Brewing 101 Part 1: Beer, Mead, and Cordials (class handout)

Cyclops holding a drinking cup aloft

I have taught this class for the SCA, to people interested in learning to brew in a specific context: Europe before 1600.  Trying to cover all three – beers, meads, and cordials – in one session is an awful lot of information.  I’d rather break it out in the future.

Notes from BREWING 101: What You Need To Know To Get Started, taught at Atlantia University, fall 2007.  Copyright Elspeth Payne.

Practices For Absolutely Everybody

 No matter what you’re making, certain rules always apply:

  • Keep your equipment clean and sanitized.
  • Wash absolutely everything that’s going to touch your beverage with soap and hot water; rinse very thoroughly to get all soap residue off.  If you can smell the soap, you haven’t rinsed enough.  Get your nose as close as you can, and check.
  • Allow your equipment time to dry.  It’s much easier to handle dry, and in some cases it really matters – for example, a wet stopper cork can be a conduit for wild bacteria to get into your beverage and spoil it.
  • Use a sanitizing agent.  I recommend one of the oxygen-activated agents available at your homebrew store, such as BLC, C Brite, and One Step.  I’ll talk about the use of chlorine bleach in class – I’m not a fan, though with adequate rinsing (A Lot) it can work just fine.
  • The quality and flavor of your honey, water, and grains matters.
  • Assemble everything you need ahead of time.  In almost all beverages, there is some time-sensitive part of the process.  The Peter Principle says that’s when you won’t have what you need on hand.
  • Be patient, both in assembling your brew and in allowing it to finish.
  • It’s a good idea to keep a log – it helps you reproduce the really great batches and remember the things you want to do differently
  • Always give your brews more time, rather than less.

Some Historical Sources

Compleat Anachronist #120, Making Medieval Mead or, Mead Before Digby, by Cynthia Krupp and Bill Gillen, Summer 2003

Compleat Anachronist #60, Alcoholic Drinks of the Middle Ages, by Marc Shapiro, March 1992

Compleat Anachronist #5, The CA Guide to Brewing, by Lady Arwen Evaine fert Rhys ap Gwynedd, March 1983

The fall 2008 issue of Compleat Anachronist will be my own paper on the Origins of Mead.

For an index of issues, visit

Atlantia Brewers Guild:

Atlantia brewers list:

SCA brewers list:

Interkingdom Brewers Guild:


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