Mead is the ancestor of all fermented drinks. It was the brew that gave the golden age of Greece its luster and the cherished libation of King Arthur’s hall.
Image courtesy of Galloway Wild Foods
This fermented honey wine is one of man’s oldest and most widespread crafts— it was already ancient by the time Aristotle tipped his glass. Recently, mead has seen an incredible renaissance among foodies and home brewers. It is fabulously easy to make and endlessly diverse in its incarnations. Traditional mead was a simple mixture of honey and water left out to ferment with wild airborne yeast. Nowadays, people are getting more creative with a variety of cultivated yeasts and clever combinations of ingredients. The drink that kept the Egyptian empire lush is generating quite a buzz. Restaurants across the country are beginning to devour this delectable draft as the newest health-conscious cocktail and demand is growing. In the past decade alone the number of “meaderies” in the U.S has tripled to over 150.
This ancient brew is not only delicious— it’s medicinal. Back in the day, mead was a common remedy in any household apothecary. Honey is well known for its powerful antimicrobial properties and is useful in treating a whole host of common illnesses. By fermenting with a strong herbal tea, such as ginger, a glass of mead can also contain a hearty dose of herbal medicine! From figs to fennel, meads are made with any fruit, root, flower, or herb imaginable, so the variety of tastes and medicinal qualities is limitless. Recently I had a particularly ambrosial blend of spruce tips, pine needles, and aromatic angelica root. I sipped it by the fire and could think of nothing but cozy fall sweaters.
In fact, the term “honeymoon” is a specific reference to mead’s amorous qualities.
Like wine, mead ranges from teeth-achingly sweet to mouth-puckeringly dry. It can be nutty, floral, earthy, or even bitter. Depending on the yeast culture and the fermenting time, this libidinous drink can be up to 18% alcohol (that’s more than twice as much as most beer!) Despite its strength, I find the experience of drinking mead to be consistently bright and sensual. In fact, the term “honeymoon” is a specific reference to mead’s amorous qualities. In medieval England newlyweds were given a full month’s supply of mead to encourage fertility. If their “moon” of nuptial bliss resulted in a baby, the mead-maker was given high praise.
Mead has a mystical side as well. Ancient peoples revered honey as heavenly dew, sent directly from the creator. All aspects of honey were considered sacred, including its incredible transformation into mead. You can imagine that this metamorphosis from sweet syrup into mind-altering brew must have seemed purely magical. The mystery of mead’s inception might no longer capture our imagination, but mead’s enchantment over mankind has remained. A luxuriously warming drink for a crisp autumn night, mead can be utterly bewitching. Try a bottle of this ancient elixir for yourself and see why people everywhere are falling back under mead’s primordial spell.
Here are some great sites for Mead products & recipes: