Musing on Lobel’s Meth

Today I posted a recipe for a spiced mead from 1609. The recipe was published in Charles Butlers ‘The Feminine Monarchy’ about bees with an attribution to Matthias Lobel.  See here Lobel’s Meth

The redaction for the recipe itself was interesting, but unremarkable. The process got much more interesting when I pulled up a group of related recipes. In the end I found 9 recipes in my database with very close ingredients, ratios and instructions. One has enough differences that is is possibly more distantly linked or unrelated, but I think it is a sibling recipe. The other 8 are either named for Lobel (3), in books by Lobel (2), or have enough similarities of wording that they are undoubtedly the ‘same’ recipe.

The 7 recipes are in 4 languages: English, French, Latin, and Dutch. They cover 90 years (from 1570 to 1658).  Although the core ingredients are the same for all but one recipe, ancillary ingredients, the proportions, methods for mixing the wort, yeast sources, fermentation instructions, and possible fermentation containers vary. These variations present a number of options in the recipe.

Some specific interesting possibilities are hidden in some of the versions.

  • One appears to call for adding a third part wine to color the mead, resulting in a product that is 1/3 or 1/4 wine.
  • Another specifies ‘acid beer’ as a yeast source. This could support using lactic or other cultures in the fermentation.
  • Yet another recipe has a side instruction recommending 3 ounces ferment per pound of wort – this would be about 20% beer or ale, a significant addition.
  • Several versions call to after 4 days fermenting put the wort into a barrel “scalded with Bay-leaves”

I started a 1-gallon batch of the basic 1609 recipe a few months ago. It is in secondary and will be bottled soon. When racked a month and a half ago it had a respectable 10% ABV, although it still had a gravity of 1.035. Since I used an Ale yeast (Lallemand Nottingham, one of my go-to basic yeasts) I suspect it might have gone a bit higher since, but not much.

The recipes includes 5 spice in equal amounts by weight: cinnamon, grains of paradise, cloves, ginger, and pepper. Because fresh ginger would have been a miniscule amount, I used dried ginger. I also chose to use true cinnamon rather than cassia cinnamon, and in my worry about too much clove cut down the number of cloves from 7 to 5. This is the spice for a 1 gallon batch.

The flavors, particularly the pepper and cinnamon have interacted in an unusual way. The taste is somewhat medicinal. All the spices except the ginger come through. The pepper in particular interacts with the other spices creating complexity.


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