Fermenting Revolution IV – Ethiopian Honey Wine

Ethiopian honey wine, T'ej in a bottle

I’ve just racked this heady concoction into a wine box and some bottles and had my first taste. It’s just gorgeous: fragrant, rich, heady and aromatic. It’s such a simple and quick wine, I’m quite shocked we all don’t make more of it.

It’s another of the delights I found in Sandor Katz’s book Wild Fermentation. I’ve adapted the recipe slightly to my own ends and to fit my own incompetence. It’s still substantially the same wine that’s been made for centuries.

I wonder who was the first person to find wild honey fermenting in a tree? Did they get a surprise when they tasted it and it was alcoholic? Did they remember what happened? And who eventually worked out how to reproduce the effect?

So if you have a go at this, you’ll be continuing a line of tradition going back millennia. Interested? Read on…

T’ej, Ethiopian Style Honey Wine Recipe


You’ll need a wide mouth container for the initial fermentation – a mixing bowl would be good.

You will need a demi-john or some other container you can fir an airlock or similar to. The square 5 litre water bottles are ideal substitute demi-john. A plug of cloth or cotton wool covered with cling film and held on with an elastic band is a good airlock substitute.

These quantities will make about 4.5 litres which is six standard bottles.


Obviously the honey you use will affect the final taste of the wine. If you can get local organic, unprocessed honey, all the better. You can also use other herbs and spices to flavour the wine if you would like. I explain more at the end of the post.

I’ve put sultanas as an optional ingredient. I used them for two reasons. First I thought that the sultanas mught have more natural yeasts on them than was in the processed honey. Second, I use sultanas in country wines (fruit wines) to give more body or vinosity to the wine.

You’ll only need the yeast if the fermentation does not get going naturally with the yeasts in the honey/sultanas. Adding some other fresh ingredients such as flower petals will increase the chance of natural yeasts inoculating the mix. I didn’t put the wine mix in a container with a wide enough mouth and so mine did not get going by itself.

You will need:

750ml of honey
3 litres water

100g sultanas
1 tsp yeast


Mix the honey and water in your wide mouthed container and stir well until it is all well mixed. Cover the container with a clean tea towel, muslin or similar and secure with an elastic band or string. Leave in a warm place and hope the wild yeasts find your brew.

Depending on the temperature, in anything from 4-14 days time, the brew may start to ferment and will bubble & froth. If it doesn’t start bubbling by itself sprinkle some wine yeast over the surface of the liquid. In either case, wait for the initial frothing to subside and then decant into a clean demi-john and seal with an air lock.

The wine will be drinkable in anything from 2-4 weeks again depending on temperature. Wine taken earlier is likely to be sweeter as not all the sugar in the honey is converted to alcohol. Wine taken later will be stronger for the same reason.

At this stage the wine will not be clear. If you left the wine to age it could gradually clear or you could filter it using a wine fllter of coffee filters. I haven’t bothered to do this. One of the attractions of the wine is the speed of production.

You can ‘rack‘ the wine off the sediment at the bottom of the demijohn using a sterilised tube to put into your bottles or wine box. Place the full demijohn higher than  the empty containers. Using a piece of sterilised tubing inserted into the full demijohn, suck some of the wine through and let it drop into the lower demijohn. As long as the tube stays in the liquid in the top demijohn, gravity will take the wine down. As you get closer to the sediment at the bottom of the wine (a torch can come in handy here) be careful not to siphon the bits into the clearer wine below.


The wine is great served at room temperature or chilled.

T’ej variations

There are as many T’ej variations as people making it. Like with our mead, there are traditional variations to the basic honey wine mix. I’ve yet to try any of these. I think the coffee and warming spice versions sound great and will try these for the festive season.

Gesho and hops

Traditionally T’ej is made with a bitter twig of a plant of the buckthorn family called gesho (rhamnus prinoides). In the UK, the nearest common equivalent would be the brewer’s hop (humuls lupus) which is added at the same time the honey & water are mixed.

Coffee & bananas

Once the fermentation has started, you can add a 100-150ml of roasted ground coffee and 2-4 peeled sliced bananas.


Citrus peel or citrus flavoured herbs like lemon thyme, lemon balm or lemon basil can be added to the mix at the start and left in for 4-7 days and then be strained out.

Warming spices – methegelin

If you think about what you might put into some mulled wine, these will work nicely. Here’s some ideas:

  • Root ginger
  • Cardamom
  • Cinnamon
  • Cloves
  • Nutmeg
  • Pepper
  • Vanilla


I think woody, warm herbs would work nicely in addition to the citrussy ones above. Think about using:

  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Bay
  • Fennel
  • Sage

Flowers and berries

These are traditional in meads. Rhodomel is made with rose petals. You could add any hedge berry. I’ve seen good results made with dandelion leaves.


Adding fruits or fruit juices is a very traditional addition. Here’s some ideas with the name of the modified mead drink.

  • Apple- cyser
  • Hypocras – grape
  • Melomel – any other fruit juice or rose hips
  • Morat – Mulberries

I think that’s enough ideas to be getting on with. Please let me know how you get on in the comments below.



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19 responses to “Fermenting Revolution IV – Ethiopian Honey Wine”

  1. dominic Avatar

    Thankyou carl , our recipe and method for mead seem to vary quite a lot I use a lot more honey up to 2 kg , my own mix is bubbling like a percolator and if your followers are having problems, I have found aerating the mix before adding your final water or yeast helps dramatically in fermenting , shaking the demijohn like an animal for 5 mins does the job for me, I also add a little lemon juice as yeast does need some acid , and honey is very much lacking in that.I have a straight honey and a blackberry mead(melomel)on the go and will be trying your recipe for the sloes, will be nice to see the difference , i will let you know how they turn out , Happy foraging.

    1. Carl Avatar

      Hi Dominic

      To be fiar, my recipe is for T’ej – a honey wine, which is lower in alcohol than most British/Celtic meads and is close to ‘finding’ a naturally fermenting honey stash. I bet it’s roaring away with 2kg of honey 🙂

      I think I’ve said elsewhere, the process is aerobic, so aerating the mix by stirring/shaking will be a big help. Spot on also re the acid.

      Looking forward to your updates.


  2. Mike Avatar

    Hello, and thanks for this information. I am about 13 days into doing a simple honey wine…just raw honey and spring water. The only action I see is in the form of some clusters of very, very small bubbles, but no frothing or true bubbly action. My house is usually 68 degrees this time of year. I really want to see if this can be done naturally and without adding anything else to it. Any idea what’s going on or what I should do? It does still taste good and the smell has turned from a pure honey smell to a yeasty honey smell. Thank you for your time and help!

    1. Carl Avatar

      Hi Mike

      Not sure from your description whether it’s got started by itself. You didn’t happen to have the kit to measure the specific gravity? Would be nice to know if it’s converted any of the sugars to alcohol yet.

      If not, much depends on whether the raw honey had the right natural yeasts in it or whether you have them around you. You could try putting the container covered in muslin outside for a while.

      If you are determined not to use bought yeast, I can see two possible ways forward. The first is just patience and see what happens. The other is to use some kombucha or similar to kick start it…

      Let me know how you get on


  3. Glen Avatar

    Hi Carl

    Iv started the basic honey wine, inital fermentation went well, after transferring to the DJ nothing seems to be happening that was 4 days ago i transferred, so is the wine dead? can i revive it or just need to start again?

    1. Carl Avatar

      Hi Glen

      Did you use yeast to start the ferment? How does the wine taste? Don’t throw it away 🙂

      1. Glen Avatar

        Hi Car,
        lyes i used yeast as didnt start naturally, it tastes ok, it seems to have kicked into life since i asked, only thing is very very slowly bubbling. I held off asking thinking it would kick in and as soon as i asked it did lol

  4. Glen Avatar

    hi carl
    Im thinking of giving this a try as xmas pressies for a change but before i start, what temperature does the water need to be or just cold from the tap?


    1. Carl Avatar

      Hi Glen

      A great idea 🙂

      I’d mix the honey into some warmish water to get it to dissolve nicely and then add cold from the tap to try to get the water into the mid 20sC so that fermentation can start. DOn’t use boiling water if you want the natural yeasts to have a chance. Also, if your water is heavily chlorinated you may wish to use bottled water or cooled boiled water so the natural yeasts aren’t killed off.

      Let me know how it goes


      1. Glen Avatar

        Hi |Carl,
        thanks for that Carl, my first attempt at the blackberry wine has gone so well that i thought i would look for another project lol

        1. Glen Avatar

          here goes with the honey wine

          1. Carl Avatar

            Hope it’s going well Glen 🙂

  5. Kym Accleton Avatar
    Kym Accleton

    Very excited to find this, I shall be brewing some alongside the elderflower wine (who’s recipe bought me to your blog). I’m wondering if I use a local honey, whether it might help with hayfever? Should make us all feel a little better no matter 🙂 Have also just passed your blog on to a friend living in Portugal who has started a small goat herd, I’ll let you know how we all get on………… Thanks for taking the time to share your ideas and recipes.

    1. Carl Avatar

      Hi Kym

      Great to see you, it’s great how the web works and where you find yourself. Glad you found me here 🙂

      Not sure if the local honey thing actually works with hayfever, we’ve tried without success here.

      Hope you have fun with the wine – let me know how you get on and I hope to ‘meet’ your friend from Portugal on here.

      Carl 🙂

  6. Mitch Avatar

    I’ve just bought some lovely Bristol honey and am thinking of adding some red rose petals, how exciting! Been thinking about this for ages.
    PS I’m after a source of smaller glass bottles for wine, a normal size bottle is too big… Will use plastic for us but would like some glass for gifts? Any ideas welcome.

  7. Misk Cooks Avatar

    Wow! Yes, I’m onboard.

    I bottled up my apple cider vinegar today, and it’s a total success story, so now I’m looking for a new project. This might be it, although I need to slash the quantities to meet the available space in my utility room. I’m really uncertain about this demi-john whatsit. Makes me wonder if it’s like a half-toilet… 😉

    1. Carl Avatar

      Great result with the vinegar Misk, really well done.

      Poor old ‘John’, his name so often taken in vain 😉

      Let me know how you get on…

  8. Olivia Avatar

    mmmm… must grab some o’ my ma’s honey to try this one… sounds a dream… Here on honeyed Cider, made by a friend’s ma… utter bliss! x

    1. Carl Avatar

      Ahh, the cyser Olivia. I think I’ll give that a go next along with some of the warming spices. Just so pleased with how well this worked 🙂