WHAT IS MEAD?
With the resurgence in home brewing and drinks outside of the traditional spirits, an old honey-wine has regained its rightful place in popularity: mead. Mead has a long and interesting history that is still going with festivals, DIY culture, and wineries. You’re here because you’re curious about mead, driven by the renewed interest, and probably seeing it offered in more and more places as an exquisite addition to a meal or at a tasting fair. So, what is mead?
We think that is well said. Mead pre-dates other alcohols. We spend time trying to describe how mead compares to beer or wine but really we should be talking about how beer or wine compares to mead. Mead is the father of all alcoholic beverages. There is a lot of lore in mead history about its medicinal qualities. Encyclopaedia Britannica writes about this history in their answer to the the question; what is mead?
Archaeology is making the case that the earliest man involved in fermenting honey may have been in the Henan province in China. Mead is still made in Africa to this day and is known as Tej. Next time you are in Ethiopia, visit your local tej betock (tej house) for a taste of mead. There is so much to learn about the legends of mead.
What is mead? Mead is the oldest fermented beverage on the planet. At least no one can prove is wasn’t, because it has been around since before mankind was writing things down. We think the oldest mead recorded comes from China, 7000 to 9000 years ago. Mead history is long and covers all continents of the world. There is a lot we don’t know and even more we debate, but we do know that honey has been around for as long man, and as soon as man discovered fermentation he has been fermenting honey to make mead.
The technical answer to the question, what is mead, is not that simple though. There is a booming, centuries old, mead industry in Europe, especially Poland, where they have never stopped making mead. In the United States, mead is really just entering the scene. Certainly hobbyists and even a few wineries have been making mead for quite some time. It is only in the last few decades that it has made any headway into pop culture. The United States government’s answer to the question, what is mead, is that fermented honey is wine made from honey; aka honey wine. As a licensed winery in the US, we are required to describe fermented honey as honey wine. In fact the word mead isn’t currently defined. The American Mead Makers Associate is making efforts to change this, but what will be decided is unknown. Even a government classification will not really answer the question, what is mead? Mead is too old and has too diverse a history to be defined by one generation.
MEAD IS, AT ITS CORE IS FERMENTING HONEY WITH WATER
Mead is, at its core, an alcoholic drink made by fermenting honey with water and combining it with grains, spices, fruits and sometimes hops. It is also referred to as honey-wine and while different cultures reserve the latter title for other drinks, mead and honey-wine are mostly interchangeable. Part of the reason why mead is called honey-wine is that it is fermented rather than distilled or brewed as well as the fermentation process requiring the same yeast used in winemaking. That is mostly where the similarities end. Mead has its base in honey and wine’s base is in fermented grapes, also mead tends to have a wider variety than the type of honey used since it is frequently combined with other ingredients like beer is. So, mead doesn’t always taste like honey and has next to no flavors in common with wine.
DIFFERENT VARIETIES OF MEAD
Since fruits and spices are usually combined with the mead’s base of fermented honey, there are different varieties of mead. For example, if a mead contains mainly spices and herbs such as nutmeg, hops, cloves, or lavender it would be referred to as a metheglin mead. Another kind of mead that is centered on fruits like blackberries or raspberries is called melomel. Mead can run to gamut with flavors and the best meads depend greatly on your personal taste. Another factor in mead is the time of year, for the holiday season mead is traditionally served warm and is made with fruits and spices. A nice alternative to eggnog! Some meads are more appropriate for some meals than others, just like wine is. Beyond being a flavor factor, when meads are especially sweet from an excess of honey or fruit they would be served with dessert. Many restaurants that include mead in their menus are happy to suggest appropriate meads to go with a meal. The last thing you want is the drink clashing with the dinner, then everything tastes odd.
Just as the flavor and style of mead have a wide variety, the ABV or Alcohol By Volume isn’t the same either. Like beer, mead’s ABV depends on the fermentation process and how much sugar is being consumed by the yeast. This can be controlled if you are wishing for a low ABV mead like the Estonian mead Modu or the Lithuanian mead Midus. Though, you needn’t concern yourself with the process unless you were interested in creating your own mead. To the point, mead’s ABV generally ranges from 3.5 to more than 20 percent. In general, the higher the ABV the sweeter the mead. So, when ordering a dessert mead remember to hand over your keys as it is potentially a strong way to end dinner.
REAL MEAD VS FAUX-MEAD
With the rise in popularity of mead, there is also faux-mead being peddled around. These meades tend to be wines with honey added after the drink has fermented and also include sweeteners or flavorings. Now, a mead doesn’t always include honey either. If someone is vegan, for example, then they may make mead without real honey and use a fake “honey” instead. There is debate whether that makes it truly mead or not but if you see a vegan mead, you know it does not contain honey.
Mead has had a lot of time to be perfected and experimented with, if you were to look up all the variations and types it would make your head spin. Anything with this long of history is bound to have numerous offshoots and cultural specifications. The reason for this is that mead is an ancient drink that has its roots, so far confirmed, in China but is popularly associated with the Vikings. Archeologists are still finding evidence of mead being made as far back as 7000 B.C. and it has been said that it was the preferred drink of Aristotle. Much of Norse mythology and many aspects of Hinduism and Greek myth have songs or rituals about or surrounding mead. Mead was considered ambrosia by the Greeks and was brewed by monasteries that kept bees, it truly is an international and historical gem.
WHERE TO FIND MEAD
So now the only question is where can you buy mead, it can be found in most craft beers shops, many wineries, and can even be made yourself, so it isn’t hard to find. We even have a mead store locator if you are looking to purchase our mead locally or you can easily order our mead right here from our website.
If you pick up a mead and discover you don’t like it, that doesn’t mean mead isn’t good, it simply means you should try one more befitting your palette. The best mead is the one that suits your tastes and that can take some experimentation, just like wine. Do you want your mead sweet and high in ABV or bitter and heavy on spice? There is a mead for every sense of good and so many places carry them. Whether you make mead yourself or head to a store, you’re indulging in a historic libation and ancient tradition filled with some of the greatest minds in human history. Perhaps mead had something to do with it?
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