WRITER | KIRK JONES
Mead. This honeyed beverage brings to mind savage Vikings, gallant knights, fair maidens, and times long past.
Sometimes referred to as the “nectar of the gods,” mead is made by fermenting honey with water and yeast and has a history dating back as far as civilization itself. There are records of ancient Greeks, Africans, and Chinese drinking mead as far back as 7000 BCE. Interestingly, the term “honeymoon” came about as the result of the month-long post-wedding celebration where mead was drunk in an effort to guarantee fertility.
While mead played an important part in the lives of the ancients, many today are surprised to learn that, not only is it still available, it is part of a thriving and growing industry. The number of meaderies in the United States has more than doubled over the last decade as customers are exposed to new takes on this ancient drink.
There are two categories of mead: traditional and draft.
Traditional meads, also called still meads, are similar to wines. They are noncarbonated beverages that have an alcohol by volume measure of 10-15 percent.
With draft mead, makers often add fruits, spices, and other flavors along with carbonation. The result is a cider- or beer-like beverage with the unmistakable sweetness of honey.
Within these two broad categories, drinkers can certainly find a specific style that appeals to their tastes. Cider fans will be delighted by the cyser, a drink where honey and apple juice are fermented together, combining the characteristics of mead and cider. Fans of fruitier drinks will enjoy the melomels, which combine honey with cherry, strawberry, mango, or other fruits to create a beautiful and refreshing drink. Braggot appeals to the beer fan, as grains like rye, barley, and wheat are added during the production process. And wine fans are encouraged to try the pyments, where wine grapes are fermented along with honey to combine elements of both beverages. Metheglin is made by combining mead with herbs and spices, and hippocras is a pyment with herbs and spices added.
One of the fascinating aspects of mead is this diversity. Honey has different flavors depending on its source, i.e., the flower nectar it comes from. For instance, tupelo honey is renowned for its buttery smooth flavor, while star thistle honey has a lighter, mintier taste. Depending on where the mead makers source their honey, two meads with identical ingredients may have very different profiles.
This variety has helped fuel the explosion of mead across the United States. Meaderies range from hobbyists who craft their drinks in homebrew setups to large commercial mead and beekeeping operations that raise bees, extract honey, and manufacture and package mead all in one operation.
If you’re interested in finding out more about mead or locating meaderies in your area, visit the American Mead Maker Association website. The leadership of the AMMA collects information on the industry year-round and has a comprehensive list of meaderies around the country.
There is truly something for everyone to enjoy in the world of mead, so start exploring!
American Mead Maker Association: Mead-Makers.org