I first made this wonderful drink about 13 years ago when I wanted to re-create a very old recipe called Mulsum. Mulsum or honey wine (also sometimes called mead) is an ancient recipe. In fact, it’s considered the oldest alcoholic drink in the world. The base for this unique and colorful drink is red wine.
Wine’s history is long and significant, dating back as far as 9000 years most likely to the Caucasus region in Eastern Europe/Asia where wild grapes are grown, and the earliest evidence of rustic wine production was discovered to date. Ancient Romans later refined wine production by introducing barrels and cultivation techniques, which enhanced its properties and taste. This led to widespread production making wine a popular beverage throughout much of the ancient world.
Mulsum is just one of many alcoholic drinks developed over time but is the oldest one to date. It’s traveled many roads, but hasn’t really varied much. Each culture since ancient times seemed to embrace the simple and rustic nature of this drink, adding their own special touches yet keeping the authentic characteristics intact. For this recipe, I was inspired by the popular Mulsum that was served in the ancient Roman world.
History aside, it’s one fabulous drink.
In the ancient world, most wine produced was bitter because wild grapes weren’t as sweet as the hybrid grapes used today. To reduce the bitterness and make it more palatable, the Romans mixed in honey. They also diluted it with two parts water to make the wine more acceptable for regular consumption. The result was a sweet and refreshing drink with very little alcohol content; a bit like spiked punch. Only better.
The ancient recipe for Mulsum was fairly simple and didn’t require any cooking. There were more exotic recipes later on which included certain peppery spices and a lengthy fermentation process. But the most popular Mulsum contained just three ingredients; wine, water, and honey.
While I love the traditional recipe for Mulsum, I wanted to also include some warm spices. Deep rich spices add a bevy of flavors and healing properties. I find myself adding a dab of this spice or that wherever I can, like in my Pau d’Arco Latte. Spices and wine…wine and spices……the best.
Using spices would be tricky because they would have to be simmered in or else they would just sit on top looking lost and confused. You can’t just add ground spices to a watery liquid and expect them to blend in; they won’t. Simmering would work but it would also remove most of the alcohol and change the characteristics. Not necessarily a problem but not my intent.
I originally simmered my Mulsum and was very satisfied with the results. It was my standard guest offering for years and always received rave reviews. But I really wanted something a little closer to the authentic ancient recipe. In other words I wanted the spices infused into the wine without cooking them. And I wanted the earthy flavor of the red wine and the sweetness of the honey to shine through.
One day, I decided to try prepare my Mulsum a different way. I stirred honey into the chilled wine, added only whole spices, and skipped the cooking altogether. This mixture was placed in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Now why didn’t I think of that before?
After 24 hours, I gave it a taste. Amazing. It was even better than my previous batches. The flavors were fragrant and aromatic and the sweetness was enticing. I used citrus honey for this batch which also added a spark of citrus flavor. It was incredibly delicious with the alcoholic content intact as in the ancient version. I could now serve this as a truly ancient wine beverage. I’ve been serving my Mulsum this way ever since.
Mulsum is an entrancing beverage that can flow freely while entertaining, having a romantic evening, sharing with friends, and when you want a sweet and relaxing drink to unwind with. This recipe is my take on the unpretentious yet sophisticated ancient drink. I hope you enjoy it.
Mulsum (Spiced Honey Wine)
This recipe suggests using honey for a more authentic flavor but you can use any sweetener you want.
Since the wine isn’t cooked, you need to allow the spices to infuse for a good 24 hours prior to serving. After that, its ready to enjoy.
Try to use good quality red wine, preferably organic.
- 3 cups lukewarm water
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 whole cinnamon stick
- 1 whole nutmeg
- 1 tsp whole cloves
- 4 Tbsp raw honey or other natural sweetener to taste
- Slice of orange or lemon for each glass (optional)
- Add the water, wine and honey to a large container or pitcher and stir well. If you are using very thick honey you may want to heat the honey until thin before using or blend the wine, water and honey together in a blender before transferring to the container or pitcher.
- Add the spices to the wine.
- Place the wine in the refrigerator for 18 – 24 hours.
- When ready, remove the spices.
- It’s ready to serve with an optional slice of orange or lemon. You can warm if you want as well.
- Yields about 4 cups.
- Can be stored refrigerated up to 5 days.
Note: For a alcohol-free version, you can use non-alcoholic red wine or you can use my original recipe of adding the ingredients to a saucepan, bringing it to a boil, reducing the heat and simmering covered for 30 minutes before removing the spices. This method removes most (95% or more) of the alcohol.