What’s Mead?

The definition of mead (an alcoholic drink created by fermenting honey and water) may seem pretty straight forward, but as you may know if you’ve ever tried any, mead is an extremely versatile beverage that can contain any number of ingredients besides honey. It can be sweet as it sounds, or bone dry, or somewhere in between. It can be sparkling, still, or “petillant” (meaning slightly bubbly). It can have a standard beer’s alcohol content, or as much alcohol as a port wine or sherry. Different mead makers tend to favor different styles, which is why it is a good idea to visit a number of different meaderies if you truly want to get the feel for the diversity of the beverage.

History

Mead is probably the oldest fermented beverage known to mankind. It is a beverage of ceremony and is often associated with Vikings and Norse mythology (mead being Odin’s drink), with many pieces of classic and contemporary literature furthering this image or the image of mead being a European beverage during Renaissance timeĀ  (Beowulf, The Hobbit, and Harry Potter to name a few).

However many other cultures dating just as far back also had traditions of mead: it has been a beverage of tradition in Ethopia where it is known as Tej; it has been found buried in tombs of China; and countless stories of its place in historical events continue to be told. Better authors have written these stories and many can be found online, as well as in numerous books.

There are several ideas about why mead eventually fell out of favor, the predominant of which have to do with the expansion of agriculture. The earliest traces of beer and wine appear in more equatorial regions, with mead sticking around in the north for a bit longer. As grapes and barley expanded and came north however, tides seemed to shift toward these less expensive sugars, and most of the world’s mead was forgotten. As more people rediscover this lost treasure, however, mead’s popularity will rise once more.

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