What is Mead?

People often think of mead as being kin to beer or ale. Instead, mead is a wine made with honey instead of grapes. Like wine, mead can range from dry to sweet and may be made with or without fruit, herbs, spices, or grains. In wine different varieties of grapes contribute unique tastes and characteristics to the flavor. The same is true for mead in that different varieties of honey contribute different flavor profiles to the end product.

Mead in History

Mead is the oldest alcoholic beverage in history. There is evidence from 7th century BC China of a fermented beverage made with rice, honey, and fruit. Mead has been mentioned and written about throughout human history. The Greeks referred to mead as the “nectar of the gods” and as the “drink of kings” in medieval Europe. Mead has been mentioned by the Greek poet Homer in his epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey. By Aristotle in his treatise Meteorologica. The Roman, Pliny the Elder, mentions mead in his Naturalis Historia. Mead halls are written about in the epic Old English poem, Beowulf. In modern times, fantasy movies and television series, such as Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Vikings, Robin Hood, and others mention mead.

In ancient Rome, mead was often flavored with herbs and spices. For the Vikings of old, mead was an important drink, often brewed for special occasions such as weddings or religious ceremonies. Mead was a popular drink of the nobility in medieval Europe. So popular in fact Queen Elizabeth I had her own favorite recipe (it includes rosemary, thyme, bay leaves and sweet briar). Mead was consumed in the American colonies, as sugar was more expensive and difficult to acquire. Mead has been made in African cultures where it is known as Tej in Ethiopia.

Different Type of Mead

There are many different varieties of mead, which can vary widely in taste, aroma, and appearance. The list below outlines four major categories of mead. We will follow later with a more in-depth post about the varieties of honey and mead.

  • Traditional or Show Mead, is a mead made with just three basic ingredients, honey, water, and yeast. Additional ingredients such as wine tannin or citric acid may be added to balance the flavor.
  • Melomel, is a traditional mead with fruit.
  • Metheglin, is a traditional mead with added herbs and/or spices.
  • Braggot, is a traditional mead made with hops or malt.

Enjoy a Mead Today

Mead has been made throughout our history and around the world. Anywhere there were honeybees, people were making mead. From Europe to Ethiopia to India to China to the colonies of the new world mead has been made and enjoyed. Grab a bottle of mead and enjoy the oldest alcoholic beverage in the world.

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