According to archaeological evidence, the wonderful world of mead started more than 9,400 years ago in Northern China. That makes mead older than beer, wine, or spirits. And the list of people who’ve drank mead reads like a quick history of civilization itself: The ancient Greeks drank it; the Norse drank it; Shakespeare and King Arthur drank it. In fact the term honeymoon likely came from the Pagan ritual of consuming mead during the month-long celebrations that followed a wedding.
But you wouldn’t know mead had such a rich history just by scanning your local liquor store’s shelves. And while mead isn’t the most popular beverage out there, it’s becoming more widely available than ever before. So if you’re looking for a new drink, here’s everything you need to know about mead.
What is mead?
In its simplest definition, mead is honey mixed with water and yeast that is left to ferment. The variations of this are endless. When produced in the same style as wine, the resulting beverage can be anywhere from very dry to very sweet. Mead can also be brewed with grains to create a braggot (a beer-like drink), a cyser (made with apple juice), or a pyment (made with grape juice).
Just like honey, whatever flowers the bees are feeding on will affect the taste of the mead.
“We can produce a consistent product if the bees are feeding on the same blossoms,” says Bob Liptrot, the beekeeper and mead maker at Tugwell Creek Honey Farm and Meadery in Sooke, British Columbia.
Today you’ll generally find meads that are more similar to wine than beer. Aged in stainless steel tanks or oak barrels, straight mead (made without fruit juices) can be cellared for up to 20 years.
How do you drink it?
Wine-style mead should be served at cellar temperature.
“We’re generally coaching people to pair it with foods,” says Liptrot. And this is where mead’s similarity to wine really shines. Because meads can be sweet or dry, the combinations are limitless. Depending on what mead you’re drinking, it will pair well with anything from fish to chocolate. There is such a wide range of meads that you can pair it with any food you’d pair wine with. Which let’s face it, is just about anything.
Certain meads, like a Melomel (mead made with berry juices), can also be used as a mixer for spritzers or martinis.
What should you buy?
Your local liquor store should stock a selection of meads and the staff should be able to point you in the right direction. Just as if you were selecting wine, it’s best to have an idea of what you’ll be drinking it with and when you’ll be drinking it. If the staff isn’t very helpful, you can also try gotmead.com for an endless list of information about different meads and reviews on them.
If you’re looking for something that’s closer to beer, try Trafalger Ale and Mead’s Ginger Mead or Mead Braggot.