Black Psithian

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Full Recipe Name
Black Psithian
Recipe Source
Naturalis Historia, Pliny the Elder
Max the Executioner
Panel Information
Panel Location: Brew U
Panel Date: 2013
Score: 77
Beverage Information
Period: Antiquarian
Division: Division 6: Non-Alcoholic and Unique
Origin: Roman

Recipe for Black Psithian from Gaius Plinius Secundus, Book of Natural History translated from Latin into English by H. Rackham, Book 14: Chapter 10 and Chapter 11

Psithian and Black Psithian are kinds of raisin wine with a peculiar flavour which is not that of wine. Some people make this wine from any sweet white grape that ripens early. Drying them in the sun till little more than half their weight remains, and then they beat them and gently press out the juice. Afterwards they add to the skins the same quantity of well water as they have pressed out juice, so as also to make raisin wine of second quality. (These wines made from boiled down must and raisin wines “have been devised for adulterating with honey”).



3 pounds Dark Grape Blossom Honey
  1. 1 lb. Black Muscat Raisins
  2. 1/2 teaspoon Yeast Nutrient
  3. Wine Yeast - I use Red Star Montrachet
  4. Campden tablets (sulfites)
  5. Clean, non-chlorinated Water Source

My reasons for deviating from the original recipe are as follows:#

My raisins were a gift so I didn’t make them myself.
  1. I used a wine yeast to replace the natural yeast that would have been found on the raisins in the original recipe. Modern raisins are preserved with sulfites killing off the natural yeast.
  2. I used sulfites to preserve my raisin wine once fermentation was completed. Although, sulfur (sulfites) was not mentioned in specific in the original recipe, it was mentioned for general use along with sulfurous tree resins as wine preservative in Book 14: Chapter 25 of Pliny’s Book of Natural History.
  3. The original recipe would have been fermented inside wooden casks and once finished, stored inside wooden casks or ceramic amphora. I fermented mine in glass carboys and stored in glass bottles.

Procedure for making a 1-gallon batch of Black Psithian

  1. Make sure all of your equipment is clean, free of soap or detergent and sterilized with sulfites.
  2. Put 64 ounces of water into pot and bring to a temperature of 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Take raisins and rinse sulfites from them. (Modern raisins are preserved with sulfites.)
  4. Drain the raisins.
  5. Chop them into pieces.
  6. Add raisins to 170 degree water in your pot.
  7. Soak them for 30 minutes stirring them occasionally.
  8. Take a potato masher and crush raisins extracting the sugar from them into the water.
  9. After about 15 minutes of mashing, take and strain liquid into a separate pot.
  10. Press remaining liquid from raisins and drain that into the 2nd pot.
  11. Put 2nd pot back on stove.
  12. Bring temperature back up to 170 degrees F.
  13. Dissolve the 3 lbs of honey stirring it into the raisin must.
  14. Add in roughly 30 more ounces of water to mixture continually stirring.
  15. Bring mixture to 170 degrees for 10 minutes to sterilize the mixture.
  16. Transfer 16 ounces to the glass jar.
  17. Add remainder to 1 gallon glass carboy.
  18. Add fermentation lock.
  19. Once mixture in separate jar is cooled to 75 degrees, add yeast.
  20. 2 days later, add contents from jar to 1 gallon carboy.
  21. Let ferment at 70 - 80° F for 1 to 2 months or until fermentation ceases.
  22. Rack off clear psithian to second glass carboy leaving yeast sludge behind. Top off the second carboy with sulfited water solution. (2 tablets per gallon)
  23. Repeat step 22 at 3 months and at 6 months.
  24. At 9 months, bottle with sulfites (2 tablets per gallon) and enjoy.

List of equipment you will need to make a 1-gallon batch of Black Psithian

  1. 2 – 1 gallon glass carboys
  2. Four feet of clear plastic siphon hose
  3. 2 one foot sections of clear plastic tubing
  4. a 1 – 1 ½ gallon non-metallic pot
  5. a non-metallic spoon
  6. a non-metallic funnel
  7. a fermentation lock and rubber stopper
  8. a one quart glass jar
  9. Floating thermometer
  10. Hydrometer
  11. Non-metallic Measuring cup and measuring spoons
  12. 10 Glass 375 ml wine bottles
  13. 10 Corks
  14. 1 Stainless Steel Potato Masher
  15. 1 Sharp Chopping Knife
  16. Cork Press

Started on 9/28/2002 Starting Gravity: 1.112 Potential Alcohol: 15%

10/26/2002 Gravity: 1.040 Potential Alcohol: 5.2% ABV: 9.8%

11/23/2002 Gravity: 1.010 Potential Alcohol: 1.2% ABV: 13.8%

On 11/30/2002, racked and topped off with 8 ounces of sulfited water. After racking diluted to: 12.93% ABV

On 2/22/2003, racked and topped off with 8 ounces of sulfited water. After racking diluted to: 12.12% ABV

On 5/18/2003, racked and topped off with 8 ounces of sulfited water. After racking diluted to: 11.74% ABV

Bottled and sulfited on 8/24/2003 Final ABV: 11.52%

Primary Sources:

Book of Natural History by Gaius Plinius Secundus (Pliny the Elder), Book 14: Chapter 10, Chapter 11 and Chapter 25

Ancient Wine, the Search for the Origins of Viniculture by Patrick E. McGovern with a new foreword by Robert G. Mondavi