Reconstructing the substance gruit: an experiment

As part of the Experimental Archaeology Conference EAC12 hosted by EXARC this spring, I ran a handful of gruit experiments. Many gruit-beer experiments concern themselves with flavor and herbal components. They do not consider how or why the gruit substance may contribute to a longer shelf life, nor the reason its reputation as an essential element in brewing persisted for centuries even after hops came into common use. The consistent occurrence of grain in the surviving medieval tax records indicates that the grain aspect of the malt could be considerably more important than previously thought.

My experiments examine how the gruit substance affects fermentation and alcohol content, and therefore shelf life, leading to greater economic possibilities. In this blog post I will show you behind the scenes, so to speak, and share with you a bit more context and explanation than I was able to squeeze into my 5-minute video poster presentation. The experiments do not discuss gruit in the modern obsession of brewing with whatever herb one can get their hands on; to capture the essence of terroir, preferably in defiance of the hops establishment. While being much fun in its own right, it is not a very historic practice. My interest is in the medieval product itself: the substance of gruit and its herbal additives, and how this relates to the increased economics of the produced beer.

Contrary to what many modern publications would like us to believe, the historical sources are quite persistent that gruit is something more than just a collection of regionally unique herbs. A closer look at the etymology of the word gruit indicates an intimate connection with malt, in the form of coarsely ground grain. Even with variable medieval spelling, the different variants of the word are consistent with each other, and mean either the substance gruit, the beer brewed with it, coarsely ground grain, and the porridge made with such. Several Latin deeds use the words frumentum and polenta to describe the substance gruit, both words indicating a grain product. (Doorman 1955, 72; Ebbing 1994, 26-27; Kieft 1964, 165; Verberg 2018, 69)

If Low Country gruit indeed consisted of a concentrated malt porridge fortified with preserving botanicals and possibly yeast-rich chaff, then this would also explain several other Latin terms associated with the gruit product. When concentrated malt is added to the wort at the time of pitching, the boost of fermentable sugars would significantly enhance yeast fermentation. This would result in visible fermentation signs, giving the impression the gruit caused the “ferment” to happen. This effect resulted in the term levarentur for gruit, which is the Latin for leaven, or rising, and is also used for leavened or risen bread. As the concentrated paste caramelizes during the cooking down, adding this concentrate could darken the color of the wort as well, as suggested with the term pigmentum. The increase in fermentable sugars would raise the alcohol by volume, which combined with the preserving herbs and postponed spoilage just long enough for local commerce to be possible.

Two of the term definitions — gruit from the Low Countries, and grout from the British Isles — are connected to brewing. In the case of Low Country gruit, its connection with herbal ingredients is undisputed, while its connection with malted grain is questioned. In the case of British grout, a partially fermented cooked malt extract used to strengthen wort, interestingly, its connection with malted grain is undisputed – it is a known yeast-malt concentrate. It is not clear whether herbs played a role in medieval production, but they are not mentioned in early-modern grout descriptions. (Dodoaeus 1644, 813; Karkeek 1877, 196-97; Verberg 2018, 52)

If the substance of gruit indeed consisted of two parts – something produced with malt and heating equipment, and a combination of preservative botanicals – then it would stand to reason the malt portion is comparable to the malt product of British grout. And while there are no medieval recipes or process descriptions for medieval gruit, we are lucky with a couple post-period instructions for a similar product with a shared background.

I had located three publications which shared recipes on how to make grout. (Know of any others? Please share!) The 17th century publication quotes the 16th century source, and all three are about British grout. This is not unexpected, as by the 16th century, although in some areas the taxation is still active, the production and sale of the gruit substance had just about died out without a trace.

The first to publish a recipe for grout is the Dutch botanist Matthias l’Obel, also known as Lobelius, in his herbal Kruydtboeck oft beschrijvinghe van allerleye ghewassen, kruyderen, hesteren ende gheboomten First published in 1551, the edition that is freely available today, and from which I quote, is from 1581.

Graut wordt aldus ghemaeckt. Neemt ses of acht ponden ghemalen Mouts / siende heet water xij. oft xv. pont / de welcke tsaemen gheroert en wel onder een ghemengt zijnde ses mael sdaeghs / en met cleedere en stroo zeer we ghedeckt zijnde soo langhe tsaemen in een schoon vat sal staen weycken tot dat soo dicke wordt als een syroop. Daer nae salt voorts metten viere opghesoden worden / alleneen zeer neerstich roerende op dat niet aen en berne / tot dat soo dicke als pap gheworden is.” Graut is made thus. Take six or eight pounds of ground malt / seething hot water 12 to 15 pounds / the which is stirred together and is well mixed six times a day / and with cloths and straw well covered, shall soak so long in a barrel until it becomes thick as syrup. After that shall it quickly be heated with fire/ only stir very well as that it does not burn / until it is as thick as porridge.

L’Obel 1581

This recipe is reiterated by another Dutch herbalist, Rembert Dodoens (latinized as Rembertus Dodonaeus) in his herbal Herbarius oft Cruydt-Boeck. The 1554 edition titled the Cruijdeboeckonly lists botanical detail, which in the 1644 edition is updated and expanded upon to include product history as well as the occasional practical recipes.

Graut of Naerbier wordt aldus ghemaeckt / seyde Lobel: Neemt sex of acht ponden gemalen Mouts / twaelf oft vijftien ponded siedende heet water: Roert dit tsamen wel onder een / zes mael daegs: Decket seer well met cleederen ende stroo: ende laetet tsamen soo lange in een schoon vat staen weycken tot dattet soo dick wort als eenen Stroop. Daer nae suldij dat voorts metten viere opsieden / alleen seer naerstich roerende / op dat niet aen een berne / to dattet soo dick als pap geworden is.” Graut or Naerbier is made thus / said Lobel: Take six or eight pounds of ground malt / twelve or fifteen pounds seething hot water: Mix this together well / six times a day: Cover it very well with cloths and straw: and let it soak together for so long in a clean barrel that is becomes as thick as a syrup. After that cook it up again with fire / only stir very well / as that it does not burn / until it becomes as thick as porridge.

Dodonaeus 1644, page 813

A much later version, associated with the infamous White Ale, is published by Samuel Gray in The Operative Chemist (1828):

“Pale ale wort 25 gall, hops 2 handfuls, yeast 3lb, grouts 6 or 8lb. When the fermentation is at its height, bottle in strong stone half pints, well corked and wired; it effervesces when opened. The grouts here mentioned are made by infusing 6 or 8lb of malt in a gallon and a half of water, covering it warm by the fire side, stirring it often: when in full fermentation it is to be boiled down to a thick paste.”

Gray 1828

The etymology of the British word grout is very similar to that for continental gruit, and points back to the shared Latin term grut. It is entirely possible British grout and Low Country gruit shared common ancestry, but evolved separately. But how likely it would be for the two products, used in a similar way, to deviate so much, so quickly, is debatable. It is more likely the two shared more than their names, their use as additive in brewing, their reputation of a potent ferment – they probably also shared their base ingredient: the grain. Dutch historian Irsigler came to a similar conclusion: “What is certain is that a porridge was prepared from the various basic ingredients, especially from bog myrtle, ground malt, laurel berries and laserwort, which was heated, and then dried again.” (Alberts 2017, 52; Dodoaeus 1644, 813; Ebbing 1994, 29-30; Hornsey 2003, 530; Irsigler 1973, 84; Verberg 2018, 58-59)

With this in mind, I choose to run a small experiment and brew three interpretations of gruit to test several variables:

  • Could the gruit paste and gruit porridge, as instructed by the post-period recipes, adequately emulate the medieval gruit substance descriptions?
  • Does the addition of this gruit paste or porridge significantly change the specific gravity (SG) of the wort and thus the resulting alcohol by volume (ABV)?
  • Does gruit-porridge & syrup wort sour less quickly than the herbed, and/or plain wort?

For this I needed four samples:

  • Sample 1: plain wort
  • Sample 2: wort, plus the herbal & resin additive
  • Sample 3: wort, plus a malt syrup with the herbal & resin additives
  • Sample 4: wort, plus a grain-in malt porridge, with the herbal & resin additives

The wort was made by diluting a can of brewing malt extract to a SG of 1.05 (as advised for the brewing of standard 5% beer) and dividing the resulting wort over 4 one-gallon glass carboys.

I used a bread yeast as the more period-appropriate kveik starter was delayed in activation (our wood heated house might be too cold for its liking).

Producing the gruit substance

Version one:
Taking inspiration from the above-mentioned recipes, in specific the one by Lobelius (1554), I devised the following process for the first trial gruit: the porridge.

Process: Add 8 lbs of ground malt and 1.5 gallon of boiling water to my copper brewing kettle. Cover well, stir often, for a day. The next day, place on wood fired stove and slowly cook down to a thick porridge. Stir well to prevent burning.

Result: This indeed produces a sticky, dry porridge. It caramelizes well but is difficult not to burn at the bottom. It is easy to incorporate the crushed dry herbs and heated resin.

Version two:
As none of the recipes indicate whether the mash would be lautered (the liquid wort is filtered off the spent grains) and the wording is ambiguous (is it a syrup, or a porridge), I opted to make two versions, a grain-in and a filtered extract. The recipe for the porridge version did not generate much liquid, so for the syrup version I slightly tweaked the liquid volume to make sure there would be enough volume to concentrate (as the instructions do not suggest to sparge). The additives added later were adjusted accordingly.

Process: Add 6 lbs of ground malt (contained within a brew-bag) and 15 lbs (nearly 1.5 gallon) boiling water to the copper brewing kettle. Cover well, stir often, for a day. The next day, remove the brew-bag and thereby the grains (in lieu of a lauter tun). Place the kettle and the drained wort on the wood fired stove, and slowly cook this down to the consistency of syrup.

Result: This process produced a beautiful thick caramelized syrup. The evaporation did not require a lot of attention (unlike version one) and anyone with experience making jams and maple syrup will have no trouble recreating this. Be aware that hot syrup is more liquid than syrup at room temperature, without experience one could be tempted to overcook and burn.

The herbal additives

As suggested by the medieval gruithuis purchase accounts, I used the following herbs in the herbal mixture:

  • Bog myrtle; leaves and catkins
  • Laurel berries
  • Caraway (substituted for the unavailable laserwort)
  • Pine resin (colophon)

There are nearly no records available for the specific amounts of these herbs and spices in the gruit mixture. The one post-period recipe for Gruytbier uses very small amounts of herbs, and no malt (it does mention chaff; a gruit grain alternative, and something for another experiment).

“Om Gruyt, ende Gruytbier te maken. Neemt tegen eenen pot een koren bakelaer, ende alsoo veel aipoys, ende wat haveren doppen, ende twee saykens van gagel. Ende maeckt dit bier alleen van gherstenmoute, ende set dit dan met ghiste.” To make gruit and gruit beer. Take against one pot (half a gallon) a laurel berry, and also much resin, and some oat bran, and two seeds of bog myrtle. And make this beer only of barley malt, and set it with yeast.

The gruithuis accounts seem to indicate bog myrtle to be used most, and that laserwort was the most expensive ingredient. Modern science found that 2 grams per liter would inhibit lactobacillus souring (introduced 20 minutes before flame-out). Bog myrtle can have an overpowering flavor. The amount of herbs is adjusted according to the amount of malt used for the base gruit.

Gruit 1 (porridge) adjuncts: 30 grams of bog myrtle (20 gr leaves and 10 gr catkins), 30 gr of laurel berries and 5 gr of caraway seeds; as well as 42.5 gr (1.5 oz) of distilled pine resin. The herbs were crushed using a mortar and pestle.

Gruit 2 (paste) adjuncts: 22.5 gr of bog myrtle (15/7.5), 22.5 gr of laurel berries and 3.75 gr of caraway; 42.5 gr (1.5 oz) of distilled pine resin. The herbs were crushed using a mortar and pestle.

The four fermentation vessels are started as follows:

  • Wort 1 (porridge) includes a half gallon of plain wort, fortified with 9 ounces of gruit porridge.
  • Wort 2 (paste) includes a half gallon of plain wort, fortified with 4.25 ounces of gruit paste.
  • Wort 3 (herbed) was fortified with 3.75 gr of bog myrtle (2.5/1.25), 3.75 gr of laurel berries, and 0.6 gr of caraway seeds; 5 gr (? oz) of distilled pine resin. The herbs were crushed using a mortar and pestle.
  • Wort 4 (plain tester) is not fortified.

The carboys are capped with airlocks filled with star-san which will create bubbles to indicate active fermentation. They are then placed on a heating mat and wrapped with a blanket as the ideal fermentation temperature for bread yeast is 70-80 F (21-27 C).

At regular intervals, the specific gravity (SG) of the wort was tested. The addition of the gruit paste and porridge significantly raised the amounts of sugars in solution, raising the specific gravity and thus the alcohol by volume (ABV). The addition of extra sugars to a grain wort is also found in Farmhouse brewing, and is thought to have originated with the brewing with oats instead of barley. Oats do not saccharify as efficiently as barley and wheat, and to still make a strong beer, the Farmhouse brewers would add extra sugars. Oats are easier to grow, and in much of the Low Countries oats were the norm.

The table below indicates the starting or original gravity of the four different wort samples, as well as the final gravity reading at three weeks. The alcohol by volume is calculated as follows: (FG – OG) x 131.25 = ABV % The readings of the herbed and plain samples are identical, as expected, while the porridge levels are slightly higher than the paste. This is likely due to the spent grains not being sparged, or rinsed.

      Original Gravity               Final Gravity              ABV %
Porridge                      1.068                           1.024               5.775%
Paste                            1.062                           1.026               4.725%
Herbed                        1.052                           1.020               4.2%
Plain                            1.052                           1.020               4.2%

The readings of this proof-of-concept experiment indicates that, yes, adding gruit paste makes for a stronger beer. This supports the theory that the gruit substance positively affects fermentation including alcohol content and thus shelf life, leading to greater economic possibilities.

Question: If the shelf life of the brew is extended, either through raising the ABV % or by adding preservative herbs, can this be tasted in the resulting brew? How fast do the different samples sour?

  • Day 1: Pitched the yeast.
  • Day 6: all samples are effervescent, and sweet.
  • Day 12: The plain sample went sour (badly).
  • Day 16: The herbed sample is going (nicely) sour.
  • Day 20: The two gruit paste/resinated samples are still going strong, but unclear if this is due to the increased ABV or the potent resin.

Question: Can chaff (grain hulls) function as a source of spontaneous fermentation?

My experiment was not able to answer this specific question at this time as the local mill used to source fresh chaff in the past was closed to walk-ins due to the pandemic. But: the significant difference in the ABV % between the porridge (which includes the naturally yeasty chaff) and syrup might indicate there is validity to this: instead of providing active yeast, perhaps the chaff provides yeast nutrients and promotes vigorous fermentation. Happy yeast results in a quicker and potentially higher sugar to alcohol conversion. English grout uses dead yeast for a similar purpose.

Unanticipated Question: Does resin alone have a noticeable preservative effect, does the manner how it is added to the gruit paste matter?

The gruit syrup had a slightly higher amount of resin than the porridge due to oversight (did not account for the 2lbs difference between the two). The syrup brew stopped showing signs of active fermentation (bubbles) within a few days, unlike the other two, and it also tasted much more resiny (an unpleasant, antiseptic, mouth numbing taste). The heated liquid resin was poured into all three samples, but unlike my previous brewing with resin experiences where it was added to room temperature wort, it now was added to hot porridge and syrup as well. Presumably, the resin dissolved much more completely, dispersed much more finely, which significantly enhanced its preservative effect, as well as its unusual flavor. The resin flavor, while initially very sharp, did mellow out over time (now, two months later, it still has not soured and while it does not drink well, it does work great as a cooking beer).

The addition of herbs to plain wort somewhat slowed down the souring process. The addition of grain paste to raise the SG slowed down souring even more, and the use of resin boosts this protection further. Concentrating gruit porridge takes more effort to prevent burning than concentrating into syrup, but unexpectedly, the benefits of a higher OG (no wort lost by removing the spent grains) and possible yeast nutrients could make up for this inconvenience. The addition of resin might be more important in connection to the preservative function of gruit than previously assumed.

Food Drinks for thought…
That the ABV percentage would be higher after adding concentrated malt (gruit paste) was assumed, but the difference is more significant than initially expected. Porridge gruit could be a viable option: syrup seemed to be the obvious choice but the experiment seems to indicate porridge to be more efficient. The difference in application between adding hot resin to cold substrate as opposed to adding hot resin to hot substrate is significant. The unexpected effect seems reminiscent of my wax comb mead experiments, where the hot wax dispersed into the wort but did not re-solidify when cooled, and further investigation is warranted.

Poster presentation at the Experimental Archaeology Conference #EAC12, Wednesday March 31st, Session 12. After the presentations follows a one-hour live session with Questions & Answers. Please Join us.

Overview of Session 12:


  • Alberts, Leen. 2017. Brouwen aan de Eem: Amersfoort, een Stichtse bierstad in de late middeleeuwen. Hilversum: Uitgeverij Verloren.
  • Arnold, John P. 1911. Origin and History of Beer and Brewing. Reprint Edition 2005. Cleveland, Ohio: Beer Books.
  • Dodonaeus, Rembertus (Rembert Doedesz Joenckema). 1644. Herbarius oft Cruydt-Boeck. Leiden: Inde Plantijnsche Druckerije van Francoys van Ravelingen. Plantaardigheden.
  • Doorman, G. 1955. De Middeleeuwse Brouwerij en de Gruit. (The Mediaeval Brewery and the Gruit). Den Haag: Martinus Nijhoff.
  • Ebbing, Hans. 1994. Gruytgeld ende Hoppenbier. Een onderzoek naar de samenstelling van de gruit en de opkomst van de Hollandse bierbrouwerij van circa 1000-1500. Doctoraalscriptie middeleeuwse geschiedenis. Amsterdam: Universiteit van Amsterdam.
  • Gray, Samuel Frederick. 1828.  The Operative Chemist. London: Hurst, Chance, and Co.
  • Hasselt, Gerard van. 1804. Arnhemsche oudheden, Volume 2. Arnhem: J. H. Moeleman Junior.
  • Hornsey, Ian Spencer. 2003. A History of Beer and Brewing. RSC Paperbacks. Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemistry.
  • Irsigler, Franz. 1973. “Hermann von Goch als Kölner Grutpächter.” In Aus Geschichte und Volkskunde von Stadt und Raum Bonn: Festschrift Josef Dietz zum 80. Geburtstag am 8. April 1973, ed. Edith Ennen and Dietrich Höroldt, 79-88. Bonn: Röhrscheid.
  • Karkeek, Paul Q. 1877. “White Ale.” Reports and Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art 9:188-197.
  • Kieft, C. van de. 1964. “Gruit en ban.” Tijdschrift voor de geschiedenis 77: 158-168.
  • Matthias Lobelius (l’Obel). Kruydtboeck oft beschrijvinghe van allerleye ghewassen, kruyderen, hesteren ende gheboomten. Christoffel Plantijn, 1581.
  • Schiller, Karl & Lübben, August. 1876. Mittelniederdeutsches Wörterbuch. Zweiter Band G-L. Bremen: Kühtmann’s Buchhandlung.
  • Runde, Justus F. 1788. Aus führliche Darstellung der gerechten Ansprüche des Grafen zu Bentheim Tecklenburg auf die Herrschaft Bedbur, gegen den Grafen von SalmReiferscheid.
  • Verberg, Susan. 2018. “The Rise and Fall of Gruit.” Brewery History Journal. 174: 46-78. ResearchGate.


Roar Sandodden and friends brew a stjørdalsøl as part of the Norsk Kornølfestival 2020

This is part 2 in a series covering the brewing of farmhouse ale during the Norsk Kornølfestival 2020. The YouTube video of session 1 can be accessed here.

The whole day on Saturday, October 10th, the brewing world was treated to a special event: the Norsk Kornølfestival 2020. First happening in 2016, the festival quickly grew a fine reputation for the place to be for anyone interested in farmhouse brewing and the phenomenon of raw ales. In 2020, instead of canceling, the festival went virtual and for a whopping 12 hours anyone interested could follow the brewing of three different styles of farmhouse beer at three different farmhouse locations.

 Lars Marius Garshol, of Larsblog fame, and Amund Polden Arnesen, brewer at Eik & Tid, hosted the slow-TV festival. When brewing activity would be minimal, viewers were treated to several talks: Mohammed Tawfeeq, from University of Leuven, talked about Traditional Beers as a Source of New Yeast Biodiversity, Mika Laitinen demonstrated the brewing of Finnish bread/beer taari and Martin Thibault looked Beyond Kveik at 3 Unexplored Hotspots for Heirloom Brewing Yeasts. I was rather disappointed to find Jereme Zimmerman was bested by the demons of virtual technology and never got his sound to work. Perhaps we’ll see, and hear!, Jereme next year?

During the 12 hours, three farmhouse ales were brewed using three slightly different processes. Hornindal brewed a raw ale, Stjørdal a 1-hour boil ale, and Voss brewed a 4-hour boil ale. Each group of brewers did things in a slightly different way: as they said themselves, where you have 50 brewers, you will find 50 different methods, and each brewer thinks their beer is the best!

I spent a wonderful Saturday glued to the TV watching these different brewers chat about beer, while taking copious notes to fine-tune my own open-air medieval brewing demos. The videos of the live festival are by now released on YouTube and to make navigating the two 6-hour videos a little less overwhelming, I will annotate each brew, step by step, as they appear in the videos (the times listed can be plus or minus a few seconds). And second up is the stjørdalsøl by the brewing team at Stjørdal.

Brew #2: stjørdalsøl

The second brew is orchestrated by Roar Sandodden, who brews a stjørdalsøl on his farm Alstadberg, Stjørdal in central Norway. He is assisted by Jørn Anderssen (brewmaster and maltster at Klostergården bryggeri), local farmhouse brewer and maltster Håvard Beitland and local farmhouse brewer and maltster and winner of the 2017 brewing championship Jørund Geving. What sets stjørdalsøl apart is that the locals make their own malt which is massively smoked with alder wood. Because malting is such an important part of the brewing of stjørdalsøl, the brewers demonstrate the drying of a batch of malt in Roar’s malt kiln at the same time as the brewing. Roar concedes this is for the festival, and not what he normally would do, as both malting and brewing are large jobs better tackled without other distractions. (The malting process will be a separate blog post)

The stjørdalsøl brewed by Roar and his team is similar to the stjørdalsøl brewed by Jørund Geving, which can be found in Historical Brewing Techniques (p. 300-301). Lars Marius talks about Roar’s malting and brewing in his Larsblog post “Alstadberger” ( In here, Roar mentions that since the juniper taste is secondary to the taste of the malt, he does not use it anymore when he brews for himself. Roar also boils the wort for an hour where Jørund does not; he prefers to brew a raw ale.

Smoking the malt in Roar’s “firehouse.”

6:18 – 11:57 (indicates the minutes:seconds of the video)

The Stjørdal team is the first team we meet in the live festival feed. There is a traditional kveik ring hanging indoors, setting the stage nicely. The brewing takes place in an old 1820’s log farmhouse converted into a brewhouse and party room; I am guessing the Scandinavian version of a man cave. Roar started brewing when he was 18 – his son makes an appearance later on – and he grew up in Stjørdal where the farmhouse tradition is very much alive, with many active brewers brewing in the traditional way with traditional methods. He is quick to point out that what makes this region so unique is that the brewers make their own sterile smoked malt from local grains.

For this brew Roar uses 100% smoked malt from local grains, malted and smoked by him in the building next door. The copper kettle is heated on the wood stove, and they have started mashing in. The temperature is already at 50C, and they mashed in with water, not infusion – the juniper goes into the mash tun only. The mash tun is a very large plastic bucket with a rubber mat strapped around the sides to help insulate it. The temperature of the mash will slowly be raised by draining out wort to be heated in the kettle, to then be returned back into the mash tun with a large plastic scoop – they recirculate the wort from tun to kettle to tun until they get the temperatures right both on top and at the bottom of the mash tun. When the wort is heated in the copper kettle it partially caramelizes which adds to the flavor. These are old traditions; they might not have realized that back then. This re-circulation is a combination of decoction and step mashing: for about two hours the brewers draw out from the bottom to add back to the top to help equalize the temperatures from top to bottom (decoction), as well as heating the wort from the mash tun into the copper kettle in steps before adding it back in (step-mashing).

The area still brews for parties and weddings, but not for funerals anymore although that was part of the tradition a long time ago.

Jorn measures the temperature of wort in the kettle, Jorund stirs the insulated mash tun, with the mash scoop hanging off its side.

1:01:37 – 1:25:27

The wort in the kettle reached about 78C. It is put back in with the mash and stirred well with a mash paddle. When it reaches about 65C in the mash tun, the wort is drained and put back into the kettle again. In this way, the temperatures are slowly stepped up to about 72-73C, but never higher than 73C. They keep the mash at that temperature for about 2 to 3 hours, and then they will drain off all the wort and boil it.

The wort is tasted and deemed sweet and good, and about three handfuls of hop flowers (circa 35 grams) are added straight to the mash in the mash tun. The brew is not about the hops, the brewers agree, but about the malt. Jørund (wears a black T-shirt featuring a yeast ring) only uses a thermometer to brew; the other brewer, Jørn (wearing a black T-shirt featuring “Hop-Beard”) runs a professional brewery which brews traditional inspired beers.

Jørund talks about the region, and mentions there are 500 to 600 brewers in the valley. They brew on average 50-60 liters up to 100 to 150 liters in a year. He says “it is the biggest community in the world still making their malt like the Vikings did, a thousand years ago. And that is quite fascinating to think about. That nothing else changed in all those years. The sauna is approximately the same, the method is approximately the same. They are using barley; it is quite like what the Vikings did.”

2:01:21 – 2:10:10

By now the top of the mash is at the desired temperatures of about 65-66C. The wort is drained – called lautering; Sjørdal uses a combined mash and lauter tun – and it will be boiled in the copper kettle for one hour. I did not notice that the brewers sparged the grain bed (the adding of extra hot water on top to help rinse out leftover wort) but as they are quite concerned about brewing high alcohol beer this would make sense as the sparge would dilute the main wort and thus lower the amount of sugar in solution. The brewers in this region add extra sugar to the wort during the boil to raise the alcohol by volume even more. Roar adds brown sugar and mentions that some use white sugar, some use syrup. Some add nothing, and some use more malt. The intention is to brew to a high level of alcohol as the higher the alcohol, the better the beer, and the higher standing the brewer: “it is the tradition.”

They do brew different beers for different seasons: summer beer would be light, and Christmas beer would be strong. Roar wonders if the adding of sugar might have started with oat malt brewing, as oats does not convert sugars as well as barley and the wort would thus be weaker. By adding extra sugar, the brewer could raise the level of alcohol and still brew an inebriating manly beer, plus, this technique of fortification would also work when malt was scarce.

The next generation of brewers helps to scoop the boiled wort into the fermenting vat.

4:12:04 – 4:20:20

The wort has been boiled for one hour, and is transferred with the hand scoop and a bucket to the stainless-steel fermentation vessel to cool. The transfer by hand is manual labor but doing it this way also aerates the wort. In this segment, Roar has his tween son helping out with moving the wort – teaching his brewing knowledge to the next generation of brewers. Roar adds one fistful of hops to the wort for aroma; local hops grown by the brew house wall. The juniper in the mash tun only contributed some bitterness. The hop traditions and the way brewers use juniper varies a lot in the region, some use a lot, some use nothing, and it also varies when what is added. Roar says “the soul of the beer in this area is definitely the malt, this beer is pretty much all about the malt, juniper and hops don’t play a major role in this beer.”

One of the brewers added the copper-coil wort chiller to the fermenter and started cooling down the wort. He mentions that the one-hour boil caramelizes some of the sugars in the copper kettle; that this flavor is not affected by the yeast and lasts through the fermentation process. They use Sigmund Jarnes kveik and like the combination of the fairly sweet malty beer with the fruitiness of the kveik.

They cool the wort down to 39C. The wort chiller is moved up and down the wort to help cool the wort even quicker, to get the yeast in as fast as possible. Roar recounts that some brewers let the beer ferment quite long, but as most of the sugar is gone in a couple of days, they do not see the need to do so. They let the beer sit for 1 week in the fermenter before it is bottled, kegged or barreled. They could use wooden kegs or barrels in summer, and have used plastic bottles, but now mostly use modern kegs.

Screaming at the kveik.

4:31:09 – 4:55:05

The wort is cooled down to 39C. They made the starter a couple of hours ago with some wort cooled down to 29C (this seems to have happened off-screen).

Then there is the “most important part of brewing”: the Yeast Scream! (at 4:31:40)

To quote Roar: “many dark forces wanting to destroy our beer, the people that dwells below. So, we don’t dare to… don’t do it. Ready? SCREAM!!!… and skøl!”

The stainless-steel lid goes on top of the stainless-steel fermenter and is clamped in place, and the rest is up to the kveik. Like in Hornindal, the brewers retreat to the dinner table for a well-deserved hot meal and a cold beer.

Sodd: a traditional Norwegian soup-like meal with whole potatoes, carrots and beef & mutton meat balls.

The stjørdalsøl process is quite interesting, and I can see how the beer Roar brews does so well in competition. Not only does he smoke his own amazing malt, the combined decoction and step-mashing creates opportunity for even more malty flavors. And makes much sense when having limited brewing equipment (one kettle, one tun – and the mash tun could be cleaned during the boil to be reused as the fermenter).

The consistent use of copper kettles had me look a little deeper in the benefits of using copper – with the challenges of keeping copper clean and the ease of stainless steel, why are farmhouse brewers still using copper? They switched from using wood to plastic and stainless-steel tuns and barrels, so why not stainless-steel brew pots? I found that not only does copper have superior thermal distribution, it gets hot quickly and evenly; it increases the rate of Maillard reactions, a non-enzymic browning that adds color and flavor; plus it releases trace nutrients for the yeast to digest. And that does sound worth the trouble of keeping the brew pot nice and shiny for the next batch.

To brew stjørdalsøl


  • Cast-iron stove fired with wood
  • Copper kettle
  • Plastic bucket mash tun, wrapped with insulation
  • Plastic hand scoop
  • Thermometer
  • Wooden mash paddle (commercial)
  • Stainless-steel fermenter
  • Wort chiller


  • 100% Homemade cold-smoked barley malt
  • Brown sugar
  • Juniper, homegrown
  • Hops, homegrown


  • It is possible the Stjørdal brewers cold-soaked the mash the night before, as described in Jørund Geving recipe, described in Historical Brewing Techniques on pages 300-301. By the time the festival started, the brewers had already started mashing in.
  • If that is the case, then the mash would have to be heated up from below 10C without the aid of heating the mash water beforehand to help raise the mash temperatures that way. This cold-start would explain the combined use of decoction and step-mashing to efficiently raise mash temperatures (and it is also quite reminiscent of using hot rocks).
  • The temperature of the mash is slowly raised by draining off the wort, heating it in the copper kettle to about 78C (thereby slightly caramelizing the sugars) and adding it back to the mash. This step is repeated until the mash reaches circa 72-73C.
  • When the mash is at about 72C but never higher than 73C, three handfuls of hop flowers are added to the mash tun, and the mash is left alone for 2 to 3 hours. Some of the wort is kept separate, cooled to 29C and used to proof the kveik.
  • After the rest, the wort is drained off and boiled in the copper kettle for one hour. Depending on the sweetness, extra sugar is added, in this case brown sugar.
  • After the one-hour boil, the wort is scooped into the fermenting vat (thus aerating the wort) and quickly cooled to 39C using a wort chiller.
  • Another handful of hop flowers is added to the fermenter, this time for aroma.
  • The kveik starter is added to the fermenter, and welcomed with a loud SCREAM!
  • Which is followed by dinner, and a party.

The introduction of Brew #2: Stjørdal on the festival website:

The YouTube screen grabs are used with permission from the festival organizers.

Iron Age Stone Brewing – part two

The things we learned this second trial: what worked, and what are we going to work on some more. And no, the brew did not sour this time, and yes, the recipe made a fine drinkable juniper ale. With only a wood tub, a fire and some hot rocks. Who knew historic brewing could be this much fun!

Our second brewing workshop happened at the Great Pennsic War, a large two week re-enactment get together in rural Pennsylvania. The workshop was allocated space in one of the Royal encampments on middle Saturday in the center of things, right next to the University, which meant many brewers and prospective brewers could stop by, see what was going on, and actively participate. There was no shortage of tub scrubbers, malt grinders and water haulers here!

Cy Phorg’s tutelage had set us on the right path and we did not feel the need to alter his recipe much. We again used 18 pounds of 2 row barley, combined with 4 pounds of rye and 2 pounds of smoked cherry wood malt. We used the smoked cherry wood malt instead of the peat malt as I had picked up a number of samples at the 2019 Homebrew Con. Thank you, sponsors.

For our botanicals I chose not to use the mugwort again as I think it contributed greatly to the vegetative bitter taste in our first trial. We again used a handful of yarrow, this time dried, a handful of bog myrtle and some yellowed hops. I also made a separate boil with 2 oz pre-packaged hop pellets “Cluster Fugget”, another free sample from the 2019 Homebrew con. Because we were fermenting on-site in questionable sanitary conditions I added the pelleted hop infusion to the wort hoping it would aid in preserving for the short week the brew would need to ferment. The wort did not sour this time – we also pitched yeast as soon as the temperatures were good – and the small amount of hops used did not add significantly to the flavor of the ale.

Things we did the same (from the first trial):

The wooden half-barrel mash tun works surprisingly well. It does need conditioning and a good clean after, and before use, which makes using wood a bit more involved from using stainless steel. As the tub had been sitting for a few months it had dried out and the staves had loosened. Two days before brewing I filled the tun with hot water and had it sit in the sun. It stopped leaking within 24 hours. I then dumped the water and let it dry facing the sun, which has antimicrobial properties as well, so we could haul it to the brewing site empty. Having ears, and a long handle, makes moving this 30+ gallon half barrel a breeze, without stressing any loose staves and have the barrel fall apart due to manhandling.


Things we did differently:

We used the same type of granite rocks of around grapefruit size, heated in a large wood fire. But we started the fire on a layer of charcoal briquets (one bag of barbecue coals) which knocked a couple hours off of getting a functional bed of coals to heat the brewing rocks. We used metal tongs to move the hot rocks, but instead of using fireplace tongs I had found a pair of metal blacksmithing tongs for round stock which worked extremely well and look quite similar to tongs from traditional Nordic brewing illustrations. While the tongs worked great, the firepit surround did not work as well, and caused for some shriveled knuckle hairs as it really concentrated the heat upwards which made it hard to remove kettles and hot rocks. Next time, no surround, and I heard rumours of one of our brewers finding 4 foot handled tongs.

I made a stand for the mash / lauter tun based on historic pegged-leg exemplars to keep it at a good working level with enough space underneath for a bucket to drain the wort. At first we used three logs, but those don’t pack up neatly and are hard to haul around (and technically illegal outside of 50 miles). The design was inspired by the traditional Nordic brewing illustrations of tub stanchions.

What we learned for next time:

Like last time, we used a shared mash and lauter tun. While this is not unheard of, there are traditional brewers out there who did this, I do not think it is as helpful as it sounds to be. The filter bed interferes with stirring, which in turn interferes with a good temperature throughout the mash. To help this, we pulled (cold) wort from the bottom and added it back to the (hot) top. The only reason we did this set up again was that I did not have room to transport two wooden tuns. Trial three will feature a separate mash tun and lauter tun.

We need larger capacity for boiling water and making juniper infusions. We need a proper kettle. I have one I can, and have, boiled a whole goat in – which might be a wee bit too large – but if needed, that’s what I’ll bring for future use. It’s good to own a truck.

A few observations:

The brew tasted overwhelmingly of juniper, especially for us who are not used to the taste. I am glad we had our brewers do a taste test of straight juniper infusion, so we knew exactly where the taste came from. Nordland mentions traditional brewers using minor amounts of juniper, only as a filter in the lautering tun, but also mentions traditional brewers making strong juniper infusions to sparge the mash with. Likely our brew was somewhere in between, not as mild as it could be, and more of an acquired taste than us modern brewers are used to. Two things we can do to limit this flavor is to avoid adding any juniper branches with bark, and to not heat the mash on top of the juniper filter bed. And as we’re planning to separate mashing and lautering anyway, this will be an easy change.

Brewing in Pennsylvania during the summer month of August also brings another challenge – ambient temperatures. Daytime temperatures are in the nineties, if not higher, with overnight temperatures between the sixties and the eighties. Standard ale yeast does not like this very much. It also takes a long time for the wort to cool down without intervention to be able to pitch the yeast. A yeast which does like high fermentation temperatures, which can be pitched hot, and attenuates quickly, would be the Nordic yeast kveik. This might not be coincidental. We did two yeast trials, one part with WB-06 and one with Nottingham and found that the one with Nottingham displayed definitely floral overtones, just like kveik is known to do, and that our taste testers preferred this flavor profile. We will be doing kveik trials this winter to learn more about its likes and dislikes.



Brewing in wood, on-site, to drink within a few days, is completely feasible. People in general are mesmerized by the process, and brewers can not be shooed away. With a little bit of effort, and an oak wine barrel, this way of brewing would be attainable to anyone who is interested in low-key historic brewing processes, and drinking something enjoyable which will not be duplicated time and again. We had people scrubbing, grinding, hauling water, splitting wood, stirring the mash – and ooh-ing and aah-ing anytime a hot rock violently boiled the mash.


We fermented part in a plastic bottling bucket (sanitary, and with built-in dispensing tap) and, after the initial fermentation, added part to an oak barrel. The couple of days it was in the closed barrel it did built up pressure, and made for a nice tingle-on-the-tongue mouth feel. Both bucket and barrel were well sampled at our Closing Party, with numerous return customers.

And at home I now have some left over party booze slowly oaking in my cleaned out barrel. My barrel will be sterile for the next demo, and we’ll have some drinkable booze to boot. Proost!

For more on our Iron Age brewing experiments, please see my previous post at:

To read more about Nordic Farmhouse brewing, check

  • Vom Halm Zum Fass: Die volkstümlichen Alkoholarmen: Getreidegetränke in Finnland (1975)
  • Brewing and Beer Traditions in Norway by Odd Nordland (1969)
  • and Mika Laitinen’s new book Viking Age Brewing: the Craft of Brewing Sahti Farmhouse Ale (2019)

Iron Age stone brewing demonstration

My interest in anything Viking age, and anything early-period brewing merged last weekend when I organized a brewing demo at a local medieval festival. Jeff Boerger traveled from afar to help Ken Stuart and I work our way through the different steps of successfully brewing an all-grain beer with nothing modern but a thermometer – and honestly, we did not even truly need that! Inspired by a Facebook post by a Texan brewer who shared his interpretation of an Iron Age brew in northern continental Europe around 2,000 years ago that he brews for an Iron Age immersion week each spring, I figured we could give it a try too.

While 2,000 years ago is a wee bit past the Viking age, it is unlikely the way of brewing changed all that much from the Iron age until Middle age monastic breweries started pushing the boundaries of brewing volume and shelf-life. And while there might not be a whole lot of recorded history, with only a single example from the Icelandic Ljósvetninga saga telling of milk warmed by stones, there is plenty of archaeological evidence for the brewing of beer in Viking age context. Residues of a fruit & honey beer from northwest Denmark of circa 1500-1300 BCE, found in 2014, included honey, bog cranberry, lingonberry, bog myrtle, yarrow, juniper, birch tree resin, as well as wheat, barley and/or rye. And there is nothing archaeologist like better than rubbish heaps and trash middens, of which the old farmsteads have plenty!

It seems in central Norway the rubbish heaps suggests Vikings and their descendants brewed beer by tossing hot rocks into wooden tuns. Many a fire-cracked stone is found at most of the farmyards of old, historically named farms. Unfortunately for the archaeologists, since most archaeological digs are initiated by construction sites, as developers are required to check for cultural artifacts before beginning construction, most construction sites avoid developing through a farmstead. This means most of the archaeological information we have about the Viking age comes from graves, and most of the archaeological information about the Middle ages comes from excavations in cities – which misses a large chunk of data as most people back then lived in the countryside. Recent small-scale excavations in farmyards found that the oldest farmsteads carbon-14 date to 600 CE, the late Iron age.


Nineteenth century Sociologist Eilert Sundt recorded an encounter on a farm in 1851 in Hedmark, Norway after seeing a pile of strange looking smallish stones. “What’s with these stones?” he asked and the farmer replied “They’re brewing stones. Stones they used for cooking to brew beer, from the old days when they did not have iron pots.” Sundt noted that most of the farms he visited had piles of burned or fire-cracked stones, and every time he asked about them, he was told the stones were from brewing, when they would be heated until they were glowing hot and plopped into the wood vessel to heat things up. The stones were everywhere, Sundt wrote, and so thick and compact in places, houses were built right on top of them! A modern excavation at Ranheim, near Trondheim, Norway, found 700 cubic meters of stones from just one portion of the farmstead. A test sample of 24 farms found that 71 percent had fire-cracked stones. Hot rock brewing would not be as obvious in the archaeological record elsewhere as with Norwegian brewing stones because of the types of stones used, as most regions use stones which tolerate heat without fracturing, like the igneous rock granite and basalt. Brewing beer with hot rocks is nothing unusual, and traces of brewing with stones have been found in England, Germany, Finland and the Baltics.

And thus, in the great tradition of Gulating’s law – the Gulating being the Norwegian governmental assembly which met from 900 to 1300 CE – requiring three farmers to work together to brew beer, Jeff, Ken and I set up our brewing along gorgeous Cayuga Lake to make some Viking beer!

Our grainbill:

  • 18 lbs of 2 row barley malt
  • 4 lbs of malted oats
  • 1 lb of acidified barley malt
  • ½ lb of peat smoked barley malt (very smoky, use sparingly)
  • ½ lb of malted rye (left over)

The grain was milled on-site, and by hand.

With an infusion of:

  • Yarrow (big handful)
  • Baby spruce tips (handful)
  • Mugwort (less than a dozen sprigs)
  • Henbit (small handful)
  • Aged, yellowed hops (handful)

The herbs were fresh and picked the day before. The hops are homegrown and have been sitting in the dark in my basement for about a year. This way the brew gets minimal flavor, while still benefiting of some of the preserving qualities.

Step by step how we made our stone beer:

First thing we did was start a fire to make the coal bed.

Then we used that fire to make a juniper infusion and clean out the wood tub (the mash tun) with the scalding infusion to clean and sterilize.


Then we put a layer of juniper twigs covering the bottom, concentrating around the plug (there is hole in the bottom of the mash tun, kept closed with the plugging stick).

We milled the grains by hand: we used 2 row barley, malted oats and some random leftovers, including rye, as well as some peat smoked malt.


Then we added water. We added it cold from the tap – it could also be pre-heated in the sun, especially in summer.

Next, we put stones on the coal bed and built another fire right over top of them, with a hardwood / pine mix I had brought from home to make sure we had dry wood.

IMG_0810 - Copy

In the traditional Scandinavian style, we made a separate tea, or infusion, with the herbal bittering agents. We used yarrow, some mugwort, aged and yellowed hops, some henbit, and baby spruce tips.

When the fire was mostly burned down again, we started pulling stones, and added them to mash (the soaked grains) 3 or 4 at a time. Jeff really enjoyed this bit, as did my son when we did a water-only trial in the back yard. We tried three metal grabbers and found the funky accordion style firewood grabber worked best.

We kept checking the temperature, especially the top and bottom as the mash & juniper was quite insulating and there often was quite a heat difference between the top and the bottom. It was difficult to stir with the juniper branches covering the bottom. At around 130F we observed protein break which made the surface of the mash all foam up.

We kept adding hot rocks until overall temps were at or over 160° F, and then we kept it at this level for an hour and a half – adding more stones as needed.


By now, whenever a new hot rock is added, the wort (the liquid surrounding the grains) surrounding the rock immediately went to a boil, creating lots of steam, a wonderful smell of sweet malt, lots of sizzling & sputtering, and quite the surface boil. This part, which takes about an hour and a half, is spectacular to watch!

At around the end of the protein rest (the hour and a half) we noticed the protein foam had dissipated, and the wort started to settle. So, we put the draining bucket under hole, carefully wiggled the plug stick, and slowly drained the wort into a sterile bucket. I would plug the drain back up each time the bucket was ready to dump the filtered wort into a sterilized fermenter bucket. This traditional way of having a combined mash tun (where the grains are soaked) and a lauter tun (where the infusion is drained off the grains) worked surprisingly well.

We sparged with boiling water. We intended to use juniper water but ran out of cooking vessels as we started to cook dinner while waiting for the protein rest. We drained about 4 gallons from the initial wort, and another 2 gallons were sparged, by trickling boiling water over the mash to wash out any remainder sweetness. The last sparge we handed around for anyone to taste.

We made about 8 gallons of wort from about 25 pounds of grain, including 4 pounds of oats I sprouted and roasted (called malting) over the winter, and bittering adjuncts grown and harvested from the backyard. All in all, it took about 6 hours from start to finish, but we also took all the time we wanted and ended up cooking dinner over the hot stone fire as well – rabbit with spring onions, over barley, nettle and plantain. It was a good day, and I can’t wait to taste the results!

The things we learned:

  • Making the first coal bed took a while. In case of restricted time start with a bag or two of charcoal, add rocks, and built a wood fire over that.
  • We needed more pots to boil water, and/or vessels to store juniper tea for sparging.
  • Stones crack, but slowly, crumbly, and pose no danger (apart from sharp edges when fishing them back out of the wort). It is no wonder the farmyards had layer upon layer of discarded stones, as from two trials I already have half a bucket of small gravel! Brewing stone beer means keeping an eye out for replacement granite.
  • When the wort reached about 130° F, we saw foam (protein break). When it reached about 160 °F the surface was really steaming (and too hot to touch easily). When it had sat for about the right amount of time, the foam had also started to dissipate and the wort was starting to clear.

Back home, I added some Nottingham dry ale yeast, and Ken added Munton’s “Active Brewing Yeast” which the package says “…is a high viability robust yeast carefully selected for its consistency and clean finish.” As we had brewed on an alcohol-free Boy Scout campground I had not brought any yeast to pitch on site. When we tried the wort at about the 5-day point, we found it to be more acerbic and herbal tasting than expected. It had soured, quite likely because of the delay in pitching our yeast. The little bit of wort I had added to my yeast ring did not sour, but was fairly bitter, like an overly hoppy IPA. I checked back in with the Iron age brewer and he suggested not to boil the herbs, but only to steep, and to add the infused tea as a sparge, not during heating. We will do further testing before our next demonstration and look forward to sharing our results with you then! Skål!

For anyone who would like to try Cy Phorg’s Iron Age interpretation:

  • 4 lbs of 2 row barley malt OR a mix of light and dark Munich malt
  • 1 lb of rye malt
  • ½ lb of peat smoked malt
  • ¼ lb acid barley malt

Mash for 160° F or more for 1.5 hours

Steep in ½ a gallon of water a combination of:

  • Juniper branch tips (handful)
  • Meadowsweet (several handfuls)
  • Sweet gale
  • Heather (handful)
  • Henbit / deadnettle (handful)
  • Yarrow

All preferably harvested in spring, use with flowers and buds when possible. Sparge with the herbal tea first.

Cy uses kveik yeasts, farmhouse/saisson style yeasts, and Belgian/Trappist style yeasts to good effect, often in a mixture and often with a health addition of bread yeast. It will be ready to drink in as little as 48 hours, though in his experience he finds 72 hours is a good spot to start pouring. It is not intended to be carbonated, and should be consumed in a day or two.

More on brewing with stones:

An ancient fruit : the cornelian cherry

The cornelian, or cornel, cherry is a small, shrub-like tree that can grow up to 15-25 feet. Cornelian cherry trees have been known to live and be fruitful for over a hundred years. It blooms early in the season, providing an early season forage for bees, but despite this early bloom, fruit production rarely suffers. The trees have an extended flowering period, and the bloom tolerates temperatures as low as 18 degrees F, making this shrub a perfect homesteading garden addition.File:Cornus mas Sturm40.jpg

The fruit has been used for 7,000 years as a food crop in ancient Greece. Cornelian cherry is native to regions of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. While known primarily as an ornamental plant in the U.S., its cherry-like fruits have been part of a healthy diet in some parts of the world for thousands of years. In its native range, it is still used as a fresh fruit and is popular as a fruit drink. Cornelian cherry was grown in monastery gardens of continental Europe through the Middle Ages and was introduced to Britain about the sixteenth century. The great herbalist Gerard wrote in 1597 that “there be sundry  trees of the cornel in the gardens of such as love rare  and dainty plants, whereof I have a tree or two in my garden.

Contrary to its name, the cornelian cherry is part of the dogwood family. The word “cornelian” refers to the similarity in color of the fruit to cornelian (or carnelian) quartz, which  has a waxy luster and a deep red, reddish-white, or flesh red color (Carnis is Latin for flesh). The fruit has an elongated pit that is hard to remove because it adheres tightly to the edible flesh. And due to the extended flowering period, its fruit also ripens over an extended period of time, requiring multiple harvests. Being similar to a tart cherry, its uses include syrup, jelly, jams, pies, wine and baked goods. Unfortunately, this historically significant fruit has lost favor in the industrialized age because it does not lend itself well to mass production and processing.

Cornelian cherry mead

My cornelian cherry mead, made with washed comb honey must:

The cut off cappings from extracting liquid honey from a backyard hive. The frame of honey comb is uncapped using a sharp bread-type knife, to then extract the liquid honey from the cells using a centrifugal honey extractor.

For this honey must I did not use extracted honey, and only washed the cappings in warm water to dissolve the surplus honey sugars. The wax remnants are then removed, squeezed, and stored for future melting into bars of beeswax.

Initially the honey must was too strong – the egg floated sideways – thus more lukewarm water was added. Add slowly, and mix well, to bring down the density in increments, until the egg floats pointy up.

Cornelian cherries on the bush. I picked the really ripe ones, from dried on the vine “raisins” to mushy brown, to purplish red. As cornelian cherry ripens in stages, which is perfect from a homesteading point of view as it gives time to harvest and enjoy, I only picked the ripe and left the rest for another day. I ended going back three times, the first two amounts for this mead, and the second amount for a cider mixture.

I used a hand mill to puree the fruit to make sure the fruit and the honey must would combine well. While in this way the seeds and skins are separated from the puree (this fruit does not make juice, instead it makes a puree of the consistency of apple sauce), I opted to add the skins (with seeds) back to the puree, and must, as I wanted to make use of the endemic yeast living on the fruit skins instead of pitching a commercial yeast strain. I find wild yeasts on fruit skins to work well to ferment that type of fruit and often give a milder, more flavorful mead than made with a more robust single strain commercial yeast. All in all I ended up with over a gallon of puree (5 liters according to the side of the fermenting bucket) with about 4 gallons of honey must.

The fruit & honey must, ready for fermentation. It was slightly bubbly in a few hours, and started to really bubble 2 days later. And it smells awesome! As I found a reference cornelian cherry was often combined with apple cider to ferment into a fruity hard cider, I collected another gallon or so to freeze for when the apples are ready to be pressed.


Cornelian cherries seems to have an endemic souring organism living on the skin. When fermented without sterilization, and no honey, it will sour quite nicely. When I intend to make a sour ale, I will add some cornelian cherry skins to purposefully infect the wort. With honey, the antibacterial effect of the honey is enough to curb any infection.