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A Brief History of Mead
Mead – derived from the Old English word ‘medu’ – is a popular alcoholic beverage. It is primarily created by fermenting honey with water and contains 8-20% alcohol, the flavor is then enhanced with various spices and fruits. While the sugar in the beverage primarily comes from honey, the final product can be dry, sweet, semi-sweet or even artificially carbonated.
Mead is not only one of the richest and most beloved beverages by alcohol connoisseurs but is also one of the oldest. The history goes all the way back to when man first discovered alcohol. Legend has it that some hunters stumbled upon an upturned beehive filled with rainwater and they drank it, unaware of the intoxicating effects of the fermentation. From there on began the efforts to replicate the fascinating experience that they had just come across, and that is where the process of making mead began!
Mead has had several myths developed around it throughout history and has been called various names including Nectar and Ambroisa. We now know it was produced in Asia, since Chinese pottery dating back to 6500 BC was found containing traces of the fermented chemical mixture. In Europe, the first samples were found from around 2000 BC.
Interestingly, mead was once even related to religion, with ancient Greeks believing it was the ‘Drink of the Gods’. Because of the enthralling intoxication, it caused, it was considered sacred and was believed to have magical properties. These were believed to be a source for not only better health and strength but also creative powers like writing poetry! It is also said that the god of poetry, Brage, used to drink it. Aryan mythology goes on to explain that the drink was discovered by divine maidens.
Celtic mythology believed that a river of mead runs through paradise, while the Anglo-Saxon thought it provided immortality and knowledge. In fact, the modern term ‘honeymoon’ is also linked to mead it came about from the idea of gifting newlyweds enough mead to last one full moon, as a way to bestow best wishes and luck upon the couple. It was also said to affect the fruitfulness of their relationship, and the mead maker was often rewarded if the first-born was conceived soon after the marriage, and especially if it was a boy.
The Temporary Downfall of Mead-Making
Mead making was on a rise until the discovery of grapes in the south of Europe. It didn’t take the Europeans long to realize that wine production through grapes was a cheaper alternative to the honey-based mead. However, this was not an option in the north, where the availability of the fruit was limited. Not a lot of mead was seen after there were taxation and laws surrounding alcohol. Fortunately, even as mead production declined, it was kept alive mainly through monasteries that stood by the tradition of beekeeping and mead-making, and was being used in religious rites and ceremonies because most Europeans believed bees were messengers of the gods. The ale was believed not only to be divine but also capable of healing the chronically ill, eradicating melancholy and solving bodily problems like poor digestion.
Throughout history, mead-making was considered the art of the gentlemen and it was said that ‘Graces dwell in honeycomb’. Evidence of it were found if the ancient Vedic religion, in Hinduism and even in the writings of Aristotle. It remained a favorite over the following ages; even Queen Elizabeth had her own favorite recipe, complete with thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves!
Fortunately, this ‘ancestor of all alcoholic beverages’ made it through and is now available in more varieties than those seen throughout history altogether!
If you have every wanted try your hand at mead making we recommend considering one of our mead making kits capable of making 1 – 5 gallons of mead.