Moonshine

The word "moonshine" is generally assumed to have originated in the USA, meaning whiskey illegally made by moonlight. However, the word was also used in eighteenth century England to describe brandy illegally smuggled in by moonlight [5], as in the story of the moonrakers. Moonshine can also mean "foolish talk", because of the belief that the moon can alter mental states[6]. For whatever reason, there seems to be a poetic connection between the moon and alcohol.

"Mythology of the Soul" by H.G.Baynes [9], is a book about artwork produced by mental patients. One of these artists produced a whole series of pictures featuring the image of a crescent moon with a vine nearby and a woman holding out a foaming tankard of beer.

The word "honeymoon" originates from the custom of drinking mead for a month following a wedding. For more on bees and honey, click here

I discovered the story of Mead on the moon on a site devoted to a cult of the Norse moon god Mani. The story combines elements of the Hjuki and Bil story, with folklore about mead and the moon. It is said to be a Norse tale. It seems a little too good to be true, and I can't vouch for it's authenticity, but certainly worth reading as it is the work of a skillfull storyteller, regardless of when it was written

Here is an old recipe for mead, from an eighteenth century recipe book:

Mead
"To 13 gallons of water put 30 Ib of honey; boil and scum it well; take rosemary, thyme, bay leaves and sweet briar one handful altogether; boil it an hour, put it into a tub with a little ground malt; stir it till it is lukewarm; strain it through a cloth, and put it into a tub again; cut a toast and spread it over with good yeast, and put it into the tub also; when the liquid is covered with yeast, put it in a barrel; take of cloves mace and nutmegs, an ounce and a half; of ginger sliced an ounce; bruise the spice, tie it up in a rag, and hang it in the vessel, stopping it up close for use." [1] If you don't own your own brewery, you will probably not want to make the quantities described! Soft water is supposed to be best for mead. Mead likes to ferment at 65-80 degrees F. When fermentation has stopped, the mead should be left for a month, bottled, and then left as long as possible (up to 7 years!). Special yeasts for mead are available, but ordinary brewers yeast will do Some experts would define this recipe as Metheglin, rather than mead, because it contains herbs and spices. More modern recipes for mead use 3 or 4 pounds of honey per gallon, depending on whether liquid or crystalline honey is used. Flavourings for mead and metheglin include rosehips, cloves, orange and lemon juice and rind, cinnamon, marjoram, balm, meadowsweet (originally spelt medesweete), rue and hops*. John Reid [7] Gives the following recipe for metheglin:

Metheglin


"To have good metheglin, take one part of clarified honey and eight parts of pure water, and boyl well together in a copper vessel till the consumption of one half; but while it boyls, take off the scum, and when done boyling, and it begins to cool, tun it up, and it will work of it self; as soon as done working, stop very close. Some advise to bury it under ground three moneths, and that to make it lose both smell and taste of hony and wax, and taste very like wine. I use to add dry rosmary and sweet marjoram in boyling: some barme it as ail
**, which I have practised very effectually"

In the past, honey contained far more impurities (such as dead bees) than the honey available today. These impurities were a source of nutrients for the yeast. For this reason, it would be advisable to add some sort of yeast nutrient. The following is ideal for mead, but any commercial yeast nutrient will be adequate: For 1 gallon of mead: 1/4 pint water 1 level tablespoon of sugar 1/4 level teaspoonful of tartaric acid 1/4 level teaspoonful of marmite 1/4 level teaspoonful of ammonium phosphate To activate the yeast, boil the water, sugar, acid and the marmite. Pour slowly into a clean bottle, cover and allow to cool. When cool, add the ammonium phosphate, and shake to dissolve. Add it to the yeast when lukewarm, and place a clean cotton wool swab in the neck of the bottle (which should be about 2/3 full). Stand in a warm place for 48 hours before adding the yeast to the must [1]

The Picts used to make ale from heather, click here to find out more.



*Though this may offend many beer drinkers, the addition of hops to alcoholic beverages, may not have originally been purely for the flavour (hops are an acquired taste, if ever there was one), or for their preservative qualities. Hop plants are vines which climb clockwise in the northern hemisphere and anticlockwise in the southern hemisphere, guided by the sun. They also resemble grape vines. Hops became widely used in brewing in Britain in the 16th century, and this was extremely controversial, as it meant that brewing became more commercialised and controlled by the hop growers. A writer in the era of Henry VIII described hops as: "A wicked weed that would spoil the taste of the drink and endanger the people" [10]. However, the saying: "hops, reformation, bays and beer, came into England in one year [1524]" is not entirely true:

Hops were grown in Anglo-Saxon times. The village of Himbleton in Worcestorshire is a corruption of "hymel-tun", meaning a hop yard. An Anglo-Saxon translation of the "Herbarium" of Apuleius describes how a "wort" could be prepared from the hop, which was considered "That degree laudable that men mix it with their usual drinks" [12] I once read an Anglo-Saxon recipe for mead, which included hops, although I don't know how authentic it was. It has been claimed that hops were introduced to Britain by the Romans.

Lacey and Danziger [14] claim that hops were grown in the year 1000 in Britain, but only for use in dyeing, and that hops weren't added to beer until the 14th century

Good King Wenceslas of Bohemia apparently made the export of hop cuttings punishable by death [11]

An old Germanic legend says that hop beer was invented by a Flemish king named Gambrinus. Gambrinus seems to be a corruption of Jan Primus, or Jan the first, Duke of Brabant, who died in 1294, and was a patron and protector of the Flemish brewers guild. Nowadays, hops are found growing wild in Britain, but they may or may not be native [3] They are apparently considered native everywhere south of York, but not further north [8]

Previously nettles, bog myrtle, ground ivy and ivy (one of only three woody vines native to Britain, the others being honeysuckle and clematis) were used as flavourings. (Ivy often chokes out grape vines, and an ivy bush on a pole was used in the past as a sign outside of inns, implying strong beer [4]. Another herb used in brewing was the bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata), which was also known as the moonflower. Ipomea alba and hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna are also sometimes called moonflowers. See Herbs Unlimited (link below) for more on this. Ivy is mildly toxic, and so ivy beer is probably not a good idea. Ivy and nettles are also said to have been introduced by the Romans, and, (yes you've guessed it) I have evidence to the contrary

Anyway, the point is that vines are widely believed to have narcotic properties, whether they actually do or not is another matter. Some vines, such as sweet bryony (which medieval herbalists often sold as mandrake) really are poisonous, but I can see no good reason why vines should necessarily be toxic or narcotic. There seems to be an element of folklore in all this. In recent years, rumours about hallucinogenic strains of hops finding their way into beer have been circulated, but these stories seem to be urban legends. Hops are related to Cannabis, and with both plants, the active ingredients are most concentrated in the resin produced by the female flowers, which are the parts of the plants most commonly used. Hops may contain traces of hallucinogens, but the effect would be small, compared to the effects of the alcohol. Pillows stuffed with hops are said to cure insomnia [2]. Perhaps this belief is linked to the idea of the shamens' ascent of the axis mundi. South American shamens use the hallucinogenic vine, Ayahuasca in their rituals. (see The Stairway to Heaven and also The toad and the hare for more on this). I have a recipe for honeysuckle wine. Unfortunately I have also seen honeysuckle described as poisonous, and not to be used in wine-making. As a child I often used to suck the nectar out of honeysuckle flowers, and I live to tell the tale. And why are a brand of cigarette named "woodbines" (another name for honeysuckle)? I have noticed that the plants which most people "know" are poisonous are often narcotic but not as life threatening as people believe. Children are warned about Fly agaric mushrooms, but never Buttercups (which are extremely toxic but not narcotic). I have heard rumours that Clematis is toxic and/or hallucinogenic. I'll keep an open mind.

I consider the ingestion of any possibly narcotic wild plants to be extremely inadvisable [back]

**"Barme" is the yeasty froth formed on fermenting beer. The words "barmy" and "barmpot", meaning people who talk a lot of moonshine are related. I assume this means to add barm to the metheglin to start it fermenting. I would certainly recommend adding some form of yeast to this recipe. In my experience, allowing wines to ferment naturally is a great way to make vinegar![back]


Links to other sites on the Web
Cindy Renfrow's culinary and brewing history links
A really good collection of links to old recipes on the web Herbs Unlimited: Beer herbs
Herbs formerly used in brewing



Back to Main Page
Back to Heather Beer
Back to Bees
Back to the Stairway to Heaven
Back to Making Moondials
Back to the Man in the Moon
Back to the moonrakers