honey, as it was in an unmarked container. I had previously prepared the malt for a different event where I would be demonstrating the rotary grain quern I had constructed; this malt was prepared by steeping barley in water, turning for several days, and drying in my oven. The malt was ground in the quern and not bolted (sifted) afterwards; this lead to an extremely crumbly “biscuit” that did not hold together well. Hallertau was selected as the hop because it’s a noble German variety, and I felt it would probably be the closest commercially-available option I could obtain.
The attached document (which is quite lengthy) details the model of interpretation I used when interpreting the evidence. Several assumptions have been made in order to do this.
The biscuit processing method comes from descriptions of leavening in Pliny’s Naturalis Historia and my own research into pre-1000 CE brewing methodology. Pliny’s method calls for grape must from the time of vintage (which would contain live yeast); as grapes do not really grow where I live, nor are they readily available, I substituted a still-fermenting wine that I happened to have on hand. Additional yeast was added to the biscuit to ensure fermentation, as the wine was somewhat old. While I was unable to determine the plausible mass of grape must that would account for the pollen representation in the bottle, we do know that self-pollinating plants (like the grape) produce far less pollen than wind or insect-pollinated plants. It seems reasonable that it would take 10x as much grape mass as hop mass to produce the same amount of pollen.
- Theune-Großkopf, Barbara. Mit Leier und Schwert. Das frühmittelalterliche Sängergrab von Trossingen. Likias; Friedberg. 2010
-Pliny the Elder. Naturalis Historia. Perseus Digital Library. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Plin.+Nat.+toc
-Olsen, Peter. “Brewing With Egil: Holy Hell, It Doesn’t Suck (Or: Crossing the Streams).” https://thedraughtsaredeep.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/brewing-with-egil-holy-hell-it-doesnt-suck-or-crossing-the-streams/