Chinese Mead?

Carolingia, the Boston-area SCA group is planning an event in March called the Laurels Prize Tourney, where laurels (people who are Officially Very Good At Arts and Sciences) put out challenges and people try to meet them.

One of the challenges calls for well-researched mead, and I wondered if I could find any Chinese mead recipes.  I know that grain wines were far and away the dominant thing, but there's got to be something out there, right?

Well, I read through 46 pages of search results for every mention of "honey" after the Han dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE) in the big online repository of Chinese texts and came up with nothing.  Rats.  I did learn that they preserved plums in honey, which is kind of cool I guess. doesn't have everything though.  And while I was taking a break around page 20, I decided to see what Google could turn up.

English wikipedia mentions this paper about a 1000-2000 BCE find supporting a mixed honey, rice and grape fermentation, but having just been disappointed with the Mijiaya beer (there's no recipe post because it tasted like hot mouth woe) I'd rather take something with a bit more evidence behind it than isotope and residue analyses.

Chinese wikipedia has a more relevant view of history but no citations.  We get a single relevant bullet in their "history" section:

  • Tradition has it that one of the first mead making regions in China was in Gongyan, during the Western Zhou dynasty in 780 BCE, where there was a record of mead making, which also flourished in the Tang (618 - 907 CE) and Song (960 - 1279 CE) periods.
And in the "Uses" section,
  • The Compendium of Materia Medica (本草綱目, first published 1578) thinks that mead can treat some various diseases.
Carrying on with the broad search, there's a poem by Su Shi, who lived from 1037 - 1101 CE.  I've translated it poorly:

There is a daoist in the west of Shu named Yang Shichang who makes great mead, very rich and strong.
I, having just obtained his recipe, wrote this song to bequeath it.
Pearls of rice water make sweet-wine, and in July the field-laborer's sweat runs bright.
But it doesn't compare to the spring urn's self-issuing fragrance, bees ploughing and weeding flowers to make grain.
One day, a small boil, with foam like fish spittle, the second day, foggy becomes clear bright and alive.
The third day, when you open the urn, the fragrance fills the room, I quickly pour it into a silver bottle without waiting for it to scatter.
A hundred coins a cup and thick without sound, sweet dew with no turbidity as clear as ghee.
The lord does not see the bees in the south garden picking flowers like rain, who Heaven taught first to brew wine and inebriate the gentleman.
Over the past years the gentleman has become poor to the bone, did he ever beg for grain?
All things in the world truly is unclear and uncertain, but the honeybee's great victory keeps watch over the river.

This is way more of a recipe than I expected from a poem.

Something like:

  1. Boil honey and water (how much?) and place in an urn.
  2. At some point it will clarify.
  3. After clarifying, it'll become fragrant.  Bottle it and sell it for $$$.
There are a bunch of medium quality articles on the Chinese internet that I'm reading through as well.

This one (which seems to be ripped from this paper which I can only read the abstract of.  Chinese internet yaaaay) claims to have a few recipes for mead, including the one mentioned in the above poem.

They say, and I translate,

In 1082 CE, Su Shi [aka Su Dongpo] obtained the secret mead recipe from the Western Shu Daoist Yang Shichang, which used sticky rice and honey as ingredients.  I personally brewed an "open fermenter and the fragrance fills the walls" mead. 
About the method for making "Dongpo mead," A Collection of the Records of Dongpo has this recorded: "My making of mead is built on [true one water disordered?], and for every dou of grain, use two and a half liang of steamed flour, like the normal method, take dregs from wine, and also put one liang of it into the steamed cakes to ferment them, and after three days, if the flavor is very hot and hard, and then add one dou of cooked grain to it; if it is sweet and soft, then every time you add cooked grain, add an additional half a liang; after another three days, add more, and it'll be done.  If all during fermentation the fermenter is full to the brim and you lose it from expansion, adding less water is advisable."
Tang dynasty pharmaceutical texts say that wine was from "millet, other millet, rice, honey, grapes and others" and that "Making wine or short-wine always requires yeast cakes, except honey and grapes, which alone do not. 

There are some leads here.  Hopefully I can get enough evidence to make a real recipe.

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  1. There's a lot of OCR mistakes in ctext though... that might be one of the reasons so little shows up?

    1. It's certainly possible I'm missing some because of OCR mistakes. There's actually a lot of hits for 蜜 - I looked through 40 some pages of them.


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