Courtier, privateer, diplomat, swordsman, theologian, alchemist and incurable romantic, Sir Kenelm Digby was the sort of character you simply couldn’t make up. Oddly enough though, these days Digby is most revered among home brewers...
Sir Kenelm Digby (1603-1665) was a noted foodie, and he kept extensive notebooks of recipes encountered both in London and on his travels. These were published after his death by an enterprising steward under the title The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened (1669).
Among dishes with fantastic names like “a good quaking bag pudding” or “pease of the seedy buds of tulips”, there are no less than 115 different booze recipes, mainly for metheglin – or flavoured mead. Kenelm got this brew from “Master Webbe, who maketh the King’s Meathe”. I’ve scaled it down considerably (Webbe’s recipe makes 300 bottles, but eight is probably enough to start with), and switched most of the fresh ingredients for dry ones. It’s strong and sweet, with a rather medicinal flavour.
1. Bring 10 litres of water to the boil. Add 5g of dried hops (I used East Kent Goldings) and boil for half an hour. Putting your ingredients in muslin bags will save you straining them off later.
2. Remove the hops, and stir in 1.6kg of honey. Boil for an hour, skimming occasionally.
3. Add 5g dried rose petals; 2 teaspoons each of dried rosemary, thyme and marjoram; 1 teaspoon of mint; 5g fresh ginger ; a stick of cinnamon and 4 tablespoons of oloroso (sweet) sherry. Webbe liked it with cloves and mace too, but “the King did not care for them”.
4. Boil for half an hour, then strain off the liquid into a sterilised fermenter and let it cool. If you want to check the specific gravity with a hydrometer (or an egg), it should be around 1075.
5. Whisk vigorously, then pitch half a teaspoon of yeast nutrient and 2 teaspoons of wine yeast. By the next day it should be fizzing nicely.
6. Leave it to ferment out and clear (mine took a few weeks), then siphon it off into sterilised wine bottles (corks rather than screw tops). Kenelm reckoned it would be ready to drink in a month or two, but it will keep much longer.