You may not have heard about mead, and if you have, you may be hesitant to try it since it sounds a bit odd. After all, honey wine? But mead has a long and fascinating history and is one of the oldest and most sought-after drinks. At one point, it was thought to have divine properties. Although when you first think of mead, it may call images of Rennaissance Fairs and lords and ladies, there is so much more to mead. Additionally, it’s not a drink lost in antiquity and is truly making a resurgence. Although I could go into much more of the fascinating history of the drink, I think it will be more fun to look at some of the key facts about the drink. Undoubtedly, you’ll discover things you didn’t know about the legendary drink. These are 20 things you didn’t know about mead.
20. Small Batch Success
Almost everyone has either heard of or been to a craft brewery. The smaller companies like that make libations that are more often heads and tales above their conglomerate competitors. However, aside from ones that brew beer, there are also a handful of craft mead breweries popping up around the country. Currently, there are about 250 meaderies across the country. Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, you can try to make your own brew at home.
19. Happy Accident
There is a lot of myth and legend surrounding mead. However, most historians agree that it was a complete accident that the first person drank it. One such story is that someone found a clear liquid of rainwater mixed with honey and decided to sample it. There are two different potential origins for mead. According to Pollen Angel, it started in the African bush 20,000 years ago. In this legend, it was derived from hollowed-out Baobab and Miombo trees. In dry seasons honey bees inhabited the tree, and as the wet seasons started, the honey turned to
18. Variety Is The Spice of Life
Like wine and beer, there are many different types of mead. Aside from the different types of flowers that bees light on, there are different styles of mead, including sweet, dry, still, and sparkling. There are some known by different names as well, such as metheglin or melomel, which has berry juice. Additionally, some are made with apples or maple syrup. Another is called braggot, which is a mead beer mixture. You will also find another variety called rhodomel, which has rose petals.
17. A Royal Drink
Mead is a go-to drink for royals. As the story goes, Queen Makeda of Sheba gave King Solomon a beverage known as T’ej, an Ethiopian mead that uses buckthorn providing the bittersweet finish. This drink dates back to East Africa in the fourth century and is still enjoyed today. Another royal who enjoys the libation is Queen Elizabeth II. She even has a favorite recipe that uses sweet briar, rosemary, thyme, and bay leaves.
16. Bottoms Up
Like other alcoholic drinks, mead has a variety of different proofs. Since it has different types as well as flavors, it can be a preferred drink for brunch as well as dinner. According to Medium, the alcohol content can go from 3.5% to 20%. Between this and all the amazing varieties, it’s a drink you’re sure to enjoy. After tasting it, people started searching for the best way to replicate it and elevated it to an art. Since then, it seems like many people have different varieties and preferences and are continually expanding and redefining the iconic drink.
15. In A Class By Itself
Beer, wine, liquor, and liqueur all fall under distinct alcoholic categories. And, even though mead is a honey wine, it still doesn’t fall under the traditional wine category. Mead is similar to beer because it is fermented. Additionally, even though being called honey wine, mead’s taste isn’t affected by the seasons. The best way to describe it is a hybrid of cider and wine. However, you won’t need to learn pairing or what tannins are to enjoy it.
14. For The Bookworms
Classic literature also immortalizes the drink. If you read Chaucer’s Canterberry Tales, you’ll find a nod to the drink. The Miller’s Tale refers to it as the drink favored by townspeople and instrumental in a courtship. Another mention is in the epic poem Beowolf. There is a mead hall called Heorot where the monster Gredel meets his demise. Lord of The Rings fans may also remember the drink mentioned since it was one of Middle Earth’s favorite brews.
13. Almost World Wide
Although there are legends and varieties across the world, one country that doesn’t know much about the drink in Canada, that is starting to change. Like many other people, they are quickly jumping into a reinvention of the glass and taking it from Rennaissance Faries to the mainstream. One place that’s working diligently to bring the drink mainstream is Rosewood, a Niagara winery that now has a collection of over 300 beehives. Another location is on Prince Edward Island, made famous in the Anne of Green Gable series. Millefleurs, another winery, is working on a hybrid of pinot noir and mead.
There are many tales of history and myths surrounding the drink throughout this list. Despite many countries listed, there isn’t a record of a specific origin for the drink. Since there are so many variations and cultures that use it in various rituals and medicines, it’s thought that its evolution started at comparable times. Each culture and area discovered it in their own unique way. Considering this, it’s no wonder there are so many different variations and recipes.
11. Celebrating The Drink
There are many different holidays and days that celebrate many interesting deities, foods, and drinks. Mead has its own day too. According to Mereworth, two decades ago, the United States declared August 3rd as National Mead Day. The American Homebrewers Association chose the day to bring the people who brew the drink together. Around the same time, several festivals in the Pacific Northwest celebrate the drink; Oregon Honey and Mead Festival in May and Orcas Island Cider and Mead Festival in July.
10. Popular Culture
One of the things that brought mead back into mainstream culture was the HBO show Game of Thrones. The show brought back the drink despite being mentioned only several times throughout the show. However, while watching the show by pure suggestion, people started to want to taste the drink, potentially because it made them think of the brave knights and damsels in distress who drank it after a battle or to fall in love. Additionally, as people started to learn more about the drink, they undoubtedly discovered it wasn’t quite what they thought. According to Matador Network, a lot of Game of Thrones fans tracked down a bottle or two for their watch parties to bring to life what they were watching on tv.
9. Fall and Rise
Interestingly, one of the reasons that took mead out of the spotlight is taxation in the 17th century. West Indian sugar had a larger tax and a decline in popularity since there was a decline in the bee population. However, as more people took up the hobby of beekeeping and honey started to become more readily available, the popularity rose again.
8. Simple Yet Complicated
Mead is something of a contradiction since it uses only three simple ingredients; water, yeast, and honey. However, there are an infinite amount of recipes and combinations of fruits and herbs that make it unique to each region. Additionally, depending on long it’s left to age will determine the complexity of the flavor.
7. Drinking Vessels
Today, mead is typically drunk out of a wine glass, but throughout history and region, many different other types of containers were used to imbibe the drink. For example, Ethiopians drink a mead variation called tej out of a glass called a berele which looks like a vial with a cork in it. Perhaps this is so they can save some of the drink to savor later. Germans used a mazer cup which later became the name for the world’s largest competition for the best mead. You can always seek out a mead horn for those who prefer the traditional route.
6. In The Mood
Many people think about oysters and chocolate when considering aphrodisiacs. However, you may also want to consider mead. It’s where the word honeymoon is derived. The bride’s father included a sizable amount of the drink as part of his daughter’s dowery to encourage a fruitful union.
5. Maintaining Popularity
Although in many places around the world, mead declined for a period, in Russia, it has stayed popular throughout its extensive history. However, people who live there call it medovuka or sbiten. In fact, you can find this drink referenced in works by prominent Russian writers like Gogol and Dostoevsky.
4. Better Than An Apple?
It’s doubtful you’ll get a doctor today to write you a prescription for a glass of mead, but this wasn’t always the case. However, during England’s earliest days, apothecaries used specific herb combinations that gave the drink healing properties. It was used to cure everything from depression to hypochondria, depending on the blends. These types of mead were known as metheglin, which is Welsh for medicine.
In ancient Greece, mead was thought to be the drink of the gods. People believed that the honey collected by bees was dew from the heavens. Also, like many other European countries, they thought that bees were divine messengers. Even though the drink doesn’t enjoy the same level of popularity it once did, it’s still a much-used staple in religious ceremonies. Warriors were even given mead post-battle because they felt that it had healing properties and would help them recover from their injuries quicker. Most likely, this practice ties into Odin, the Greek god of war.
2. What’s That Taste?
Since the basis for mead is honey, you may taste subtle differences when you drink it. A bee goes from flower to flower, and the pollen they pick up will give their honey a different taste. So, unique floral elements will give the drink a complexity absent in other beverages. Much like the growing seasons for wine and a myriad of other factors, your mead will undoubtedly never taste quite the same if you try different varieties.
1. Drink As Old As Time
Archaeologists found traces of the drink in Chinese pottery dating back to 9000 B.C. It was located in the Neolithic village of Jiahu, in Henan province, Northern China. Although many people typically think about Vikings and other Norse cultures when they hear mead, it was also a go-to drink for Mayans, Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks. An offshoot of mead called T’ej dates back to the fourth century in East Africa and is still enjoyed today.
Mead is one of the most amazing drinks because it is equal parts complicated and straightforward. Its history is as rich as its honey flavor. The beverage is loved by royalty and lords and ladies of a time long passed. Yet, it is also becoming popular for those who are searching for something different outside of their typical libations. Perhaps, while trying mead for the first time or sipping your next glass, you’ll pause and think about how you’re drinking something that is not only legendary but also potentially magical.