History Of Mead
Mead, The Story
The story of mead and its origins are plentiful, and speculation abounds. This is probably because nobody really knows the complete history of mead for certain. One thing we do know is that mead has been around longer than people have been writing down history.
The Legend of Mead
While there are several historical references for this beverage, our favorite story of mead goes something like this:
A long, long time ago, before the invention of writing and polyester, a lucky human stumbled upon the contents of a beehive. The beehive had been left out in the rain, and the honey inside had fermented naturally for months or years. Behold; MEAD!
Mead soon became known as “the nectar of the gods.” King Tut was a satisfied customer, and so were Eric the Red and Queen Elizabeth the First. Enjoyed by paupers, princes, and pirates, honey mead was possibly the world’s favorite drink.
The History of Mead
Also known as honey wine, Mead really has been around for millennia. And mead makers, sometimes called mazers, have spent most of that time honing their craft. It could be argued that the wine makers are the copy cats. Mead has a vast history from many lands and civilizations since the honey bee can be found in China, Africa, Europe, or North America. Because honey was a universal source of sugar for a long time, mead honey wine was almost everywhere, which explains the multiple origins of mead.
It takes sugar to make alcohol, whether it is grapes, sugarcane, grain sugar or honey. Gotmead.com has lots of additional information about mead honey wine and how to drink it. Honey was the dominant sugar of the world until not that long ago. Various events brought an end to universal bee keeping in Europe, and eventually, a shortage of honey wine. Incidentally, this seems to have happened right about the time North America was being colonized, which left the New World without honey wine. Eventually, grapes and sugar cane made honey wine scarce all together and the world largely forgot about mead, at least for a little while.
Despite honey wine's scarcity, the legacy of the nectar of the God's has lived on in western civilization. The root word for medicine was mead. Hippocrates used fermented honey and elderberry mixtures as cures or medicines. Our Western tradition of taking a honeymoon comes from the medieval European tradition of giving newlyweds a month’s (moons) worth of honey wine. It was believed that honey wine elixir would raise the chances of this couple producing male offspring.
The Many Varieties and Names of Mead
Not surprisingly with such a vast and long history, mankind has come up with many varieties of mjod (the old Norse word for fermented honey). The fact is, a master mazer can start with honey, water, and yeast, and wind up with something that is dry or sweet, still or sparkling, straight up or mixed with fruits or spices. Once man started writing things down, a long tradition of mead was recorded, as well as the names for its variations. No matter what definition of mead you like, honey is the star of the show.
- Melomel is the name given to the blending of fruits and honey. Examples would be plum, cherry, peach, elderberry, chokecherry, huckleberry, pear, etc. The possibilities are really infinite. Some fruit honey wines have been given specific names.
- Pyment is the name given to a blend of grape and fermented honey. Grapes had been planted by the Romans during their conquests and grape wine started to spread as a result. Grapes are native to the Mediterranean, (some other varieties were discovered in the New World) they did not grow in many European nations originally. As honey wine became scarce and grape wine became more popular, a transitional drink was born. This drink was called pyment.
- Cyser is the name given to the blending of apples and fermented honey. It is believed that this too was transitional mead around the time of pyment.
- Methoglin is the name given to honey wine with spices added to create flavor layers and variations.
- Bochet is honey wine made from burnt honey or at the very least, darkened honey. It is said that this form of honey wine originated in Scotland. Braggots are malted meads.
- See our Mead Definitions Page for the many names of mead.
What We Do
Here at Hidden Legend Meadery, we make many of these variations. We divide our honey wines into two categories; contemporary and traditional. Mead has come a long way since honey accidentally fermented in the rain. Our mazer fashions our contemporary meads with qualities that are familiar to grape wine drinkers. They are designed to be paired with foods or stand on their own. Hidden Legend's contemporary honey wines sit on the fence between grape wines and traditional meads. They have been described as mead for people who like wine, but these beverages will delight mead drinkers as well. Our contemporary meads include our pure honey mead, dark mead, spiced mead, maple mead, wild elderberry mead, wild chokecherry mead, huckleberry mead, and peach mead.
Our traditional line debuted with our King’s Mead and was soon followed by our King’s Pyment and King's Cyser. These honey wines come from a long tradition going back to the beginning of time. We don't know exactly what honey wine would have been like in China around 5000 BC but we do know now that they did drink mead. We have crafted our traditional King's line using old world techniques combined with modern technology in an attempt to honor this age old traditional drink.
Whether you are looking for something that is simple or complex, dry or sweet, contemporary or traditional, we have the one you are looking for.
Mead In The News
The story of mead is making the headlines somewhat often these days. You can read Medieval No More: Mead Enjoys A Renaissance from NPR or Nector of the Gods Becomes a Trend in Canada by the Greek Reporter Canada.
The commercial mead industry is booming and people are starting to notice. On November 24, 2013, CBS aired A taste of honey and accompanied it with the article, The honey-based brew producing a real buzz. This special focused on a couple California producers and the history of mead. “Before there were grapes there was honey before there was wine there was mead,” they say in the show. “It’s not wine, it’s not beer, it’s mead” the show goes on to explain. This story is the most recent in a growing list of media coverage being given to the rise of this ancient drink.
On October 2, 2013, he BBC released its article entitled The Drink of Kings Makes a Comeback which highlights the growth in popularity of honey wine. The article quotes Vicky Rowe, of GotMead.com as saying “We went from 30-40 meaderies to somewhere in the vicinity of 250 in the last 10 years.” In a brief history of mead, the article states that “It is the oldest known alcoholic beverage” and that “The earliest archaeological evidence of honey wine comes from 9000 BC in northern China.” The people interviewed in the article say this is just the beginning. We at Hidden Legend believe that’s true too. The industry is growing in leaps and bounds. Interest is growing exponentially. We are getting used to rapid growth rates in the mead world and don’t see an end in sight.
In 2011 Forbes named honey wine as one of the Top Ten Food Trends of 2011. In their write up they say that “Mead is commonly recognized as the precursor of most other alcohols.” The article also talks about mead dating back to 7000 BC in northern China.
Time release their article on Aug 2, 2013, entitled 5 Essential Things You Should Know About Mead in honor of Mead Day on August 3, 2013. “There are at least 165 meaderies in the U.S., according to the American Mead Makers’ Association (AMMA).” The article highlights facts like its link to the origins of our honeymoon and its prominence in the famous tale of Beowulf. “Craft mead is now poised to make a comeback,” the article says.
Where is mead originally from?
Mead or honey wine is one of the oldest alcoholic beverages ever made with presumably multiple origins across the world. However, the first evidence of honey wine ever made can be traced back to China.
Is mead older than wine?
Yes. Mead pre-dates other alcoholic beverages, including wine and beer by thousands of years.
Why was mead created?
Mead was discovered thousands of years ago and was considered the ‘nectar of gods’. Soon it became popular for its medicinal qualities as well as a heady drink people loved. It is considered safer than beer and wine since its basic ingredient is honey.
How was mead discovered?
According to some historians, mead was discovered accidentally when someone stumbled upon it while walking through the woods. The honey mixed with rainwater had fermented in the presence of wild yeast for a long time and thus became mead.