What is Mead?
Mead is a unique class of alcoholic beverage characterized by three ingredients: fermented honey, water and yeast. Mead is the first known alcoholic beverage consumed by mankind and is believed to predate wine by nearly three thousand years. Today, mead is often referred to as ‘honey wine’ because the process of making mead and wine are so similar. The key difference is the use of honey rather than grapes as a source of sugar. Like wine, mead can be aged for a period of months or years, typically contains 10-14% alcohol, and is traditionally sold by the bottle. With the exception of braggot meads, the beverage is made without grains and is gluten-free.
What Does Mead Tastes Like?
From Texas wildflowers to Florida orange blossoms; honey tastes like the flowers of its local region. Therefore mead comes in a variety of diverse and complex flavor profiles. How mead tastes depends on the type of honey, how dry or sweet it was crafted to be, and whether or not additional flavors were added. Traditional mead contains only honey, water, and yeast; however, there are many varieties of mead that include fruits, spices, and herbs. While many assume a honey-based beverage would be sweet; like wine, mead can be dry, semi-sweet or sweet.
Types of Mead
From herbaceous and dry, to sweet and fruity, the flavors of mead are so diverse that no matter your taste, there is a perfect mead for every palate.
Melomel is a type of mead that is made with any kind of fruit. Melomels can be dry or sweet; intensely fruity or sublte.
Cyser is a type of melomel, made with apples.
Pyment is a melomel mead, made with grapes.
Black Mead is a melomel, made with black currants.
Metheglin is mead made with herbs and or spices. The word 'medicine' likely derives from this word. For many centuries, mead infused with herbs or spices was a common remedy for colds and ailments. Common spices include cinnamon, rosemary, nutmeg, clove, ginger, allspice, thyme, and hyssop.
Bochet is mead that is made with caramelized or burned honey; resulting in dark smoky flavors like toffee, caramel, or marshmallow.
Braggot is made by fermenting honey and malted barley together; making it more of a mead-beer hybrid. Braggot was a common drink in medieval times.
Sparkling Mead is carbonated; like sparkling wine and Champagne.
How to Drink Mead
Straight traditional mead is typically served chilled in a wine or cocktail glass; but there is really no wrong way to drink it. From ice cold fruit meads to piping hot spiced meads, this versatile beverage can be served at a variety of temperatures depending on the style and ingredients.
Mead also makes an excellent cocktail ingredient. Add a drop of a sweet and fruity mead to a Gin Fizz or Vodka Tonic. Mix your mead with sparkling water, ice and fruit for a mead Sangria. Add a bit of herbal mead to your hot tea. The possibilities are endless. The diversity and versatility of mead make it a unique, show stopping ingredient that belongs in every serious mixologists liquor cabinet.
How to Store Mead
An unopened bottle of mead should be stored in a cool dark place like a pantry, cabinet, or wine cellar.
Light meads with a low alcohol content should be stored in a refrigerator.
Do not to store mead in the sunlight.
Do not store mead near a heat source.
Prolonged exposure to sunlight or heat can detrimentally affect the taste and shelf life.
Should Mead be Refrigerated After Opening?
Light meads with an alcohol content of <13% should be resealed and stored in a refrigerator.
Meads with a high alcohol content can be tightly re-sealed and stored in a cool pantry or wine cellar.
Once a bottle of mead is opened, like wine, it begins to oxidize. However, the effects of slight oxidation on mead are not as noticeable or offensive as with your typical wine. In effect, an opened bottle of mead has a longer shelf life than an open bottle of wine. If properly stored, a re-sealed bottle of mead should last many weeks to many months.
Shelf Life of Mead
There is no exact expiration date for mead. Like wine, mead can be aged for long periods of time and an unopened bottle can last many years if stored properly. The shelf life of mead is effected by alcohol content and aging time. Generally, the higher the alcohol content the longer the shelf life. It is important to note that these factors vary from mead to mead and brand to brand. Check with the manufacturer for the 'best consumed by' recommendation.
Sustainability & Nutrition
One of the coolest things about mead is the fact that it fits so well within the sustainable-paleo-locavore movement.
Unlike wine, mead does not require specific topography or particular climate conditions to produce its base fermentable (honey).
Unlike beer, mead does not require vast fields and an infrastructure for processing grain.
These facts create great potential for a meadery to locally source its honey.
In addition to being a more sustainable product than wine or beer, here are a few other reasons to love mead:
Honey has a lower glycemic index than table sugar or high-fructose corn sugar so your body metabolizes it at a more steady rate.
Honey has natural antibiotic properties.
If unpasteurized, unfiltered and sourced locally, honey contains pollens that may help reduce your susceptibility to allergies.
We rely on bees to pollinate crops, so by drinking mead you are supporting agriculture.
Learn more about how making mead helps save the bees.
History of Mead
Humans began making mead before the dawn of civilization. Mead made from harvested wild honey was likely consumed by hunter gatherers along with fermented fruits long before we began to cultivate grapes or grain for wine and beer. Although we don’t know exactly when mead was first made, pottery vessels dating back to 9000 BC in northern China indicate the presence of fermented honey. It is likely that alcoholic beverages containing wild harvested honey, fruit, herbs, and spices were consumed many thousands of years ago in various parts of the world. In fact the production of alcohol through fermentation was a natural way to preserve fruit juice and honey was often mixed in as an additional sugar source and flavor enhancer. Mead almost certainly dates back to the paleolithic age but the containers for the beverage were likely organic and have not survived.
In Europe, the earliest evidence of mead can be found in the archaeological remains of the Bell Beaker Culture which thrived throughout much of the continent thousands of years ago. Although mead is most often associated with medieval Europe, the drink was actually made by (and considered sacred) by many neolithic and premodern cultures. Ancient texts such as the Rigveda (1700-1100 BC) of India, and the works of Aristotle (384-322 BC), and Pliny the Elder (23-79) all refer to mead as a special drink. In Ethiopia, a fermented honey-based drink called Tej was widely consumed as far back as 1,000 B.C. and is considered to be the national drink.
Mead was the primary drink of Celtic and Germanic heroic poetry. The well-known Old English epic Beowulf refers to warriors consuming mead in celebratory fashion. Vikings were particularly fond of mead and Norse mythology prominently features mead as the sacred drink of warriors and poets. Not everyone in the ancient world loved mead. It was was considered a barbarian drink of Northern Europe by the Romans who preferred to drink wine and considered the grape based beverage more civilized.
Towards the end of the Middle Ages grape wine began to increase in popularity in Northern Europe probably due in part to improvements in wine making methods in Southern Europe. Additionally, the influx of cheaper cane sugar from the New World resulted in a decrease in reliance on honey in the Old World as a sweetener which likely resulted in a decline in honey production all over Europe.
We are not aware of all the factors that caused the decline of mead, but today the popularity of this delicious and versatile beverage continues to grow.
As the renowned archaeologist of ancient beverages Patrick McGovern once said,
“The perfect drink, it turns out--whether it be mind-altering, medicinal, a religious symbol, a social lubricant, or artistic inspiration--has not only been a profound force in history, but may be fundamental to the human condition itself.”
If you haven’t had mead yet, try some of ours!
Today mead is experiencing a resurgence in popularity. People looking for a paleo-friendly or gluten free alcoholic beverage are seeking out mead as a new alternative to beer. An interest in local craft beverages and beverages made with local ingredients is also helping to fuel the growth of mead. Whatever the reason, we’re glad you are interested, and look forward to offering you many new interpretations of this ancient drink. Ready to give mead a try? Order mead online from Elgin Meadery.