Mead (//; archaic and dialectal "medd"; from Old English "meodu") is an alcoholic beverage created by fermenting honey with water, and in adulterated form with various fruits, spices, grains or hops. (Hops act as a preservative and produce a bitter, beer-like flavor.) The alcoholic content of mead may range from about 8% ABV to more than 20%. The defining characteristic of mead is that the majority of the beverage's fermentable sugar is derived from honey. It may be still, carbonated, or naturally sparkling, and it may be dry, semi-sweet, or sweet.
Mead is known from many sources of ancient history throughout Europe, Africa and Asia. "It can be regarded as the ancestor of all fermented drinks," Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat has speculated, "antedating the cultivation of the soil." Hornsey considers archaeological evidence of it ambiguous, however McGovern and other archaeological chemists consider the presence of beeswax markers and gluconic acid, in the presence of other substances known to ferment, to be reasonably conclusive evidence of the use of honey in ancient fermented beverages.
Claude Lévi-Strauss makes a case for the invention of mead as a marker of the passage "from nature to culture." Mead has played an important role in the beliefs and mythology of some peoples. One such example is the Mead of Poetry, a mead of Norse mythology crafted from the blood of the wise being Kvasir which turns the drinker into a poet or scholar.
The terms "mead" and "honey-wine" are often used synonymously. Honey-wine is differentiated from mead in some cultures. Hungarians hold that while mead is made of honey, water and beer-yeast (barm), honey-wine is watered honey fermented by recrement of grapes (or other fruits).
In Asia, pottery vessels containing chemical signatures of a mixture of honey, rice and other fruits along with organic compounds of fermentation dating from 6500-7000 BC were found in Northern China. In Europe, it is first attested in residual samples found in the characteristic ceramics of the Bell Beaker Culture (c. 2800 – 1800 BC). The earliest archaeological evidence for the European production of mead dates to before 2000 BC.
The earliest surviving description of mead is in the hymns of the Rigveda, one of the sacred books of the historical Vedic religion and (later) Hinduism dated around 1700–1100 BC. During the Golden Age of Ancient Greece, mead was said to be the preferred drink. Aristotle (384–322 BC) discussed mead in his Meteorologica and elsewhere, while Pliny the Elder (AD 23–79) called mead militites in his Naturalis Historia and differentiated wine sweetened with honey or "honey-wine" from mead. The Spanish-Roman naturalist Columella gave a recipe for mead in De re rustica, about AD 60.
Take rainwater kept for several years, and mix a sextarius of this water with a [Roman] pound of honey. For a weaker mead, mix a sextarius of water with nine ounces of honey. The whole is exposed to the sun for 40 days, and then left on a shelf near the fire. If you have no rain water, then boil spring water.
Around AD 550, the Brythonic-speaking bard Taliesin wrote the Kanu y med or "Song of Mead." The legendary drinking, feasting and boasting of warriors in the mead hall is echoed in the mead hall Dyn Eidyn (modern day Edinburgh), and in the epic poem Y Gododdin, both dated around AD 700.[clarification needed] In the Old English epic poem Beowulf, the Danish warriors drank mead. Later, taxation and regulations governing the ingredients of alcoholic beverages led to commercial mead becoming a more obscure beverage until recently. Some monasteries kept up the old traditions of mead-making as a by-product of beekeeping, especially in areas where grapes could not be grown, a well-known example being at Lindisfarne, where mead continues to be made to this day, albeit not in the monastery itself.
The English word mead derives from the Old English meodu, from Proto-Germanic meduz, from Proto-Indo-European *médʰu (honey, fermented honey drink). Slavic med / miod , which means both "honey" and "mead", (Russian, Czech, Slovak, Serbian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Croatian: med vs. medovina, Polish 'miód' pronounce [mju:t] - honey, mead) and Baltic medus "honey"/midus "mead", also derive from the same Proto-Indo-European root (cf. Welsh medd, Old Irish mid, Sanskrit madhu, Sogdian [an Old Iranian language]: muð, Avestan [another Old Iranian language]: maðu, Classical Persian: مُل mul, Classical and New Persian: مِی mey).
Mead was also popular in Central Europe and in the Baltic states. In the Polish language mead is called miód pitny ([ˈmiut ˈpitnɨ]), meaning "drinkable honey". In Russian it is called Medovukha Медовуха, which means the same thing as in Polish. Since the 19th century, in Russia, mead has remained popular in the drinks medovukha and sbiten long after its decline in the West. Sbiten is often mentioned in the works of 19th-century Russian writers, including Gogol, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. In Montenegro, medovina has been considered a healthy elixir and mentioned often in folk literature.
In Finland, a sweet mead called sima (cognate with the root of zymurgy) is still an essential seasonal brew connected with the Finnish Vappu (May Day) festival. It is usually spiced by adding both the pulp and rind of a lemon. During secondary fermentation, raisins are added to control the amount of sugars and to act as an indicator of readiness for consumption; they will rise to the top of the bottle when the drink is ready. However, the sugar used in modern practice is typically brown sugar, not honey.
Ethiopian mead is called tej (ጠጅ, [ˈtʼədʒ]) and is usually home-made. It is flavored with the powdered leaves and bark of gesho, a hop-like bittering agent which is a species of buckthorn. A sweeter, less-alcoholic version called berz, aged for a shorter time, is also made. The traditional vessel for drinking tej is a rounded vase-shaped container called a berele.
In the USA, mead is enjoying a resurgence, starting with small home meaderies and now with a number of small commercial meaderies. As mead becomes more widely available, it is seeing increased attention and exposure from the news media.
Mead can have a wide range of flavors depending on the source of the honey, additives (also known as "adjuncts" or "gruit") including fruit and spices, the yeast employed during fermentation and the aging procedure. Some producers have marketed white wine sweetened and flavored with honey after fermentation as mead, sometimes spelling it "meade." This is closer in style to a Hypocras. Blended varieties of mead may be known by the style represented; for instance, a mead made with cinnamon and apples may be referred to as either a cinnamon cyser or an apple metheglin.
A mead that contains fruit (such as raspberry, blackberry or strawberry) is called a melomel, which was also used as a means of food preservation, keeping summer produce for the winter. A mead that is fermented with grape juice is called a pyment.
Some meads retain some measure of the sweetness of the original honey, and some may even be considered as dessert wines. Drier meads are also available, and some producers offer sparkling meads.
There are faux-meads, which are actually wines with honey added after fermentation as a sweetener and flavoring.
Historically, meads were fermented with wild yeasts and bacteria (as noted in the recipe quoted above) residing on the skins of the fruit or within the honey itself. Wild yeasts can produce inconsistent results. Yeast companies have isolated strains of yeast which produce consistently appealing products. Brewers, winemakers and mead makers commonly use them for their fermentations. White Labs, WYeast and Vierka have released yeast strains identified specifically for mead fermentation. These are strains that have been selected because of their characteristic of preserving delicate honey flavors and aromas.
Mead can also be distilled to a brandy or liqueur strength. A version called "honey jack" can be made by partly freezing a quantity of mead and straining the ice out of the liquid (a process known as freeze distillation), in the same way that applejack is made from cider.
- Acerglyn: A mead made with honey and maple syrup.
- Balche: A native Mexican version of mead.
- Black mead: A name sometimes given to the blend of honey and black currants.
- Bochet: A mead where the honey is caramelized or burned separately before adding the water. Yields toffee, caramel, chocolate and toasted marshmallow flavors.
- Bochetomel: A Bochet style mead that also contains fruit such as elderberries, black raspberries and blackberries.
- Braggot: Also called bracket or brackett. Originally brewed with honey and hops, later with honey and malt—with or without hops added. Welsh origin (bragawd).
- Capsicumel: A mead flavored with chile peppers, the peppers may be hot or mild.
- Chouchenn: A kind of mead made in Brittany.
- Cyser: A blend of honey and apple juice fermented together; see also cider.
- Czwórniak (TSG): A Polish mead, made using three units of water for each unit of honey.
- Dandaghare: A mead from Nepal, combines honey with Himalayan herbs and spices. It has been brewed since 1972 in the city of Pokhara.
- Dwójniak (TSG): A Polish mead, made using equal amounts of water and honey.
- Great mead: Any mead that is intended to be aged several years. The designation is meant to distinguish this type of mead from "short mead" (see below).
- Gverc or Medovina: Croatian mead prepared in Samobor and many other places. The word "gverc" or "gvirc' is from the German "Gewürze" and refers to various spices added to mead.
- Hydromel: Literally "water-honey" in Greek. It is also the French name for mead. (Compare with the Catalan hidromel and aiguamel, Galician aiguamel, Portuguese hidromel, Italian idromele and Spanish hidromiel and aguamiel). It is also used as a name for a light or low-alcohol mead.
- Medica: Slovenian, Croatian, variety of mead.
- Medovina: Czech, Croatian, Serbian, Montenegrin, Bulgarian, Bosnian and Slovak for mead. Commercially available in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and presumably other Central and Eastern-European countries.
- Medovukha: Eastern Slavic variant (honey-based fermented drink).
- Melomel: Melomel is made from honey and any fruit. Depending on the fruit base used, certain melomels may also be known by more specific names (see cyser, pyment, and morat for examples).
- Metheglin: Metheglin is traditional mead with herbs and/or spices added. Some of the most common metheglins are ginger, tea, orange peel, nutmeg, coriander, cinnamon, cloves or vanilla. Its name indicates that many metheglins were originally employed as folk medicines. The Welsh word for mead is medd, and the word "metheglin" derives from meddyglyn, a compound of meddyg, "healing" + llyn, "liquor".
- Midus: Lithuanian for mead, made of natural bee honey and berry juice. Infused with carnation blossoms, acorns, poplar buds, juniper berries and other herbs, it is often made as a mead distillate or mead nectar, some of the varieties having as much as 75% of alcohol.
- Morat: Morat blends honey and mulberries.
- Mulsum: Mulsum is not a true mead, but is unfermented honey blended with a high-alcohol wine.
- Myod: Traditional Russian mead, historically available in three major varieties:
- aged mead ("мёд ставленный"): a mixture of honey and water and/or berry juices, subject to a very slow (12–50 years) anaerobic fermentation in airtight vessels in a process similar to the traditional balsamic vinegar, creating a rich, complex and high-priced product.
- drinking mead ("мёд питный"): a kind of honey wine made from diluted honey by traditional fermentation.
- boiled mead ("мёд варёный"): a drink closer to beer, brewed from boiled wort of diluted honey and herbs, very similar to modern medovukha.
- Omphacomel: A medieval mead recipe that blends honey with verjuice; could therefore be considered a variety of pyment (q.v.).
- Oxymel: Another historical mead recipe, blending honey with wine vinegar.
- Pitarrilla: Mayan drink made from a fermented mixture of wild honey, balché-tree bark and fresh water.
- Pyment: Pyment blends honey and red or white grapes. Pyment made with white grape juice is sometimes called "white mead".
- Półtorak (TSG): A Polish great mead, made using two units of honey for each unit of water.
- Rhodomel: Rhodomel is made from honey, rose hips, rose petals or rose attar, and water.
- Sack mead: This refers to mead that is made with more honey than is typically used. The finished product contains a higher-than-average ethanol concentration (meads at or above 14% ABV are generally considered to be of sack strength) and often retains a high specific gravity and elevated levels of sweetness, although dry sack meads (which have no residual sweetness) can be produced. According to one theory, the name derives from the fortified dessert wine, sherry (which is sometimes sweetened after fermentation) that, in England, once bore the nickname "sack"). Another theory is that the term is a phonetic reduction of "sake" the name of a Japanese beverage that was introduced to the West by Spanish and Portuguese traders.
- Short mead: Also called "quick mead". A type of mead recipe that is meant to age quickly, for immediate consumption. Because of the techniques used in its creation, short mead shares some qualities found in cider (or even light ale): primarily that it is effervescent, and often has a cidery taste. It can also be champagne-like.
- Show mead: A term which has come to mean "plain" mead: that which has honey and water as a base, with no fruits, spices or extra flavorings. Since honey alone often does not provide enough nourishment for the yeast to carry on its life cycle, a mead that is devoid of fruit, etc. will sometimes require a special yeast nutrient and other enzymes to produce an acceptable finished product. In most competitions, including all those that subscribe to the BJCP style guidelines, as well as the International Mead Fest, the term "traditional mead" refers to this variety (because mead is historically a variable product, these guidelines are a recent expedient, designed to provide a common language for competition judging; style guidelines per se do not apply to commercial or historical examples of this or any other type of mead).
- Sima: a quick-fermented low-alcoholic Finnish variety, seasoned with lemon and associated with the festival of vappu.
- Tej/Mes: Tej/Mes is an Ethiopian and Eritrean mead, fermented with wild yeasts and the addition of gesho. Recipes vary from family to family.
- Tella/Suwa: Tella is an Ethiopian and Eritrean style of beer; with the inclusion of honey some recipes are similar to braggot.
- Trójniak (TSG): A Polish mead, made using two units of water for each unit of honey.
- White mead: A mead that is colored white with herbs, fruit or, sometimes, egg whites.
- Mõdu: An Estonian traditional fermented drink with a taste of honey and an alcohol content of 4.0% http://www.saku.ee/eng/beverages/mead
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- Mazer Cup International Mead Competition and Tasting Event -- Sponsored by Gotmead.com, this event is held every year in March in Boulder, Colorado. It is the largest mead event in the world, with over 300 home meads and over 200 commercial meads in competition. There is a Friday tasting event with the gold medal winning commercial meads from the previous year, plus feature meads from around the world.
- Real Ale Festival in Chicago, Illinois, includes categories for mead as well as cider and perry.
- Woodbridge International Mead Festival - Sponsored by local residents, it claims to be the only mead festival east of the Mississippi. While few types of mead are available, all are home-brewed and go through a rigorous judging process.
- Orcas Island Cider and Mead Festival - Sponsored by the Northwest Cider Association - Held each year on the second Saturday in May on Orcas Island in Washington State, includes cider and mead producers along the West Coast of the United States and Canada.
Mead is featured in many Germanic myths and folktales such as Beowulf, as well as in other popular works that draw on these myths. Notable examples include books by Tolkien, George R. R. Martin and Neil Gaiman. It is often featured in books using a historical Germanic setting and in writings about the Viking era. Mead is mentioned many times in Neil Gaiman's 2001 novel, American Gods; it is referred to as the drink of the gods. Also, in the books of the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, it is often drunk by Eragon Shadeslayer at feasts in honor of him. Mead is also referenced in The Kingkiller Chronicle novel series by Patrick Rothfuss. The protagonist Kvothe is known to drink metheglin. The non-existent "Greysdale Mead" is also drunk, although it is merely water.
- "mead". The Oxford Universal Dictionary on Historical Principles (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. 1944. p. 1222.
- Beer is produced by the fermentation of grain, but grain can be used in mead provided it is strained off immediately. As long as the primary substance fermented is still honey, the drink is still mead.Fitch, Edward (1990). Rites of Odin. St. Paul, Minnesota: Llewellyn Worldwide. p. 290. ISBN 9780875422244.
- Hops are better known as the bitter ingredient of beer. However, they have also been used in mead both ancient and in modern times. The Legend of Frithiof mentions hops: Mohnike, G.C.F. (September 1828 – January 1829). "Tegner's Legend of Frithiof". The Foreign Quarterly Review (London: Treuttel and Würtz, Treuttel, Jun and Richter) III. "He next ... bids ... Halfdan recollect ... that to produce mead hops must be mingled with the honey;" That this formula is still in use is shown by the recipe for "Real Monastery Mead" in Molokhovets, Elena; Joyce Stetson (Translator) (1998). Classic Russian Cooking. Indiana University Press. p. 474. ISBN 0-253-21210-3.
- Lichine, Alexis. Alexis Lichine’s New Encyclopedia of Wines & Spirits (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987), 328.
- Gayre, Robert (1986). Brewing Mead. Brewers Publications. p. 158. ISBN 0-937381-00-4. "...Therefore to our synopsis: Mead is the general name for all drinks made of honey."
- Rose, Anthony H. (1977). Alcoholic Beverages. Michigan: Academic Press. p. 413.
- Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat (Anthea Bell, tr.) The History of Food, 2nd ed. 2009:30.
- Hornsey, Ian (2003). A History of Beer and Brewing. Royal Society of Chemistry. p. 7. ISBN 0-85404-630-5. "...mead was known in Europe long before wine, although archaeological evidence of it is rather ambiguous. This is principally because the confirmed presence of beeswax or certain types of pollen ... is only indicative of the presence of honey (which could have been used for sweetening some other drink) - not necessarily of the production of mead."
- Lévi-Strauss, J. and D. Weightman, tr. From Honey to Ashes, London:Cape 1973 (Du miel aux cendres, Paris 1960)
- Morse, Roger (1992). Making Mead (Honey Wine). Wicwas Press. ISBN 978-1878075048.
- Schramm, Ken (2003). The Compleat Meadmaker: Home Production of Honey Wine From Your First Batch to Award-winning Fruit and Herb Variations. Brewers Publications. ISBN 978-0-937381-80-9.
- History of beer in Hungary - difference between mead and honey-wine (in Hungarian)
- McGovern, P. E.; Zhang, J; Tang, J; Zhang, Z; Hall, G. R.; Moreau, R. A.; Nuñez, A; Butrym, E. D. et al. (December 6, 2004). "Fermented beverages of pre- and proto-historic China". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 101 (51): 17593–8. doi:10.1073/pnas.0407921102. PMC 539767. PMID 15590771.
- Jazz, Hugh (May 25, 2009). "Usage of Honey in Ancient Europe". Durham Archaeological Society.
- Rigveda Book 5 v. 43:3–4, Book 8 v. 5:6, etc
- Kerenyi, Karl (1976). Dionysus: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life. Princeton University Press. p. 35. ISBN 0-691-09863-8.
- Pliny the Elder. Natural History XIV. XII:85 etc.
- about half a liter
- about 1/3 kg
- about 1/4 kg
- Columella, AD 60 De re rustica
- Llyfr Taliesin XIX
- Buhner, Stephen Harrod (1998). Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers: The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation. Siris Books. ISBN 0-937381-66-7.
- Online Etymology Dictionary entry for 'mead'
- Gittleson, Kim (2013-10-02). "The drink of kings makes a comeback". BBC News Online. Retrieved 2013-10-03.
- Bender, Andrew. Forbes http://www.forbes.com/pictures/ehlk45lii/mead/
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- CBS News http://www.cbsnews.com/news/mead-the-honey-based-brew-producing-a-real-buzz/
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- Eoghan Odinsson, Northern Lore, p. 160
- Tayleur, W.H.T.; Michael Spink (1973). The Penguin Book of Home Brewing and Wine-Making. Penguin. p. 292. ISBN 0-14-046190-6.
- Aylett, Mary (1953). Country Wines, Odhams Press. p. 79
- Tayleur, p. 291.
- Sack in the Oxford Companion to Wine
- 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica
- .The Mazer Cup International official website
- Real Ale Festival official website
- Orcas Island Cider and Mead Festival official website
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- Schramm, Ken (2003). The Compleat Meadmaker. Brewers Publications. ISBN 0-937381-82-9.
- Kerenyi, Karl (1976). Dionysus: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-09863-8.
- Digby, Kenelm; Jane Stevenson; Peter Davidson (1997). The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt Opened 1669. Prospect Books. ISBN 0-907325-76-9.
- Gayre, Robert; Papazian, Charlie (1986). Brewing Mead: Wassail! In Mazers of Mead. Brewers Publications. ISBN 0-937381-00-4.
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