So what do you get when you combine honey, water, yeast and time? Why only one of the greatest and most ancient of alcoholic beverages on the planet: Mead (aka honey wine).
In the Old English epic poem Beowulf, the Danish warriors drank Honey mead, and apparently this once-forgotten elixir is making a strong comeback. According to a Time.com report, the US is smack dab in the middle of a real mead revival. Mead sales have tripled over the last 10 years, and over 150 active meaderies are now busy churning out the medieval social lubricant.
What? You’ve never heard of mead? Well, now, how about I remedy that situation with bit of Mead 101, and 5 things you really should know about mead.
1. Mead Has Been Around for a Long Time. (No, really, a very, very long time.)
Mead is arguably one of the oldest known mental manipulators on the planet. The earliest evidence that shows people were up to their elbows in mead pre-dates modern civilization by some 9000 years. Archeologists have discovered traces of mead on ancient pottery shards in China that have been dated to around 7000 BC. Good news travels fast, so the wonders of mead eventually made their way to Europe several thousand years later. Now that’s some ancient alcohol.
2. A Mead Isn’t a Mead Isn’t a Mead.
There are dozens of recognized variants of mead and throughout the millennia there have probably been hundreds more regional and cultural variations. The one thing they all have in common is that they’re made mostly of honey and water. Meads can be dry, sweet, spicy, herbal and floral. It all depends upon what the brewer wants to toss into the mix. Some of the most popular types of mead are braggot, a version brewed with malt and hops; melomel, mead that’s brewed with fruit; and metheglin, traditional mead with spices and herbs. Basically, there’s plain mead and everything else.
3. Mead has Some Wild Roots.
Since mead has been around way longer than the understanding of microbiology and yeast strains, it makes one wonder where the ancients got their yeast. Well, they pretty much pulled them out of the air. Literally. Wild yeasts and bacteria are everywhere. Homebrewing shops weren’t exactly commonplace in the middle ages, so if you wanted to wrangle some you just sat your unfermented mead out in the open for a few weeks and hoped some of the little buggers decided to drop by. No wonder they believed in magic back then.
4. Mead Has Its Own Day.
You read right, there’s a National Mead Day. And why shouldn’t mead get its own day? It has certainly been around long enough. Until 2002, mead had to settle for being the stuff of legend and countless renaissance festival jokes… that is until the American Homebrewer’s Association got involved. National Mead Day, held the first Saturday in August, has more purpose than introducing people to ancient ways of getting drunk. It helps to raise the awareness of mead and it spawns some pretty damn good parties in the process.
5. Mead Has a Literary Pedigree
As if having its own day wasn’t enough, mead has been featured in stories and poetry longer than we’ve been able to write things down. According to historians, the earliest surviving description of mead can be found in the Rigveda, one of the sacred books of the historical Vedic religion. We’re talking 1000 BC. Fast forward to ancient Greece where Aristotle wrote about mead in his Meteorologica and Pliny the Elder (also a great beer by the Russian River Brewing Company) went on about it in his Naturalis Historia. Remember Beowulf? Yeah, all those Danish warriors downed gallons of mead. Seems like mead was on everyone’s mind back then.
Mead’s often misunderstood and mystery-shrouded past make it one of our most interesting and complex potent potables. While the basic building blocks of this honey-fueled liquor have remained the same nearly as long as people have roamed the planet its recent resurgence proves that there’s still some life left in this old dog. If you’re ready to treat your honey right and make your own mead there are several great books out there including what many consider to be the bible of mead, The Complete Meadmaker by Kevin Schramm. Now raise your goblet, straighten your horned helmet, and party like a Viking…
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