Mead (//, from Old English medu) is an alcoholic beverage created by fermenting honey with water, sometimes with various fruits, spices, grains, or hops. The alcoholic content ranges from about 3.5% 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; dry, semi-sweet, or sweet.
Mead was produced in ancient history throughout Europe, Africa and Asia, and has played an important role in the mythology of some peoples. In Norse mythology, for example, the Mead of Poetry was crafted from the blood of the wise being Kvasir and turned the drinker into a poet or scholar.
The terms "mead" and "honey-wine" often are used synonymously. Some cultures, though, differentiate honey-wine from mead. For example, 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.
Pottery vessels dating from 7000 BC discovered in northern China have shown chemical signatures consistent with the presence of honey, rice, and organic compounds associated with fermentation. In Europe, it is first described from residual samples found in ceramics of the Bell Beaker Culture (c. 2800–1800 BCE).
The earliest surviving description of mead is possibly the soma mentioned 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 BCE) discussed mead in his Meteorologica and elsewhere, while Pliny the Elder (23–79 CE) called mead militites in his Naturalis Historia and differentiated wine sweetened with honey or "honey-wine" from mead. The Hispanic-Roman naturalist Columella gave a recipe for mead in De re rustica, about 60 CE.
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.
There is a poem attributed to the Brythonic-speaking bard Taliesin, who lived around 550 CE, called 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 Din Eidyn (modern day Edinburgh) as depicted in the poem Y Gododdin, attributed to the poet Aneirin who would have been a contemporary of Taliesin. In the Old English epic poem Beowulf, the Danish warriors drank mead. In both Insular Celtic and Germanic poetry mead was the primary heroic or divine drink, see Mead of poetry.
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.
The English mead – "fermented honey drink" – derives from the Old English meodu or medu, and Proto-Germanic, *meduz. The name has connections to Old Norse mjöðr, Middle Dutch mede, and Old High German metu, among others, and is related to ancient names for meadow.
The yeast used in mead making is often identical to that used in wine making. Many home mead makers choose to use wine yeasts (particularly those used in the preparation of white wines) to make their meads.
By measuring the specific gravity of the mead once before fermentation and throughout the fermentation process by means of a hydrometer or refractometer, mead makers can determine the proportion of alcohol by volume that will appear in the final product. This also serves another purpose. By measuring specific gravity throughout fermentation, a mead maker can quickly troubleshoot a "stuck" batch, one where the fermentation process has been halted prematurely.
Meads will often ferment well at the same temperatures in which wine is fermented.
After primary fermentation slows down significantly the mead is then racked into a second container. This is known as secondary fermentation. Some larger commercial fermenters are designed to allow both primary and secondary fermentation to happen inside of the same vessel. Racking is done for two reasons: it lets the mead sit away from the remains of the yeast cells (lees) that have died during the fermentation process. Second, this lets the mead have time to clear. If the mead maker wishes to backsweeten the product or prevent it from oxidizing, potassium metabisulfite and potassium sorbate are added. After the mead clears, it is bottled and distributed.
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 fermentation, including 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.
In Finland, a sweet mead called sima (cognate with the root of zymurgy) is still an essential seasonal fermented product 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 United States, 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.
List of mead variants
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- Acerglyn: A mead made with honey and maple syrup.
- Balche: A native Mexican version of mead.
- Bilbemel: A mead made with blueberries, blueberry juice, or sometimes used for a varietal mead that uses blueberry blossom honey.
- Black mead: A name sometimes given to the blend of honey and blackcurrants.
- Blue mead: A type of mead where fungal spores are added during first fermentation, lending a blue tint to the final product.
- 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 chilli 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 produced 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: Name derived from the Greek hydromeli, i.e. literally "water-honey" (see also melikraton and hydromelon). It is also the French name for mead hydromel. (See also and compare with the Italian idromele and Spanish hidromiel and aguamiel, the Catalan hidromel and aiguamel, Galician aguamel, and Portuguese hidromel). It is also used as a name for a light or low-alcohol mead.
- Medica/Medovica: Slovenian, Slovak, 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). Possibly from the Greek melomeli, literally "apple-honey" or "treefruit-honey" (see also melimelon).
- Metheglin: Metheglin is traditional mead with herbs 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. Generally between 8% and 17% alcohol, it is also distilled to produce mead nectar vor mead balsam, with some of the varieties having as much as 75% of alcohol.
- Mõdu: An Estonian traditional fermented drink with a taste of honey and an alcohol content of 4.0%
- 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: a mixture of honey and water 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: a kind of honey wine made from diluted honey by traditional fermentation.
- boiled mead: a drink closer to beer, brewed from boiled wort of diluted honey and herbs, very similar to modern medovukha.
- Omphacomel: A mead recipe that blends honey with verjuice; could therefore be considered a variety of pyment (q.v.). From the Greek omphakomeli, literally "unripe-grape-honey".
- Oxymel: Another historical mead recipe, blending honey with wine vinegar. From the Greek ὀξύμελι oxymeli, literally "vinegar-honey" (also oxymelikraton).
- Pitarrilla: Mayan drink made from a fermented mixture of wild honey, balché-tree bark and fresh water.
- Pyment: Contemporary pyment is a melomel made from the fermentation of a blend of grapes and honey and can be considered either a grape mead or honeyed wine. Pyment made with white grapes is sometimes called "white mead". In previous centuries piment was synonymous with Hippocras, a grape wine with honey added post-fermentation.
- Półtorak (TSG): A Polish great mead, made using two units of honey for each unit of water.
- Red mead: A form of mead made with redcurrants.
- Rhodomel: Rhodomel is made from honey, rose hips, rose petals or rose attar, and water. From the Greek ῥοδόμελι rhodomeli, literally "rose-honey".
- Rubamel: A specific type of Melomel made with raspberries.
- 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.
- Tapluchʼi: Tapluchʼi, a Georgian name for mead, especially made of honey but it is also a collective name for any kind of drinkable inebriants.
- Tej/Mes: Tej/Mes is an Ethiopian and Eritrean mead, fermented with wild yeasts and the addition of gesho.
- 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.
- Včelovina: Slovak alternative name for mead.
- White mead: A mead that is colored white with herbs, fruit or, sometimes, egg whites.
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- Mazer Cup International Mead Competition and Tasting Event 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 homemade 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.
- Medovinka Roka - Hosted by Slovenská včelárska spoločnosť, Medovinka Roka (Mead of the year) is an annual Slovak national mead festival held each year to chose the best Slovak mead. The festival has been celebrated since 2015. In their second year of existence over 60 manufacturers of medovina have competed during this festival.
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 J.K. Rowling, Tolkien, George R. R. Martin, T. H. White, and Neil Gaiman. It is often featured in books using a historical Germanic setting and in writings about the Viking age. Mead is mentioned many times in Neil Gaiman's 2001 novel, American Gods; it is referred to as the drink of the gods. In The Inheritance Cycle series by Christopher Paolini, the protagonist, Eragon, often drinks mead at feasts. It 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. The drink of mead is mentioned many times in Michael Crichton's "Eaters of the Dead" published 1976.
- "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 (1998). Classic Russian Cooking. Joyce Stetson (trans.). 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 Archived 28 September 2010 at Archive.today – difference between mead and honey-wine (in Hungarian)
- Odinsson, Eoghan (2010). Northern Lore: A Field Guide to the Northern Mind-Body-Spirit. p. 159. ISBN 9781452851433.
- . Prehistoric China - The Wonders That Were Jiahu The World’s Earliest Fermented Beverage. Professor Patrick McGovern the Scientific Director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Project for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia. Retrieved on 3 January 2017.
- McGovern, P. E.; Zhang, J; Tang, J; Zhang, Z; Hall, G. R.; Moreau, R. A.; Nuñez, A; Butrym, E. D.; et al. (6 December 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.
- Eoghan Odinsson (2010). Northern Lore: A Field Guide to the Northern Mind-Body-Spirit. Eoghan Odinsson. ISBN 1452851433.
- 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 ¼ kilograms
- Columella, 60 AD 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.
- "Mead". Online Etymology Dictionary, Douglas Harper. 2018. Retrieved 27 August 2018.
- "Making Mead: the Art and the Science" (PDF). Beer Judge Certification Program. Retrieved 18 February 2015.
- Schramm, Ken (2003). The Compleat Meadmaker. Brewers Publications. pp. 31, 37. ISBN 978-0-937381-80-9.
- Eoghan Odinsson, Northern Lore, p. 160
- "Slovenská medovina sa stala najlepšou na svete". StartItUp.sk (in Slovak). 2017-03-19. Retrieved 2017-12-21.
- 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.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 15 December 2013. Retrieved 8 December 2013.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 5 June 2013. Retrieved 2012-04-17.
- "Polska miodem stała". www.smakizpolski.com.pl (in Polish). Retrieved 2017-05-31.
- Gittleson, Kim (2 October 2013). "The drink of kings makes a comeback". BBC News Online. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
- Bender, Andrew. "Top 10 Food Trends". Forbes.
- "Mead, the honey-based brew producing a real buzz". CBS News. 24 November 2013.
- "Russian Honey Drink". EnglishRussia.com. Accessed May 2010.
- "Lithuanian Mead - The world's oldest alcoholic drink". The Baltic Review. 2015-07-24. Retrieved 2018-02-24.
- "Lietuviškas midus | Mead balsam". midus.lt. Retrieved 2018-02-24.
- "Mead". Saku Brewery. Archived from the original on 9 March 2015. Retrieved 17 February 2015.
- La Barre, Weston (1938). "Native American Beers" (PDF). American Anthropologist. 40. doi:10.1525/aa.1938.40.2.02a00040. Retrieved 18 September 2016.
- Gordon Strong; Kristen England. "2015 Mead Guidelines" (PDF). Beer Judge Certification Program. p. 5. Retrieved 7 December 2016.
A Pyment is a melomel made with grapes (generally from juice). Pyments can be red, white, or blush, just as with wine.
- "Mazer Cup Guidelines (commercial)". American MEad Makers Association. Retrieved 7 December 2016.
Pyment: Honeywine made with grapes/grape juice/grape concentrate.
- Earnshaw, Steven (2000). The Pub in Literature: England's Altered State. Manchester University Press. p. 28.
- Sack Archived 26 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine. in the Oxford Companion to Wine
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Saké". Encyclopædia Britannica. 24 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 54.
- The Mazer Cup International official website
- Real Ale Festival Archived 13 August 2006 at the Wayback Machine. official website
- Orcas Island Cider and Mead Festival official website
- "Výstava VČELÁRSTVO a súťaž v MEDOVINKE ROKA 2016 » Slovenská včelárska spoločnosť Jána Čajdu". www.svsjanacajdu.sk. Retrieved 2017-12-21.
- Schramm, Ken (2003). The Compleat Meadmaker. Brewers Publications. ISBN 978-0937381809.
- 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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