How to Drink Mead Like A Viking
Mead is believed to be the first widely consumed alcoholic beverage. Archaeological records from both Northern China and Greece place mead amongst the earliest of any alcoholic drinks discovered by man. Honey was a cheap source of sugar – needed for the distillation process. It also has antimicrobial properties which reduced the chance for a contaminant to sneak in.
In modern day society, we think of mead as the famous drink of the Vikings. The Scandinavians weren't the first nor even the most prominent of drinkers of this honey-sweetened brew. Romans, Greeks, and the Chinese all enjoyed a drink that can be made in a surprising number of variations.
How is Mead Made?
If you want to go old school, Columella, a Latin historian, wrote in 60 A.D. this basic recipe for mead:
Take a half liter of distilled rain water and mix in a third of a kilogram of honey. Let it sit out in the sun for approximately 40 days and you've got yourself a strong mead. For a weaker mead, only add a quarter of a kilogram of honey.
These units are approximated from what historians know to be Roman units of measurement. But from this simple recipe, we can garner a lot.
Because water weighs one kilogram per liter, we can deduce a rough 3:2 ratio of water to honey for the strong mead. For a weaker mead, we're looking at a 2:1 ratio.
If you put all these ingredients in a sanitized container, in approximately 40 to 60 days, you would have a traditional mead. For the weaker variety, this could be considered a hydromel.
In modern day society, we have the advantage of cultured yeasts and cheap sources of sugar to help the distillation process along. In short, making mead at home isn't hard but any mead brewery will tell you: the devil is in the details. Take a look here for a complete mead recipe.
Types of Mead Manufactured Today?
Modern mead is manufactured with a dizzying amount of details and specifications. Here is a light preview of all the different types of mead that are made:
Traditional Mead – Honey, distilled water, yeast and time. That's it.
Sack Mead – Mead made to maximize alcohol content.
Hydromel – A more dilute mead with lower alcohol content.
Melomel – Mead made with fruit such as sliced apples or grapes.
Metheglin – Spiced mead made with herbs and sometimes even chili peppers.
Braggot – Mead made with barley, oats and other beer ingredients. Gives the mead a more earthy tone.
This is by no means an all-inclusive list. If anything, this list should give you an idea of how varied the brewing practices can be for producing mead. In addition to these steps, there are additional steps brewers will take to preserve or change the flavor of the mead itself. This can be done by boiling the honey and water product prior to distillation or it can be done by procuring honey made from specific flowers such as carrot, wildflowers, clover, and others.
Stronger, richer meads can sometimes take on an almost bourbon quality. The sweetness can be reduced greatly in favor of a higher alcohol content and a darker tone. For more information take a look at our previous article "how to make mead".
Just like wine, mead can be sweet, carbonated, semi-sweet, and dry. It just depends on what your taste buds crave and what is available.
Mead is making a come-back in terms of popularity. Their availability is still limited but high-end brew pubs have been known to feature meads and braggots – though they notoriously sell out fast. Take a look here for a complete selection of premium mead available for sale.