Medieval Brewing Recipes: Find the Sources

Medieval brewing recipes are found in memoirs, cookbooks, household management manuals, all sorts of places
Medieval brewing recipes are in libraries all over the world
Christ Church Library, Oxford

It’s amazing to me how many brewers ask me where to find medieval brewing recipes for beer, mead, whatever . Let’s start with some basics.

When you’re looking for documentable historical sources for medieval brewing recipes, it’s important to know which ones to quote.

What is a primary source? The raw materials of history. They are original documents and objects created at the time under study, first-hand testimony created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions themselves. Primary sources are often documented at the time it happened, but also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later. Letters, diaries, speeches, research data and surveys, autobiographies and memoirs are examples of primary sources.

What is a secondary source? These are accounts or interpretations of events created by someone without firsthand experience, or documents written after an event has occurred by someone who wasn’t there themselves. Unlike primary sources, which provide first-hand accounts, secondary sources may offer different perspectives, analysis, and conclusions of those accounts. Essays, reviews, criticisms or commentaries are generally secondary sources.

What is a tertiary source? They provide an overview or summary of a topic and points to primary or secondary sources. Could be an index and/or textual consolidation, database, bibliography or directory of primary and secondary sources. Use these to help you find a primary or secondary source, but avoid citing a tertiary source. Almanacs, abstracts, wikipedia articles, and encyclopedias are tertiary sources. Tertiaries can help you get a feel for a time or place, but use them to help you drill down to primary and secondary sources. Don’t cite tertiary sources, use them to find the original!

Where do you find primary or secondary medieval brewing recipes? University libraries and online searches are your best bets for the kinds of recipe books, essays, memoirs, how-to texts, historical inventories and diagrams that we brewers tend to look for.


Books for Brewers: Historical Primary Sources for Brewers (links point to Amazon where possible. Free sources exist for many of them, do look for them!)

Books for Brewers: Historical Brewing Secondary Sources (links point to Amazon where possible)

Atlantia Brewers Guild basic bibliography ( Includes highlights from Books for Brewers; a shorter bibliography of sources we agreed you should really know. Links point to free sources where possible Note these books are all on the bibliographies on this site as well.)

If you know of a source for medieval brewing recipes (even just one!) that isn’t on these lists, please send ’em to me so I can add them here. Your fellow medieval brewers will  

If you prefer paper to browser reading, some of the sources below will print the manuscript and bind it for

you for pretty nominal fees. The key is that the manuscript is out of print or otherwise unavailable, and not under copyright. Check Amazon,,,, or other discount textbook sources. It’s amazing what’s still in print.

Google Scholar is an online, freely accessible search engine that lets users look for both physical and digital copies of articles. It searches a wide variety of sources, including academic publishers, universities, and preprint depositories. A good place to find peer-reviewed articles and theses.

Google Scholar is NOT the same as using public Web content. It searches the same kinds of books, articles and documents you find in a university library’s catalog and databases.

It is NOT a comprehensive “one-stop-shop”, but it does have an amazing number of old books and manuscripts. Here’s a pretty good pro-and-con discussion: Pros and Cons of Google Scholar

Search “What is Google Scholar?” to find college class handouts on what you can expect from Google Scholar. This one’s pretty good:

Google Book Search Google launched its own eBook store, but the earlier book scan project is still up.

Project Gutenberg is a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works, to “encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks” – specifically in the public domain. Founded in 1971 by Michael S. Hart, it is the oldest digital library. It’s easy to get into a discussion on freedom of information and digital copyrights here. It has a wonderful number of older books and manuscripts – if I know what I’m looking for, this is one of my first places go for medieval brewing recipes and related memoirs. Definitely a good place to find copies of books with medieval brewing recipes.

Here’s a good how-to-use-it for Project Gutenberg:

DPLA: Digital Public Library of America universal access to digital resources of American libraries and archives, including New York Public Library, Library of Congress, and Harvard U. Many (all?) are downloadable.

Internet Archive Many but not all are public domain. Library of Congress, Canadian sources as well as U.S. Some overlap with Project Gutenberg and Million Books Project; a fair number of children’s books. Many languages represented.

Europeana Exhibitions Digitized items from European museums,l libraries, and archives – more than 2,000 European institutions, including the British Library and several national libraries. Search for the author or title; in the left-side panel narrow your results by file type (“text”) or copyright (“

Wolne Lektury public domain books in Polish; both online reading formats or several download formats. Polish mead has been a market leader for centuries. They have a fine old tradition of mead making- I don’y believe we have any books of medieval brewing recipes, but I haven’t given up hope.

Projeckti Lönnrot public domain books in Finnish and Swedish.

Wikisource A digital library of public domain texts, but also films and other materials. A project of the Wikimedia Foundation, contains a lot of novels but also letters, speeches, etc.

Wikisource has a page listing digital collections of public domain books in German.

Open Library Most are public domain here, but there are a large number of contemporary eBooks as well. Their goal is “one web page for ever book ever published”. Sourced from Project Gutenberg and Internet Archive. Lots of file formats here, but catalog is mostly popular public domain books.

Authorama brings public domain books from sites like Project Gutenberg, but in a form easily readable in a web browser.

Open Culture popular blog that curates access to educational and cultural media.

Medieval brewing recipes are out there and Happy hunting!


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