Mead is not always sweet.
How can that be? Isn’t it made from honey?
Well, honey is a fermentable sugar just like grapes are in wine, and grains are in beer. And like wine made from grapes, wine made from honey (called mead) can have a range of styles, ranging from dry to off-dry, all the way to semi-sweet to dessert sweet.
Mead is fermented honey, essentially, and can also use fruits, flowers or herbs added to the fermentation or added after fermentation, to make other styles of mead. So, some mead is dry, some is sweet, some are fruity, some earthy… it’s truly a versatile beverage with lots of nuances.
Mead contains honey, water and yeast.
These three ingredients are the foundation of mead. Honey gives each mead its flavor characteristics, along with the fruit or flowers or herbs that are added to it. Mead makers can craft meads with techniques both before, during and after fermentation, to bring out the characteristics they are seeking… much like winemakers sometimes blend different varieties of grapes to create their finished wine.
Honey will vary in flavor depending on which flowers the honeybees pollinated, and the time of year it was extracted from the beehive. For example, clover honey is light yellow in color and lighter flavored than wildflower honey, which can be golden colored or much darker depending on the nectar sources at any given time of year.
There are many types of mead.
Some mead types include:
- Metheglin- a spiced or herbed mead
- Melomel- includes juice or fruits like strawberries or blueberries, with the honey
- Cyser- honey fermented with apples or apple juice
- Acerglyn- made from honey and maple syrup
- Braggot- a beer-style mead brewed with honey, barley and hops (braggot is the only mead style that is not gluten-free)
- Rhodomel- a mead made from honey and roses
- Capsumel- mead with peppers, hot or mild
Mead is likely the first alcoholic beverage.
That’s right historians think that mead predates beer and wine. The first written mention of mead was in the Rig Veda, a sacred Indian text from apx. 1700-1100 BC. And pottery vessels from China dating back to 7000 BC contain traces of honey fermentation. Called the nectar of the gods, mead was popular with the Greeks and Romans, the Vikings, Mayans and ancient Egyptians. Many cultures around the world have mead as part of their history.
Mead has some famous fans.
Jane Austen was a known mead maker, King Midas likely enjoyed mead (it was found at his funeral feast), and Queen Elizabeth has been known to enjoy a glass as well. It’s also been written about in literature including Canterbury Tales, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and the Harry Potter series.
Without mead there would be no honeymoons.
The tradition of the honeymoon comes from medieval times when newlyweds would drink mead for the month following the marriage ceremony. This custom was to ensure that the marriage would be fruitful and that the couple would have many children.
Mead is the fastest growing craft beverage.
Thanks to the continued interest in locally sourced foods and hand-crafted beverages, mead has a growing fan base. Mead has become more visible in culture with the popularity of Game of Thrones and Harry Potter; and in media with the coverage of honey bees and renewed interest in honey; and attracted the attention of the culinary world as well, with the new nordic cuisine of Noma, considered the best restaurant in the world.
Meaderies are opening around the country at the rate of about 50 new meaderies a year, with over 300 across the US as of 2016. The Triangle is home to two meaderies, Honeygirl Meadery and Starrlight Meadery; and North Carolina now has 5 meaderies plus several wineries with at least one mead offering. With so many different styles of mead available, you’ll want to taste your way through them all to find your favorites for every occasion.