I can believe that fermented honey was the first alcoholic inebriant. It’s easy to picture a bee hive in a tree, leaking a bit of honey, soaked with a bit of rain, sitting for a couple of days, encountered by a thirsty traveler….
The leap from a drunk encounter to a full-spectrum beverage was certainly taken by the Ethiopians when they created T’ej:
The choice of honey was limited to wildflowers, and while this can sometimes be bland, some is very amber, and full-flavored. A t’ej maker can be sure that whatever wildflower honey is at hand, it’s sure to be authentic. Add the local spring water of your choice. It’s fun to get it from the local natural spring, but not necessary!
T’ej comes out a nice gold color, slightly hazy. The aroma combines the flowery notes of the honey with wood, and an almost grapefruit smell from the gesho.
Bittering is also the work of the gesho, either twigs or ground leaves. The leaves and twigs have different flavors, with some recipes favoring one, some the other. From what I understand, the leaves produce a more “refined” flavor–whatever that means! I tried a blend of both. I found the flavor very refined, with honey mixing with citrus, woody bitterness and a residual sweetness. This t’ej has aged for four years, resulting in a light effervescence.
Roasted kolo grains add umami to this recipe, and netch azmud provides a trace of peppery spice. To increase the honey aroma the recipe calls for a small amount of tincture of propolis, which also serves to mimic the “throw the whole hive in” method of early honey wine production.