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Viking equipment

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DethScribe

NewBee
Registered Member
Jul 5, 2011
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Kentucky
There seems to be a lot of distention about just *how* the ancient Scandinavian and Germanic peoples brewed their mead, which is understandable being as sagas and legends are about the only records from those times. But, what I'm looking for is insight into what sort of equipment they used for brewing their mead. I figure there has to be some information on it somewhere, if only through analysis of containers' original contents and/or functions.

I often get called crazy for trying to do things the hard or old way, but I would very much like to make a batch of "Viking Mead" in a manner that would be [mostly ;) ] true to ancient methods. Granted, I'm not going to be able to come by replicas of Viking-age crockery (if they even used crocks for some part of the process...), but I could probably manage to locate something that can emulate the process. Unless, of course, they brewed in giant vats, which I think I might have read somewhere. But: I'm willing to try it! (Maybe... might have to convince the wife of that one...).

Any insight into their equipment and methods, or even sources where I could find it, would be most appreciated. Thanks, and good drinking!

-Steve
 

akueck

Certified Mead Mentor
Certified Mead Mentor
Jun 26, 2006
4,958
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Ithaca, NY
There should be some historical recipes both in the forum here and on the main site. Poke around and you should be able to find them without much difficulty.

Most of the old old recipes I have seen involve a rain barrel and a hive, or some variation of "large container of water" and "stuff with honey inside". You can certainly go smaller in volume and be fine. Gravity was often measured by floating an object, e.g. an egg. Yeast was added by stirring with the "magic stick", inoculated with yeast from years of meadmaking. Pretty fun! I think all of us secretly want a magic stick. ;D
 

AToE

NewBee
Registered Member
Jun 8, 2009
4,066
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I definitely plan to go oldschool on a batch some time, but I'll be following WayneB and going a wee bit more oldschool than the time of the Vikings. ;D
 

wayneb

Lifetime Patron
Lifetime GotMead Patron
I definitely plan to go oldschool on a batch some time, but I'll be following WayneB and going a wee bit more oldschool than the time of the Vikings. ;D
AToE's referring to my neolithic re-creation experiment, where I tried to concoct a beverage similar to that which must have been originally in the flask found buried with an Asian warrior chieftan in Jiahu, China, several years back. Carbon dating of the gravesite suggested that it was over 9000 years old, and mass spectrometer analysis of the dried contents of the flask suggested it was originally a fermented beverage made from honey, grapes and/or hawthorn berries, and rice. I did a spin on it that I called "Wolf Moon." Dogfish Head brewery did a barley-malt variant that they call Chateau Jiahu. You could try a bottle of Ch. Jiahu and see if that's really something that you'd want to try to make - it is a slightly odd, and acquired, taste, IMO. ;)
 

DethScribe

NewBee
Registered Member
Jul 5, 2011
20
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0
Kentucky
akueck: I've come across some authenticy recipes, but am more interested in authentic methods since it seems there were preferred ingredients, then ingredients that they used the rest of the time when they couldn't get ahold of the stuff they liked. What I make will probably be something in more that "between time" type of style. I had not heard about measuring gravity with an egg -- that's pretty nifty --, but I came across similar info about the "magic stick" when reading about an old ale recipe. Seems like in it, the family in the article had kept the "same" strand of yeast on their stirring stick for a couple hundred years or something insane like that.

Wayneb: I've read about that take by DogFish Head, and have wanted to try it, but haven't been able to locate it around here (I'm lucky to find a drinkable bottle of commercial mead here!). Speaking of older honey brews, has anyone had luck with braggot? The Neolithic recreation of your sounds pretty nifty. I may have to try something like that when I have a few more batches under my belt.

My brewing buddy and I are thinking on using a bourbon barrel or equivalent when we make our next mead, which we're hoping we can make as Vikingy as possible.
 

Guinlilly

NewBee
Registered Member
Feb 17, 2011
299
3
0
Seaford, DE
AToE's referring to my neolithic re-creation experiment, where I tried to concoct a beverage similar to that which must have been originally in the flask found buried with an Asian warrior chieftan in Jiahu, China, several years back. Carbon dating of the gravesite suggested that it was over 9000 years old, and mass spectrometer analysis of the dried contents of the flask suggested it was originally a fermented beverage made from honey, grapes and/or hawthorn berries, and rice. I did a spin on it that I called "Wolf Moon." Dogfish Head brewery did a barley-malt variant that they call Chateau Jiahu. You could try a bottle of Ch. Jiahu and see if that's really something that you'd want to try to make - it is a slightly odd, and acquired, taste, IMO. ;)
Chateau is my absolute FAVORITE DFH brew and probably beer period. Midas Touch is a close second though. Good thing I live here in DE with a DFH brewer. ;D
 

wayneb

Lifetime Patron
Lifetime GotMead Patron
Keep in mind that the historic, period correct definition of "braggot" when the term was coined, was something along the lines of "old stale ale to which honey has been added to improve the flavour." Our modern BJCP inspired definition of braggot, where honey and various malt mashes are fermented together, isn't documented historically as a very widespread approach practiced back in the late medieval period.

The practice of mixing grain malts, honey, fruit, beet sugar, etc., probably was more common than written records suggest, however, since the process of throwing everything fermentable into a pot and seeing what develops seems from the archeological evidence to predate written recipes, and predates pretty much everything that has come since. That mixing with mad abandon approach had evolved into our more recognizable beer/ale, wine (grape and fruit), and mead subcategories by the time that the Vikings were brewing/fermenting things. In fact, the earliest melanges of all things that ferment are represented by modern day products such as Midas Touch and Ch. Jiahu. They are probably as close to that original melding of grain malts and honey and ??? other stuff, as anything else out there in the modern commercial market.
 

Chevette Girl

All around BAD EXAMPLE
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Apr 27, 2010
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I haven't done enough research into the Vikings to know whether they were more likely to use pottery crocks or barrels but I suppose both would be equally valid methods to try, what did they find in archaeological digs?

To get wild yeast (unless you re-use an oak stave or something in place of the "magic stick"), a handful of wild grapes would probably do the trick...

I can totally understand the fascination with not just the ancient ingredients but the methods too, I've been known to deconstruct beadwork jewelry right down to making my own beads out of Manitoba Maple (the twigs are hollow) and porquepine quills and threading with horsehair to get an idea what the Natives were doing before White Man brought glass seed beads, metal needles, and proper thread.
 

wayneb

Lifetime Patron
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Also recognizing that the oldest brewery records all point back to methods of fermentation that used open vessels (placing an ongoing fermentation under airlock and restricting exposure to the air is a very modern technique), I'd say that open wide-mouthed containers, whether crockery or wood, were most likely the fermentation vessels of choice, although again in the late medieval period I have seen some historical references recommend "loosely covering" the fermenters with cloth. Apparently by then, we'd learned that some airborne things (microscopic like bacteria or macroscopic like insects) weren't necessarily good for a fermentation! :p
 

TheAlchemist

I am Meadlemania
GotMead Patron
Sep 9, 2010
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Love the atavism of this thread.
Enjoy your VikingBrew and keep us posted on your progress.
And Welcome to Got Mead.
 

DethScribe

NewBee
Registered Member
Jul 5, 2011
20
0
0
Kentucky
Love the atavism of this thread.
Enjoy your VikingBrew and keep us posted on your progress.
And Welcome to Got Mead.
I just learned a new word! That's rare for me, especially if its a word that describes myself. ;)

Sometime in the next couple weeks, I hope to get some local honey and a few gallons of Icelandic water. Then, on to get a bourbon barrel, and possibly a crock.

WayneB: There will be some things (like leaving the fermenting brew uncovered), that I just don't think I will be able to bring myself to do, knowing the icky things that can result! I've heard of wine made in such a manner, but not other beverages; but really, I don't know much brewing history, yet. When I've made several successful meads in a row, I might try it, just to see the difference...

Historic braggot sounds aweful! :p I think I'll stick with drinking some mead, then drinking some ale. Or buying a commercial braggot that is engineered to be tasty...

Chevette Girl: Reconstructed methods are a lot of fun. Soon (I hope), I'm going to try to learn some flint knapping so I can make my own primitive tools for my bow making endeavors.

Thanks for all the insight everyone!
 

akueck

Certified Mead Mentor
Certified Mead Mentor
Jun 26, 2006
4,958
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Ithaca, NY
I know of several commercial breweries making (not sour) ales using open fermenters; some have been doing it that way for hundreds of years. Obviously it's down to a bit of a science now, but that doesn't change the fact that it's perfectly doable without risking much contamination. Most of the folks here have wound up elbow-deep in some batch or another and had things go just fine.

Definitely try it the "modern" way, but I'd keep the open top idea as a very viable option.
 

Chevette Girl

All around BAD EXAMPLE
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Chevette Girl: Reconstructed methods are a lot of fun. Soon (I hope), I'm going to try to learn some flint knapping so I can make my own primitive tools for my bow making endeavors.
You lucky thing! I always wanted to try that but never had any idea where to find flint...
 

Oskaar

Got Mead Partner
Administrator
Dec 26, 2004
7,874
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The OC
Hi Folks,

I moved this thread into the period mead resources area because it just seems more at home here.

Cheers,

Oskaar
 

DaleP

NewBee
Registered Member
Nov 30, 2008
199
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0
Webster Groves, Mo
I know of several commercial breweries making (not sour) ales using open fermenters; some have been doing it that way for hundreds of years. Obviously it's down to a bit of a science now, but that doesn't change the fact that it's perfectly doable without risking much contamination. Most of the folks here have wound up elbow-deep in some batch or another and had things go just fine.

Definitely try it the "modern" way, but I'd keep the open top idea as a very viable option.
Check out Sierra Nevada's website for some awesome videos of their Bigfoot fermenting in open containers.
 

wayneb

Lifetime Patron
Lifetime GotMead Patron
WayneB: There will be some things (like leaving the fermenting brew uncovered), that I just don't think I will be able to bring myself to do, knowing the icky things that can result! I've heard of wine made in such a manner, but not other beverages; but really, I don't know much brewing history, yet. When I've made several successful meads in a row, I might try it, just to see the difference...
Also FWIW, if you have a chance to read some of my brewlogs from several years back, you'll see that I do my primary fermentations in an essentially open fermenter - all I do is place a sanitized cloth over the top of my bucket, and hold it in place with a bungee. That keeps the mead pretty much exposed to an air column only slightly higher in CO2 than the surrounding air, and that promotes oxygen transmission from the air into the top of the liquid column. I probably wouldn't even bother with the cloth, except that we have an issue up in this part of the world with insects called fungus gnats, which love to flock to anything that smells like a fermentation.

I find that I get cleaner, slightly quicker fermentations that way than I did when I kept everything under an airlock from the moment of yeast pitch, and none of the meads I've made in this way suffer from any evidence of oxidation. Now it is true that I am almost anal about the monitoring of my ongoing fermentations, and as soon as the must is getting close to either the ethanol limit of my yeast or is running out of fermentables, I rack to an airlocked carboy.

But, this illustrates that some "very olde school" practices may not be as inherently risky as modern folks originally thought.
 
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