Why Mead Is the Ancient Drink Everyone's Talking About Again
Mead may very well be the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage. Evidence of its production can be traced back to 6,500 to 7,000 B.C. in Northern China, certainly well before beer and grape wine was ever created. The drink of ancient kings and royalty, mead was considered by Grecians of the Golden Age to be 'ambrosia' or 'Nectar of the Gods.' Modern-day mead makers use some of the same methods as their ancient counterparts. Here is why you should give the ancient drink a try now.
What is mead?
The explanation is simple—grapes make wine, grains make beer, apples make cider, and fermented honey makes mead. Honey can stay preserved for hundreds of years, so to force the fermentation process, mead makers blend it with water to create a yeast-friendly environment. After the yeast is added, it begins to consume the sugars, altering the honey and water mixture into an alcoholic beverage. Mead is thought to be full of health properties and also said to increase fertility and sexual desire. In fact, mead inspired the term 'honeymoon.' Traditionally, brides and grooms were given mead to last for a whole month, long enough to get past the first-night jitters.
There are different styles of mead—still, carbonated, or sparkling, and sweet, semisweet, or dry. Other ingredients can be combined with the honey, water, and yeast mix. Each mix can have a different name. For example, when spices are added to the brew, the mead is called Metheglin-style. Combinations with fruit are called Melomel. Certain countries have developed their own styles, like the low-alcohol by volume (ABV) Finnish version called Sima that's flavored with lemon, or the Ethiopian Tej that uses the bark of the Gesho shrub.
Alcohol content varies widely across mead. Kenneth Jenkinson, Mead Magistrate of the Savannah Bee Company, serves different versions to curious customers. “Mead varies a lot in taste, in fact, it’s the most variable of all alcohols. It can taste like beer, wine, or ginger ale. It can range from dry to sweet and be carbonated or non-carbonated. It can have between 3 percent and 20 percent alcohol.”
Is mead better for you than wine?
Throughout history, mead was used medicinally, even thought to be magical and to provide immortality. “Mead is considered healthier than beer and wine because it’s made with honey, which is easier for the body to metabolize, and you get the nutritional benefits of honey itself,” Jenkinson says. Honey has natural antiseptic and antibacterial qualities.
Be mindful, however, that while honey can be beneficial in many ways, it also packs a lot of sugar. Just two ounces of mead can have more than 300 calories and 40 grams of carbohydrates. For comparison, two ounces of red table wine has about 48 calories and only 1.48 grams of carbs.
Certainly, reducing the alcohol by volume content of your cocktails is better for your health. While mead comes in a low-ABV version, red wine normally has somewhere around 14 to 15 perent alcohol and white wine around 11 to 13 percent alcohol in the United States.
Where can you get good mead?
With so many consumers currently focused on buying artisanal food products and with the popularity of craft beer on the rise, mead is experiencing a surge in demand. Where it was formerly only found at Renaissance fairs or consumed by history buffs drinking from Viking horns, modern tasting rooms are cropping up, and the public is freshly interested in the lost art of this alcohol production.
It's offered for sampling, stocked in artisanal bars, and can be purchased online. Hidden Legend Winery hosts all kinds of award-winning mead options for home delivery, flavored with chokecherries, elderberries, spices, or just sweet Montana honey. They also offer a mead-making kit, for those that want to make their own 'nectar of the Gods.'
You'll also find more and more meaderies, or wineries that specialize in mead production, opening their actual and virtual doors. All-Wise Meadery, founded by actor Dylan Sprouse, launched in 2018 with a proprietary mead recipe utilizing the best honey New York State has to offer.
Other taprooms are available across the country. Superstition Winery in Prescott, Arizona, has more than 150 types of mead available online and in their tasting room, which has coffee and chocolate-infused, grapefruit, and vanilla bean mead flavors, to name a few.
Maine Mead Works in Portland, Maine, combines chai tea, lavender, and craft beer in their meads, available to taste at their establishment that’s ideally located between a brewery and a distillery. They also offer a mead club membership, which ships six of their newest flavor creations several times a year to mead aficionados that join.
With so many flavor combinations and presentations, there is a version of mead for everyone. Because the honey-based beverage has been enjoyed in almost every culture, it’s certainly worth trying, even if it doesn’t make you immortal. You'll find that most states have a local meadery, and you can find ones in your area through the American Mead Makers Association.