On the Making of Metheglin

As part of the NOTW card Kickstarter a couple months ago, I promised if we hit a stretch goal I would post up my personal recipe for Metheglin.

Now in the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you a few things before you go and try to replicate one of my experiments.

1. I got interested in brewing mead while I was writing my books, way back in my college days. It’s not something that I brought to my books, it’s something my books brought to me.

2. I used to be a bit of a chemistry geek. I originally went to College to study the equivalent of chemical engineering.

3. I did not stick with that line of study very long. I never took it very seriously, but I enjoyed the labwork, and I have a great fondness for all the gear involved. I’m a bit of a geek for it, and I know enough to be dangerous.

So. The stage is set. Here’s the story.

It’s 1999 or so, and I’m thinking that I’m going to take a crack at making some mead. So I start doing some research. I buy some books. I look on the early proto-internet for information.

And I learn some interesting things. I learn that the name “metheglin” comes from the old English term for medicine. Metheglin was mead with a bunch of herbs in it. Because, as you know, herbs are good for you.

But as I read more it all started sounding like a *huge* pain in the ass. The books went on and on about about how I’m supposed to check the ph level and… I don’t know, hydroginize things or some shit like that.

What it sounds like is a lot of fiddly bullshit work to me, and that’s not what I signed up for. I wasn’t looking for a part time job. I didn’t want to babysit this goddamn thing for 6 months, petting it and taking its temperature and cooing sweet nothings in its ear.

No. I wanted to muck about with glass bottles and tubes for an afternoon. I wanted to make a potion. I wanted to do some goddamn mad science and then not think about it again until the stuff was ready to drink.

Then I thought to myself, “Self,” I thought. “This is bullshit. Vikings made this, and I guarantee that they did not own a hydrometer. They just thumped it together in a barrel and then drank it and pillaged some shit.”

So, figuring that while I wasn’t a chemical engineer by any stretch of the imagination, my understanding of organic chemistry was at least as good as a  Viking’s.

In proud Viking mad-scientist style, I bunged a bunch of stuff into a big glass jug, shook it up, and brewed what would come to be known among my friends as “The Mindbender Mead.”

Metheglin page

For those of you who don’t want to strain your eyes, here it is typed up.

4.5 lbs Wildflower honey
1 pint apple juice
2 packages champagne yeast (LALVIN brand) -EC-1118
1/2 tsp yeast energizer
3 drops willow tincture
3 tbsp orange rind
7 whole cloves
1/2 tsp morning glory seeds (black)
1 tbsp clover seeds
1/4 (unit missing) bee pollen
1/4 oz stick cinnamon – well broken
1/2 tsp cardamom seed
1/2 tsp hysop
2 pinches brown flaky stuff
1 tbsp poppy seed
1/2 tbs fenugreek (whole)
1 lean pinch wormwood
+1 gallon distilled water (I don’t know why this is written there.)

Note the scientific rigor with which I recorded the ingredients, such as the “brown flaky stuff” that I knew was some sort of herb, because it was sitting on a bottle on my shelves. I can see it in my mind. I wonder if I still have it downstairs?

Hmm…. No luck. But here, I took a picture of one of my shelves that I just scoured to see if I could find it.

My shelves

There’s some stories on *that* shelf, let me tell you. Not the least of which is one of my my failed coffee experiments from back in 2002.

A few notes about the above recipe:

1. The stuff in pencil was me trying to make it ferment again. I thought it was stuck, but in fact, it was just finished.

2. I don’t know why it says +1 gallon of distilled water. I used a 3 gallon carboy, so I know I put more water in than that….

3. I used morning glory seeds because I had heard that they contain a substance similar to LSD. However, I used hand-gathered seeds, because store-bought ones are typically treated with anti-fungal agents you don’t want to ingest.

4. I used some wormwood because I knew it contained a substance similar to THC.

5. Note that I didn’t use much of either one. Mostly because I didn’t want people to drink it and lose their shit all over my house.

I put all the miscelaneous herbs and whatnot into a mesh bag and put it in the mead. But the mead was all bubbly with science and fermentation. It floated to the top, rather than steeping, releasing all of its healthful goodness.

This angered me. So I thought to myself, “what do I have here in the house that I can put in the bag to make it sink?” It must be heavy, but it also must be small enough to fit through the relatively small opening at the top of my carboy. It should also be somewhere inside the house, because I am lazy.

So I picked out a piece of Lapis Lazuli I had laying around. Because, among other things, I am a bit of a rock geek. Have been since I was a kid.

Why did I use a piece of lapis instead of, say, a chunk of gravel or a spoon? Because I was making a fucking potion, that’s why. And if I want to put some gemstones in there then that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

And this

(Also introducing: My Foot. And now you know.)

Lapis is a semi-precious stone, and though you can’t tell in that picture, it’s a lovely bluish color.  The piece I put into the mead was almost exactly the same at that one up there, because I bought them at the same time.

It didn’t really weigh the sack down that much, but I was done fiddling about, and decided to call it good enough.

Several months later when I bottled the mead and re-claimed my piece of lapis, I discovered it was no longer a pretty bluish color. It was no longer polished smooth.

Now its surface was pitted and crumbly and white. The mead, you see, had eaten away the outside of the stone.

I was equal parts impressed an terrified. So it was time for more research to figure out if drinking this was going to give me cobalt poisoning or something similar.

And what do I find out? Apparently lapis is mostly composed of stuff some brewers use anyway, to clarify and stabilize their wines or beers. (And there isn’t much chance of their being arsenic or cobalt at all. Hurray!)

The moral of the story is either:

1. I’m really lucky.

2. I played too much D&D as a kid.

3. Even when I’m just fucking about and making shit up I’m pretty goddamn clever.

It was my first batch of mead, and it was probably the best one I’ve ever done. It was strong stuff, and when my friends came over and drank it, the room got a warm, mellow feel. Which could be the wormwood. Or it could be the arsenic….

Or, you know, the booze.

So there you have it: Mindbender Mead.

Please brew responsibly. I am not legally responsible for your stupidity.

With love,

pat

P.S. If you ordered stuff from the Kickstarter, they’re finalizing the orders even as we speak. You should have received e-mails telling you how to log onto the Pledge Manager and confirm your order. This is important, because you’ll have the chance to add anything you missed in those hectic final days.

The folks at Albino Dragon tell me that about 2500 people haven’t finished confirming their orders. So if you *haven’t* seen an e-mail, you might want to check around in your spam filter.

Because the deadline for all this is pretty much today. Monday Sept 30th.

If you don’t confirm things on time, it will slow down your order. And if enough people drag their feet, it will slow down *everyone’s* orders.

So jump to it.

P.P.S. If you *didn’t* order stuff from the Kickstarter and wish you had, there’s no need to wail and gnash your teeth.

Ditto for those of you who are reading this after the deadline has passed. Or the folks who wish they could add a few things, but are strapped for cash at the end of the month.

Rest assured that after we fill all the orders, we’ll be putting most everything from the kickstarter up in our online store: the Tinker’s Packs.

This entry was posted in Arts and Crafts, hodgelany, I Fucking Love Numbered Lists, small adventures, Terrible Science. By Pat57 Responses

57 Comments

  1. Posted September 30, 2013 at 7:26 AM | Permalink

    I was at your GenCon event and just discovered that now whenever I read your blog entries, I imagine you telling them in your awesome story voice. It makes for a very pleasant reading experience.

    • Posted September 30, 2013 at 10:39 AM | Permalink

      I do that with everyone: when I read e-mails and facebook posts and whatnot I “hear” them in people’s voices. Unfortunately that also means I only ever read as fast as people talk :/

      • Blaine M Moore
        Posted September 30, 2013 at 8:36 PM | Permalink

        I do the same, except I have a sort of… I don’t know… time dilated thought voice thing where I can still read it superfast, and in their voice, but somehow it still sounds as fast as they speak in my head. It’s weird. It’s sort of like sentences overlap without getting muddled.

  2. Mitchell Hundred
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 7:32 AM | Permalink

    I have to know: did you intentionally choose this morning to talk about a recipe for something whose first syllable is ‘meth’, or was that a coincidence?

    • AlistairM
      Posted September 30, 2013 at 8:01 AM | Permalink

      Shh! The NSA may be listening we might never hear from Pat again :P

      On the topic of fictional drinks, I’ve always wanted to try butter beer.

  3. Fawkes
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 8:11 AM | Permalink

    Er, Pat… Is that red nitric acid I see on that shelf?! I may only be a second year chemist but I’m pretty sure that shit has no business being anywhere near coffee or mead… Nor a residential dwelling for that matter!

    • Posted September 30, 2013 at 8:55 AM | Permalink

      It’s a wormwood tincture I made, but I love those old reagent bottles….

      • ali rahemtulla
        Posted September 30, 2013 at 1:50 PM | Permalink

        There’s the Pat we all know and love! It’s good to see you blogging again. Worldbuilders is all noble and stuff, and the cards are awesome (can’t wait to get mine!), but I come hear to read the amazing blogs of one of the greatest writers to tread upon the earth.

      • angledge
        Posted September 30, 2013 at 8:45 PM | Permalink

        This chemist I really respect once stated that one of the three basic rules of chemistry is “Label clearly”. It is a good rule!

        (The other two are also good rules: “Measure twice” and “Eat elsewhere”.)

  4. Christer
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 9:19 AM | Permalink

    I’ve never made mead, but when I dry hop beer I put marbles in my muslin bag to make the hops sink… but precious stones would probably make it taste better. I see a batch of mead in my future.

  5. Silas_Miller
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 10:20 AM | Permalink

    Awesome reminisce! Thanks for that. I may try this out. I’ve been making hard cider lately mostly because it is so easy. This mead making approach doesn’t sound too time consuming either. The lapis lazuli getting eaten is my favorite part of this, and I will most likely recreate that aspect to retain your magic. :)

  6. Dohtig
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 10:50 AM | Permalink

    I am wicked impressed with this recipe. After I finish my strawberry/rhubarb beer, dry stout brew, and my basic mead / black tea mead then this will be next on my list. . . of to the local herbalist/apothecary!

  7. spoonyspork
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 10:53 AM | Permalink

    Is ‘brown flaky stuff’ possibly pau d’arco or Cinchona bark, which is where quinine comes from? Quinine being the stuff in tonic water. I describe the stuff I put in my horse’s feed for his EPM (caused by a protozoa similar to the ones that cause malaria) as ‘brown flaky stuff’. It has an… interesting, herby bitter-sweet taste, and there are claims that it has way more medicinal effects than the quinine could account for… so it’d make sense to be in a meed named after medicine.

    Looks like this: http://denverspice.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Pau-DArco-DSC.jpg

    • Posted September 30, 2013 at 3:08 PM | Permalink

      Wow. You’re a freak, but you’re absolutely right. I don’t even need to click on the link to know that. I recognize the name.

      *Ding*

      +10 Minion Points!

      *Ding*

      You are now Minion First Class!

      • spoonyspork
        Posted September 30, 2013 at 10:14 PM | Permalink

        Haha — freak because I know what it tastes like or freak because I saw ‘brown flaky stuff’ and went ‘oh yeah, I have brown flaky stuff”?

        Either way… woo, level up! ^.^

        • darlinkaty
          Posted October 1, 2013 at 12:10 PM | Permalink

          This entire transaction is badass and a perfect example of why I love this blog and this community SO much.

  8. Robo
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 10:54 AM | Permalink

    Dude, you’re like the Heisenberg of making mead! Does it have a particular color? I’m sure we can see this shit to the Bosnians for a huge markup!

  9. NeoDobby
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 11:29 AM | Permalink

    There’s another possibility for people who didn’t pledge for the Kickstarter or missed it and still want to pledge: In this update http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1460165270/the-name-of-the-wind-playing-cards/posts/605874 Albino Dragon tells you how to still be able to get some of the stuff through the pledge manager – maybe even some of the exclusive stuff that won’t be featured on Tinker’s Packs(?) – don’t take my word for it though. You should also know that you’ll probably served last until all the original backers got their stuff.

  10. bigirishgod
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 11:30 AM | Permalink

    That is one hell of a recipe man! My friends and I have 25 gallons of mead going right now actually. Five gallons each of: mixed berry and rhubarb, plum and rainier cherry, ghost pepper lemon lime, plain wildflower, and a sparkling ginger.

    • Posted September 30, 2013 at 6:29 PM | Permalink

      Ghost Pepper Lemon Lime….that’s sounds amazing and like it has little of the after taste I rarely enjoy.

    • novaengliae
      Posted October 1, 2013 at 9:43 PM | Permalink

      ghost pepper lemon lime actually sounds really good. I’m sure it would have a rather selective following.

  11. Posted September 30, 2013 at 11:44 AM | Permalink

    I just love when you go to try some middle ages hobby and then the instructions tell you it requires 7 modern age tools.

    Obviously, they are NOT required. *smh*

    Also, you guys didn’t get stomach aches from the Morning Glory seeds? I have never ingested them without getting a horrible stomach ache and I am definitely getting the kind for ingestion, not the store bought poison. Do you by chance mash them up? This was suggested to me, but honestly, I just haven’t tried it again because…Worst. Stomachache. Ever.

  12. justajenjen
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 1:40 PM | Permalink

    Is that an apothocary cupboard? I’m kinda jealous. I’ve always wanted a nice big apothocary cupboard and I see them sometimes at antique shops and it makes me sad that I had no way to get it home with me.

    Fenugreek, huh. Hmm. Interesting. Since fenugreek is a galactagogue, I may have to keep this recipe in mind next time I’m breastfeeding. Sounds more fun that boring tea.

  13. spikyc
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 2:00 PM | Permalink

    Hey Pat, how big a jug did you use to ferment all this? For example, I’m considering making this myself, and I’m thinking of using a 5 gallon jug. Would that be big enough to make this recipe, or to make 1.5 times this recipe, or what? Thank ya for posting this!

  14. firebird
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 2:11 PM | Permalink

    Awesome I’m supper excited about buying some jabs or ha penny’s. I’ve completely embraced my geek ness and NEED to show these things off to my friends. And random people.

  15. Posted September 30, 2013 at 4:54 PM | Permalink

    If anyone decides to do this and wants to toss in a chunk of lapis, make sure you’re buying the real thing. A lot of stones get dyed and passed off as lapis, or even low grade lapis lazuli gets dyed a deeper blue. Sometimes bits and pieces of lapis gets reconstituted into a single stone with the use of glue. Not something you want in your alcohol! The real thing is going to be a bit on the expensive side, so keep that in mind if you decide to buy yourself a chunk for that wizard potion feel. ;-)

  16. terriblesecret
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 5:08 PM | Permalink

    This is not a recipe, it is a list of… stuff.

    A recipe would include instructions on how to proceed combining ingredients and the processes required to replicate the dish.

    • Posted September 30, 2013 at 6:54 PM | Permalink

      I think I covered that with, “I bunged a bunch of stuff into a big glass jug and shook it up.”

      If you know how to brew, you pretty much know what to do with this stuff. And if you *don’t* know how to brew, my blog isn’t the place you should learn….

      • AlistairM
        Posted October 3, 2013 at 5:16 AM | Permalink

        You should do that!

        Sounds like an untapped area on YouTube.

        You could call it “Brewin’ with Pat”.

        Teaching people how to create fantasy potions…

        I would like to try Scutten and a cinnamon mead.

        I actually think I’d like the taste of a Plumb Bob too, but would probably give that one a miss.

        1 Subscriber here already.

        • tyler
          Posted October 4, 2013 at 8:41 PM | Permalink

          Actually, I’m pretty sure he has already told us the golden rule of brewing:

          How hard could this possibly be?

          I’m not 100% sure, but I’m mostly convinced that the only reason people in the States today associate alcohol with being poisoned and going blind is because during Prohibition, the government polluted a bunch of industrial chemicals they thought were being used by brewers, using an ever-changing and exotic blend of horrors. This resulted in the poisonings of perhaps 10,000 people.

          But aside from prison environments where people are making stuff that tastes so bad they don’t know if it’s gone ‘off’, I can’t imagine it’s that dangerous. Have a PLAN, and be reasonably close to your target temperature and definitely target some particular ABV, but, meh?

          • AlistairM
            Posted October 7, 2013 at 6:15 AM | Permalink

            Bill Bryson is just talking about this in “One Summer: America 1927″

            Pretty damn crazy time…

  17. MTimonin
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 7:37 PM | Permalink

    It sounds like your first batch of mead went MUCH better than my first batch of mead, which gave the whole house wicked bad allergies as it fermented. It tasted … well, it didn’t taste very good. I suspect a lack of sterilization.

    Mmmm. I should try mead again.

  18. nwalme583
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 8:43 PM | Permalink

    1 Gallon of distilled water added to 4-5 pounds of honey and 1 quart of apple juice, plus the added space of the other ingredients probably filled 3 gallon carboy. You don’t make alchohol with a jug of water and a bit of honey ;) the other way around!

    • Smorgasbord
      Posted October 2, 2013 at 3:31 PM | Permalink

      Those other ingredients don’t look like they would take up that much space. I’m willing to bet that this is a per gallon recipe. I’ve made mead before and 3.5 -4.5 pounds of honey is about right for a one gallon batch, depending on what your goal is for sweetness vs. alcohol content and what yeast you are using.

  19. Garrett
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 10:44 PM | Permalink

    I’ve been trying to decide what to brew for the last couple weeks and you just made that decision incredibly easy. I know what I’m doing this weekend!

    Out of curiosity, do you remember how long it took to complete fermentation?

  20. QVolve
    Posted October 1, 2013 at 4:10 AM | Permalink

    The number of things I already have for this is surprising. It looks like I’ll be buying a carboy and shaking things up tomorrow!

  21. Poweredbyscience
    Posted October 1, 2013 at 5:44 AM | Permalink

    As both a Chemist who works in a lab that makes sure medicine is safe for patients and a home brewer myself this story horrifies me.

    For all the would be brewers out there nwalme583 is right in that only 1 gallon of actual water was probably used if Pat used a 3 gallon Carboy.

    If anyone wants to learn how to brew, check out How to Brew by John Palmer (online for free here at http://www.howtobrew.com/intro.html) which is often called the brewers bible. It’s mostly beer info, but you can figure out mead and wines using it as well.

    • Poweredbyscience
      Posted October 1, 2013 at 7:47 AM | Permalink

      Though science is all about happy accidents and it sounds like this one was quite the success! I can’t wait to try it out myself!

  22. sylvershade
    Posted October 1, 2013 at 1:22 PM | Permalink

    But did you never brew this again…?

  23. Posted October 1, 2013 at 1:55 PM | Permalink

    Pat, I wish you were my neighbor. I’d be the guy who always wants to come over and hangout, talk the craft of writing, and drink whatever you’ve magically made with stones and herbs. I make a mean pizza from scratch…

    • Posted October 1, 2013 at 4:06 PM | Permalink

      Have you ever bbq’d your homemade pizza? Tried that for the first time this year and loved it. Did it all summer.

      I mean literally. I had pizza every night. It was bomb and incredibly cheap to make from scratch.

      • Posted October 1, 2013 at 7:14 PM | Permalink

        No, I’ve never barbequed a pizza. I just use an oven. I’ve heard other folks talk about doing this, but I don’t see how it would work. I mean, how do you spread out the dough on the rack? Or do you use a pan?

        \When I bake a pizza, I first make the dough and then let it do a double-rise. As this is happening, I brown a pound or so of either hamburger or pork (from animals I’ve raised) in a pan with some onion. After the meat is browned, I add the sauce and mushrooms. Then, on a lightly oiled pan with a sprinkling of coarse ground cornmeal, I spread out the dough, put on the meat sauce, I bake it at 425 for 20 minutes. Then I make it rain with halved olives and three kinds of cheese. Back into the oven for another 5-6 minutes to melt the cheese.

        Fuck… now I’m hungry.

        • Posted October 3, 2013 at 5:26 PM | Permalink

          Actually don’t cook it on the rack directly. I tried that because some websites said it would be cool and it totally sucked. Burned the shit out of myself and almost lit my herb garden on fire simultaneously….

          I also tried only cooking it on the pan but it cooked the bottom way to fast and left the top kinda mushy since I actually cook it with all toppings on, all at once when I bbq it.

          I went and bought a pizza stone from the hardware store, I tried cooking mine both directly on the stone and on the pan on the stone. On the Pan on the Stone is the way to go. Otherwise, once again, the bottom will cook too fast. The best way for me was to wait for the coals to be completely gray (I use coals I don’t know shit about propane grills) Then I push them all out to the sides so they make a ring against the bbq , then I put the rack on with the stone, go get my pizza, which I usually put together beforehand, put it on the stone, that way the stone is only a little bit warm not hot and let it cook for about 15 minutes on the pan on the stone without lifting the lid. If you lift the lid too much it wont cook the top right.

          I usually make enough dough for the whole week at once with a little to spare, since I like it sour. I mix the old leftover dough into the new dough when I make it, tastes great. If you haven’t tried this totally recommend it. I don’t use meat sauce however, I make mine from tomatoes I cook into a paste and herbs I get out of my garden then top it with cheese and whatever I want on top of that.

          I will have to give your meatsauce recipe a try though, that sounds really good. Do you think it would also be fine on spaghetti if it were thinned out a bit?

          • Posted October 4, 2013 at 9:56 PM | Permalink

            It works fine for spaghetti, but I’m not a huge spaghetti eater either, so keep that in mind. I’ve made my own tomato sauce to add with the meat and I’ve also used store-bought, both work fine.

            Pat should share five of his favorite “I make it myself” recipes with all of us! I wonder if Pat puts a hairnet on his facebear?

      • Posted October 3, 2013 at 2:29 PM | Permalink

        I’ve become a big fan of smoked pizza. Make the dough with garlic, top with a light garlic-infused olive oil sauce, mozzarella, goat cheese, and smoked salmon, then smoke the whole thing with apple wood for about 35 minutes… if heaven is a pizza, it is that pizza.

  24. cbmurphy7
    Posted October 1, 2013 at 5:12 PM | Permalink

    Pat,

    You did good chemistry with that mead, just by virtue of having written things down and kept a record. I am looking forward to trying to replicate your recipe.

    Oh, and as a professor of chemistry, I have quoted you to the students many times, “Label clearly. Measure twice. Eat elsewhere.”

  25. Rahl
    Posted October 2, 2013 at 6:30 AM | Permalink

    I just saw this and thought of Pats blog.
    It maybe ideal for all those people out there who might not know what they are doing! (I would count myself in this group)

  26. Rego
    Posted October 2, 2013 at 5:53 PM | Permalink

    What temperature should it be brewed at?

  27. jimmyb
    Posted October 3, 2013 at 2:35 AM | Permalink

    Is it a coincidence that the follow news article appeared on the BBC website just 3 days after this blog post???

    The drink of kings makes a comeback

  28. Thigis
    Posted October 5, 2013 at 12:46 PM | Permalink

    by the LSD like stuff you are describing is called LSA and its in both the wormwood and the morning glory seeds (although IF i recall correctly it was actually a fungus on the morning glory seeds that contained LSA)

  29. WendigoL0ve
    Posted October 10, 2013 at 9:32 PM | Permalink

    This inspired me to try my own brewing. There is actually a kit in the final days on Kickstarter with a Mead Brewing. Start making my own potions!

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/757660972/mead-magic?ref=email

  30. andy.morey
    Posted April 8, 2014 at 5:18 PM | Permalink

    Quick question: what did you cap the carboy with? The cap it came with, or a cork, or something else? I”m trying to try this as best I can without it exploding.

    Cheers

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