Books for Brewers: Historical Primary Sources for Brewers

Medieval book from Yale Law Library

Most recently updated October 21, 2017

I am chagrined each time I see someone online asking whether there are period sources.  You bet there are!  Here is a running list of historical primary sources for brewers. Secondary sources are on another blog post, yet another has modern how-to books,  and there’s one with books about bees and honey.

Most of what’s on this page is from before 1600 ACE, though there are a couple of later (Elizabethan) receipt books included.   Clearly my eleven-page bibliography needs to become a searchable database available from this site, but until it is, I’ll publish it in flat form here.  Any corrections and suggested additions are welcome.

Some of these sources are more about medical matters or the essential nature of alcohol (Hippocrates, Galen), but if you want to understand the classical approach and much of medieval thinking, they’re valuable to read.  Most of these have been translated, edited and include notes.  (Editors just can’t resist commenting, not that I can blame them.)

Note that I have not linked most of these to online sources.  Many you can find on Amazon, but check Google Books, Google Scholar, the Gutenberg Project and your local library first.  I dream of being able to carry my entire historical library on my Kindle, and be able to search it easily on the spot when I’m teaching a class.

So, my personal collection of period brewing sources, including wines, beers, meads, and cordials:

A Description of Northern Peoples: Rome 1555 . Olaus Magnus. Several volumes. Ed. Peter Godfrey Foote, John Granlund; transl. Peter Fisher, Humphrey Higgens. Published by Hakluyt Society. Digitized June 30, 2011.  ISBN 0904180433, 9780904180435.  see also Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus: Romae 1555.

Airs, Waters, Places  Hippocrates.  Jones, W.H.S. (ed).  Harvard University Press, Massachusetts.  1984.

An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook of the  13th Century, transl.Charles Perry et al., lsst accessed March 28, 2008

 An Edition of Reynolds MS 1.  Major, Charles Tidmarsh.    Diss. U. of Georgia, 1999. Fourteenth century English manuscript which includes a collection of Middle English household and medical recipes as well as a recipe for mead and metheglin. Parts (including the mead recipe) are available at

Annals of the Caliph’s Kitchens: Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq’s Tenth-Century Baghdadi Cookbook.  al-Warraq, Ibn Sayyar. Translated by N. Nasrallah.

Architecture, ou Art de bien bastir (trans. 1594) Marc Vitruue Pollion (Vitruvius Pollio), translated by Martin Secretaire de Monseigneur le Cardinal de Lenoncourt. This Vitruvius translation was intended as a gift from the Cardinal of Lenoncourt to Henry II of France (the original was dedicated to Caesar Augustus). Vitruvius was a military engineer, an architect, a believer in proportion and architecture as imitation of nature. In discussing this, he gives us our earliest extant description of terroir, or how geography influences the flavor of wine.This link includes the wine-related passages.

IThere is an electronic scan of the original medieval translation in Middle French, so you can page through it as though you had the actual book in front of you. You can also get it as a Nook Book eBook format from Barnes and Noble. This has long since passed into public domain.

Bechbretha:  An Old Irish Law-Tract On Beekeeping   Charles-Edwards, Thomas, and Kelly, Fergus (Eds) (1983).   Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, W. & S. Magowan, Dublin & Dundalk.

The Booke of Quinte Essence or the Fifth Being: That Is To Say, Man’s Heaven.  Trismegestus, Hermes.  Ed. F.J. Furnivall.  Nabu Press, 2011.  I believe this is a 42pp collection by Jean to Roquetaillade (John of Rupescissa), a 14th c. Franciscan monk with a cure-all that is the earliest cordial recipe I know of that includes fruit.  Available on Amazon.

The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened:  Whereby is Discovered Several ways for making of Metheglin, Sider, Cherry-Wie, &c. Together with Excellent Directions for Cookery As also for Preserving, Conserving, Candying, &c.    Digbie, Sir Kenelme (1669).  H. Brome, London.  Reproduced by the Mallinckrodt Chemical Works, 1967.

Mago the Carthaginian – I mention him here not because I know where to find any translations we know to be his, but because he was deeply respected in the classical world. Originally from Carthage, Mago was author of an agricultural manual said to have been 28 books originally.  When the Romans sacked Carthage in 146 BCE, Carthaginian libraries were given to the kings of Numidia, except for Mago’s book. That was brought to Rome, adapted into Greek and later translated in full into Latin at the Roman Senate’s expense.  Some fragments of Greek and Latin translations survive of his work in the works of other authors, including Varro and Pliny the Elder. Mago is the originator of the description of getting bees from the carcass of a bullock or ox, which is referred to in modern mead histories (and which doesn’t actually occur in nature; he was passing on lore there).

Country House Brewing in England   Sambrook, Pamela. 1500-1900. The Hambledon Press, 1996; ISBN10 1852851279, ISBN13 9781852851279

Curye on Inglysch (Middle English recipes) (Early English Text Society Supplementary Series). Hieatt, Constance B., and Sharon Butler.   Early English Text Society. Second Series 8. London: Oxford UP, 1985

Dalby, Andrew.  Geoponica: ‘Farm Work’.  Prospect Books, 2011. See also Owens’ translation listed below.

Daz Buch von Guter Spise: Aus der Wuerzburg-Muenchner Handschrift._ Texte des Spaten Mittelalters.   Hajek, Hans. ed. Heft 8. Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag, 1958. 61pp.  The original “Book of Good Food” is a collection of recipes organized by Michael de Leone, the “proto-notary of the Archibishop of Würzburg”, and dates to 1345-1354. You can find the original on Google Books, but there’s no eBook, you have to buy a copy. A translation was available on the web at, but I haven’t been able to open that lately. There is only one mead recipe out of 101, and there is a translation here, though I cannot say how accurate it is:   The author of this site says there is an 1884 translation one should avoid.

De Re Coquinaria, Caelius Apicius.  Original Latin copies collected and curated in the last fifty years are  hard to find, but here’s one: .  Grainger and Grocock’s order phentermine 37.5mg online edition (Prospect Books, UK, 2006) has Latin with English Translation: (also on Secondary Sources list)

De Re Rustica, or the Art of Husbandry, and Concerning Trees  (circa 60 CE, printed 1845 with commentary added)  pub. , Millar, A.,  London, UK.  See especially Book XII, p 517, 1745.  CHAP. XXV. Of salt Water and strong Brine for preserving Wines and  CHAP. XLI. How to make the best Honey-wine.

Decretum, Punishments For Drunk Monks 1000 Years Ago   Burchard of Worms,.  Written first half of the 11th century.

Delightes for Ladies   Plat, Sir Hugh.  Humfrey Lowens, London, 1602.  London:  Crosby Lockwood & Sons, Ltd., 1948.

Distiller’s Apprentice : I have this by reputation only, I have not found a citation yet.  Supposedly English circa 1610-1615.

The Domostroi:  Rules for Russian Households In The Time Of Ivan the Terrible.   Pouncy, Carolyn Johnston (1995).    Cornell University Press, New York.

Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book: Elizabethan England Country Cooking.  Spurling, Hilary.  Faber and Faber,  2011 (Reed Business Information 1987 edition out of print).  ISBN:  0571247334, ISBN-13:978-0571247332; Viking Adult, 1987; ISBN10 0670815926, ISBN13 9780670815920

The Elixirs of Nostradamus: Nostradamus’ Original Recipes For Elixirs, Scented Water, Beauty Potions and Sweetmeats.   Boeser, Knut, ed.  London: Moyer Bell, 1996.  Print.

The English Housewife   Markham, Gervase,  1615.  Best, Michael R., ed.  McGill-Queen’ s University Press, 1986, 1998, 2003; ISBN10 0773511032,
ISBN13 9780773511033

The Feminine Monarchie, Or, A Treatise  concerning bees and the Due Ordering of them.  Butler, Charles.  Oxford:  Joseph Barnes, 1609.

Funff Bucher von der Gottlichen Und Edlenn Gabe Der Philosophischen Hochthewren und Wunderbaren Kunst Bier Zu Brawen. Heinrich Knaust, 1577. Erfurt, Germany. [I’m sure there are umlauts in there but I’m not sure where.]

Geoponika (Agricultural Pursuits) translated by Rev. T. Owen, MA 1805.  Charles C. Miller Memorial Apicultural Library. A 10th c manuscript by various authors. Originally compiled in Constantinople for the Byzantine emperoror Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus from texts already ancient in his time, who are discussed by Owen at the beginning. The whole is twenty books. Books 4-5 are on the cultivation of the vine, books 6-8 on the making of wine. Not to be confused with Cassianus Bassus’ 7th c manuscript of the same name, which is integrated into this Geoponika.

Goodman of Paris   Powers, Eileen trans.   1392/4 (London: Routledge, 1928).

The Good Husewifes Handmaide for the Kitchin, pub. 1588.  One source: Bristol: Historical Management Associates Ltd., 1992. Reprint of the original edition of 1588. ISBN 1858040035.  Another source with digital notes by Sam Wallace, 1594 and 1597 editions: . There are others out there, so it’s worth looking around to decide what you want to use as a “definitive” or most original version.

The Historie of the World (trans. 1634) Pliny the Elder. Written first century AD. Pub. A. Islip, London.   You can page through this electronic copy of the original 1634 publication.  An easier-to-read electronic transcription of A. Islip’s 1601 version is available as well – easier to read if not nearly as exciting to look at.

Pliny’s Natural History (1949-54) Rackham H. Loeb Classical Library.  Harvard University Press, Cambridge: William Heinemann, London (public domain) first printed 1949, reprinted 1960.   In Latin and English  or English only    Search on honey-wine and “real wine”. There are also very short mentions of dry and wet measures.

Jewell House of Art and Nature (1594)  Platt, Hugh.    London:  Walter J. Johnson, 1979.  Also see Bent Juel-Jensen, “Some Uncollected Authors, XIX: Sir Hugh Plat (?1552-?1611),” The Book Collector 8 (1959): 60-68: “Plat’s writings are fascinating documents of the everyday life of an inquisitive and versatile man” and his Jewel House of Art and Nature is a “compendium of good advice on every conceivable topic.”   Includes “The Making of a Braggot, which is Many Times Mistaken for a Muskadel by the Simple Sort of People”.

Kitab al-Aghani. Vol. xxi   al-Isfahani, Abu ‘l-Farraq 1992. Al-Hay’a al-Misriyya al-‘Amma li al-Kitab. Cairo.

Ladie Borlase’s Receiptes Booke   Schoonover, David E, ed.   University of Iowa Press, 1998; ISBN10 0877456364, ISBN13 9780877456360

Lady Anderson’s Receipt Book:  The experienced English house-keeper : for the use and ease of ladies, house-keepers, cooks, &c. : wrote purely from practice and dedicated to the Hon. Lady Elizabeth Warburton … : consisting of near 800 original receipts, most of which never appeared in print, Printed by J. Harrop for the author, and sold by Messrs. Fletcher and Anderson … London, and by Eliz. Raffald, confectioner … Manchester (1769).  ASIN: B007SZLDRO

Le Ménagier de Paris, or The Goodwife’s Guide.  Trans. Greco, Gina L. and Rose, Christine M.  Cornell University Press; First Edition  2009.  ISBN-10: 0801474744; ISBN-13: 978-0801474743

Liber de Vinis   de Villanova, Arnaldus. 1478.  Arguably the first wine book to be mass printed, but it’s wine from a medical standpoint.

Libre del Coch.  Nola, Roberto de.  1520.  Ed. Veronika Leimgruber.  Barcelona: Curial Edicions Catalanes, 1977.  Mostly food, but three notable beverage recipes: Spices for Clarea, Clarea from Water, and Spices for Hippocras.  English translation available on Stefan’s Florilegium; see the Secondary Sources list.

Maison Rustique   Estienne, Charles, trans. by Jean Libault? (1535-1596).

Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery   Hess, Karen, ed.  New York:  Columbia University Press, 1981, 1995; ISBN10 0231049315, ISBN13 9780231049313.

Medical Formulary, or Aqrabadhin, of Al-Kindi.  Levey, Martin. 1966. The 1 vols, The University of Wisconsin publications in medieval science. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

Meede [plain or spiced mead]  Clutius, Theodorus  1597.  Van de Byen.  Leiden:  Jan Claesz van Dorp.

Naturalis Historia, or Natural History  Pliny the Elder,   c. 77AD.

Owen T, trans. (1805-1806) Geoponika: Agricultural Pursuits (J. White, London).  See also Dalby’s translation, above.

Pleyn Delit:  Medieval Cookery for Modern Cooks.  Hieatt, Constance; Hosington, Brenda; and  Butler, Sharon (2004).    University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Canada.

Poems of Wine and Revelry: The Khamriyyat of Abu Nouwas  Coleville, Jim. 2005.  Kegan Paul Arabia Library

Le Viandier de Taillevent, probably by Guillaume Tirel. There are four manuscripts; the earliest dates to late thirteenth to early fourteenth century. Includes a chapter on wine treatments, and a recipe for hypocras. There is a hardback version on Amazon, and James Prescott also has a version posted here:

Vinetum  Estienne, Charles, 1537.  First modern book on grape growing and wine-making techniques



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  1. I did use your list. I am excited at the depth of your resources. I plan to follow up on a bunch of new ones that look promising for my own research. I did not use your list on secondary sources this time, but totally will in the future.

    I pointed a lot of people toward your blog and talked you up! I will link to you very soon. I am new to all this too. May some subscriber will chime and tell us both how…

    You can find my blog (sorely in need of content and updating) at: Surprisingly, people are actually reading the thing. 🙂

    Thanks for all of your hard work on this research.


  2. Hey Elspeth,

    I am very impressed with your resource list! I have been trying to put something like this together, but you have already done it! Would it be OK for me to borrow your list for our East Kingdom University? I will, of course, give you full credit! I would also happily place a link to your blog from mine, if that would be something that you would be fine with.

    Perhaps one of these Pennsics we will actually get to sit down and talk mead… 🙂

    East Kingdom Brewers Guildmistress

    • I’d be (no exaggeration) thrilled and delighted if you used (with credit) my book list for a University! (You know there’s a post for historical secondary sources too, right?)

      Do please link to my blog and send me yours, I’ll put you on my blogroll. Hm. I’m new to this, is there a better way SEO-wise to link to you than on the blogroll?

      I am a territorial baroness for one more year – THEN maybe I’ll be able to sit down and talk mead…I’d enjoy it.

      SCA Sorcha Crowe

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