medieval drinks

From Mead to Mulled Wine: A Toast to Popular Medieval Beverages

Welcome to a fascinating journey through the history of medieval drinks! In this article, we will explore some of the most popular beverages of the Middle Ages, from the sweet and flavorful mead to the warming spiced mulled wine. Medieval drinks were an essential part of daily life and celebrations, offering not only hydration and nourishment but also social and cultural significance.

We will travel back in time to discover the origins and characteristics of medieval drinks, the brewing process, and the social customs and rituals associated with drinking during festive occasions. We will also discuss the growing popularity of cider during the medieval period and the existence of non-alcoholic beverages, such as herbal infusions and tisanes.

So, let’s raise a glass to history and embark on this exciting journey through the world of medieval drinks!

Key Takeaways:

  • Medieval drinks, including mead and mulled wine, were popular and culturally significant.
  • Medieval society had customs and rituals associated with drinking during festive occasions.
  • Cider and non-alcoholic herbal beverages were also consumed in medieval times.

A Brief History of Mead

Mead, one of the oldest alcoholic beverages in human history, was a popular drink during medieval times. It is believed that mead originated in Africa and was later introduced to Europe, where it quickly became a staple in many cultures.

Mead is a honey-based drink that is created through the fermentation of honey and water, with the addition of yeast. The drink was often brewed in monasteries and convents during the medieval period, with monks and nuns using local honey and water sources to make their brews.

The cultural importance of mead can be seen in its association with mythology and religion. In Norse mythology, mead was believed to have been made from the blood of the god Kvasir, and was considered the nectar of the gods. In Christianity, mead was used as a sacramental wine during religious ceremonies.

A Variety of Meads

During the medieval period, mead came in many different variations. Some meads were made with different types of honey, such as heather honey or clover honey, which gave them distinct flavors. Other meads were spiced with cinnamon, ginger, or other herbs, giving them a unique taste and aroma.

The alcohol content of mead could also vary, depending on the brewing process. Some meads were stronger, while others were more mild and sweet. The time it took to ferment the honey and water mixture also affected the final alcohol content of the mead.

Type of Mead Description
Melomel A mead made with fruit juices or purees added during fermentation.
Cyser A mead made with apple juice or cider.
Metheglin A spiced mead that often contains herbs such as ginger, cinnamon, or nutmeg.

Today, mead has experienced a resurgence in popularity, with many craft breweries and meaderies creating their own unique versions of this ancient beverage.

In the next section, we will explore the characteristics and brewing process of mead in more detail.

Mead: The Nectar of the Gods

One of the most popular medieval drinks was mead, a honey-based beverage that was favored by many cultures throughout history. Mead was considered the “nectar of the gods” and was often associated with mythology and ancient legends.

The brewing process for mead was relatively simple. It involved fermenting a mixture of honey, water, and sometimes fruit or spices. The result was a sweet and potent beverage that was popular throughout the medieval period.

Medieval mead was often consumed during celebrations and feasts. It was believed to have medicinal properties and was used to treat a variety of ailments. It was also a popular choice for toasts and was often served in elaborate drinking vessels.

While mead may have declined in popularity over the centuries, many people are rediscovering this ancient drink. Craft breweries around the world are producing high-quality mead that puts a modern twist on this classic beverage.

Mulled Wine: A Winter Warmer

When the cold winds blew through medieval Europe, there was one drink that could warm the bones: mulled wine. This spiced wine was a staple during the winter months, with variations appearing across the continent.

Medieval mulled wine was made by heating red wine with spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Additional ingredients such as honey, ginger, and dried fruits were often added to enhance the flavor. This delicious spiced wine was believed to have medicinal properties and was often used to ward off sickness during the chilly winter months.

One notable variation of mulled wine was known as “Hippocras,” which was named after the famous Greek physician Hippocrates. Hippocras was typically made from red or white wine, spices like cinnamon and ginger, and sugar. The drink was strained through a cloth and served cold.

Mulled wine was a popular beverage during feasts and celebrations, and it became a symbol of hospitality in medieval society. Even today, mulled wine remains a beloved winter drink that brings people together during the holidays.

A Taste of Medieval Ales and Beers

Beer has a long and storied history dating back centuries, and the Middle Ages were no exception. In fact, beer was one of the most popular drinks of the era, consumed by all levels of society, from nobility to the peasantry. Let’s dive into the world of medieval ales and beers.

Types of Medieval Ales and Beers

The brewing process of medieval ales and beers differed from what we are accustomed to today, with ales being the most common. These ales were typically made using malted barley, but sometimes included a mixture of other grains such as wheat or oats. They were brewed using a top-fermenting yeast, which resulted in a beer that was full-bodied and fruity in taste.

Another popular type of beer was known as “small beer.” This beer was brewed using the same grains as ales, but with less malt and lower alcohol content. Small beer was often consumed in place of water, which was believed to be unsafe to drink due to poor sanitation practices of the time.

Role of Alehouses

Alehouses were a common sight in medieval towns and villages, with many people gathering to drink and socialize. These establishments also served food, making them popular destinations for travelers and locals alike. Many alehouses were owned and operated by women, who were often widows or unmarried. Brewing and selling beer was one of the few professions open to women during this time.

Brewing Process

The brewing process was much more complex in medieval times than it is today. It was a multi-step, time-consuming process that began with the malting of the grains. The malted grains were then mashed in hot water to release the sugars, which were then boiled with hops to create the wort. The wort was then cooled and the yeast added, starting the fermentation process.


Medieval ales and beers were an important part of daily life for people in the Middle Ages. Although the brewing process was more labor-intensive and time-consuming than it is today, the end result was a flavorful and refreshing drink enjoyed by all. Whether it was a pint of ale at the local alehouse or a jug of beer enjoyed with a meal, beer played an important role in medieval society.

The Rise of Cider in Medieval Europe

In addition to mead and mulled wine, another popular drink during medieval times was cider. Made from fermented apples, cider became especially popular in regions such as Normandy and England where apple cultivation was prevalent.

The production of cider in medieval times was a relatively straightforward process. Apples were crushed and the juice was collected, then left to ferment. However, the resulting drink was likely to have varied in strength and taste due to the different types of apples used, as well as the conditions in which the cider was stored and aged.

During the medieval period, cider was also used for medicinal purposes. It was believed to have cleansing properties and was used to treat a variety of ailments, including sore throats and stomach issues.

Cider played an important role in medieval agriculture as well. The growth of apple orchards and the production of cider created new economic opportunities for farmers and tradespeople. Cider was also used as a form of payment for workers during harvest season.

Like other medieval beverages, cider was often consumed during social gatherings and feasts. During these occasions, cider was served in special drinking vessels and sometimes accompanied by other drinks such as mead or ale.

Non-Alcoholic Medieval Drinks

While alcoholic beverages like mead and mulled wine were popular during the Middle Ages, non-alcoholic drinks also played a significant role in medieval diets. Herbal beverages, also known as tisanes or infusions, were particularly favored for their medicinal properties and refreshing taste.

Herbs such as rosemary, mint, and chamomile were commonly used to make these beverages. The ingredients were boiled in water and sweetened with honey or sugar, resulting in a soothing drink that could be enjoyed hot or cold.

Another popular non-alcoholic beverage during medieval times was apple cider vinegar. This drink was made by fermenting apple cider and adding a vinegar mother to it. The resulting beverage was often diluted with water and sweetened with honey or sugar, and it was believed to have numerous health benefits.

Overall, non-alcoholic beverages played an important role in medieval diets and were consumed for both their taste and medicinal properties.

The Role of Drinks in Medieval Feasting

Drinks played a crucial role in Medieval feasting, as they were not only a means of quenching thirst but also a way to express social status and hospitality. During celebrations, the choice of beverages served indicated the wealth and generosity of the host, while the manner in which they were served and consumed followed a prescribed set of rituals and etiquette.

The most common drinks during feasts were ale, beer, and wine. However, the noble and wealthy would also serve more exotic beverages such as spiced wines, mead, and cider. These drinks were often flavored with herbs, spices, and fruits, making them more palatable and appealing to the guests.

Beverage Description
Ale and Beer These fermented drinks were made with grains and water and were consumed by all classes. The brewing process varied depending on the region and availability of ingredients. Alehouses and Taverns were popular gathering places during feasts, where people could drink, eat and socialize.
Wine Wine was considered a luxury drink during Medieval times and was exclusively consumed by the upper class. Wine was typically imported from France, Italy, and Spain and was served in ornate goblets. Red wine was favored over white wine, and spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg were added to improve its taste.
Mead Mead was a honey-based drink that was popular during celebrations and was associated with mythology and the gods. Mead was often flavored with herbs and fruits and was served in ornate drinking vessels.
Cider Cider was a fermented apple-based drink that was particularly popular in England and Normandy. It was often considered a healthier option to ale and beer and was served in wooden or earthenware cups.

During feasts, drinking followed a strict set of rules and manners. The most senior guest would initiate the toast, often proposing a wish or a blessing. The host would then offer a cup of drink to the honored guest, followed by the rest of the guests. To refuse a drink was considered impolite, and the more one drank, the more they showed their appreciation for the host’s hospitality.

The role of drinks in medieval feasting was not only about physical nourishment but also about creating a sense of community and conviviality. In this way, medieval drinks were not just beverages but part of a cultural and social experience that brought people together.

Drinking Rituals and Etiquette in the Middle Ages

The drinking habits of the medieval period were imbued with social customs and rituals. From toasting to the hierarchy of drinking vessels, drinking had a significant role in shaping social interactions.

Medieval Drinking Rituals: Drinking in the middle ages was a communal activity, where people gathered to share stories, engage in conversation, and celebrate life. Drinking rituals were an important part of this communal activity, with toasting being one of the most significant. Toasting was a way of acknowledging the people you were drinking with and showing respect for their presence.

Drinking Etiquette: Medieval drinking etiquette was governed by strict rules. Drinking was often hierarchical, with people of higher status drinking from more ornate and expensive vessels. Drinking from a communal bowl was also common, with people taking turns to drink. Furthermore, people would often share a kiss after drinking from the same vessel to display affection and reinforce social bonds.

Social Drinking: Drinking was not just about indulging in alcoholic beverages, it was also an essential part of social interaction. People would gather in taverns and alehouses to drink, but also to share stories and enjoy each other’s company. Drinking together was considered a way of showing trust and friendship, and it created a strong sense of community.

Understanding the customs and rituals of drinking in the middle ages provides insight into the social and cultural importance of drinking. Medieval drinking practices reveal a society that valued communal activity and intricate social hierarchies.


Throughout the medieval period, drinks played an important role in society. From the sweet nectar of mead to the spiced warmth of mulled wine, historical beverages continue to inspire and delight. As we raise a glass to history, let us not forget the cultural significance and enduring popularity of these drinks.


Q: What were the most popular medieval beverages?

A: Mead and mulled wine were among the most popular beverages during the medieval period.

Q: What is mead?

A: Mead is a honey-based drink that was widely consumed in medieval times.

Q: How was mead brewed?

A: Mead was brewed using honey, water, and yeast, and then fermented over a period of time.

Q: Why was mead called “the nectar of the gods”?

A: Mead was associated with mythology and was often referred to as “the nectar of the gods” due to its sweet taste and divine origins.

Q: What is mulled wine?

A: Mulled wine is a spiced wine that was popular during the winter months in medieval times.

Q: How was mulled wine made?

A: Mulled wine was made by adding spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg to red or white wine and then heating it gently.

Q: What were the different types of ales and beers consumed in medieval times?

A: There were various types of ales and beers consumed in medieval times, including ale, beer, and stout.

Q: What role did cider have in medieval Europe?

A: Cider grew in popularity during medieval times, particularly in regions like Normandy and England, and became a significant part of their agricultural practices.

Q: Were there any non-alcoholic beverages in medieval times?

A: Yes, herbal beverages such as herbal infusions and tisanes were popular non-alcoholic drinks during the medieval period.

Q: How were drinks incorporated into medieval feasting?

A: Drinks played an essential role in medieval feasts and celebrations, with extravagant beverages often served to mark special occasions.

Q: What were the drinking rituals and etiquette in the Middle Ages?

A: Drinking in medieval times had its customs and rituals, including toasting and observing the hierarchy of drinking vessels. It also played a significant role in social interactions.