Understanding Mead

Understand the history, origin, and unique story behind mead and why it is such a popular home brewed fermented beverage.

| October 2018

  • jars of honey
    In history, mead was discovered when people wanted to extract honey. The combs were crushed and rinsed creating honey-infused water that fermented and could be enjoyed as mead.
    Photo by Skyhorse Publishing
  • Jars of honey
    The taste of mead is highly influenced by the type of honey that is used for flavoring.
    Photo by Skyhorse Publishing
  • bee on a sunflower
    Bees and mead are very interconnected and it is a cause for concern that the number is bees has dropped significantly over the years.
    Photo by Skyhorse Publishing
  • book cover
    “The Joy of Brewing Cider, Mead, and Herbal Wine: How to Craft Seasonal Fast-Brew Favorites at Home” by Nancy Koziol guides readers through home brewing cider, mead, and herbal wine in simple, easy to follow steps. Readers learn about ethical consumption, sustainable farming and the science of fermenting all while waiting a matter of weeks for the brews to be complete.
    Cover courtesy Skyhorse Publishing

  • jars of honey
  • Jars of honey
  • bee on a sunflower
  • book cover

Understanding Mead

What Is Mead?

“Take rainwater kept for several years, and mix a sextarius of this water with a 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 forty days, and then left on a shelf near the fire. If you have no rain water, then boil spring water.” — Columella

The nectar of the gods, mead, is a storied drink that, like many things in history, has been attributed to a group through popular culture references. In the case of mead, it is tied to the Vikings. These Scandinavian seafaring explorers who traversed the Atlantic are often pictured drinking the fermented honey from goblets. But the Vikings were most active between 700–1100 AD and Columella was writing about how to home-brew the drink nearly 700 years earlier. Believe it or not, mead is even older than that. It may, in fact, be the oldest alcoholic beverage on earth.

Each glass of mead you drink holds a long history. But what exactly is mead?

A Simple Recipe, a Complex Drink

At its core, mead is a fermented alcoholic beverage made from three ingredients: honey, water, and yeast. It was likely discovered by accident, as most alcoholic beverages were. Chances are, water that had sat in a hive and fermented with the help of airborne yeast was drunk. In addition to being tasty, the drinker likely felt pretty good. It was only a matter of time before the process was figured out so that man could make it for himself.

When it comes to fermented alcoholic beverages, mead is most similar to wine. Just like a wine can be dry, sweet, or semisweet, and still or sparkling, so can a mead. Wine can be mixed with other spices, herbs, and fruits and, yes, so can mead.

Both wine and mead use three ingredients, two of which are water and yeast. But when making mead, the grapes are replaced with honey. One of the reasons people lose interest in mead is they assume that it can’t be very complex or express itself in myriad ways. But they are wrong. And this is even more true when making mead at home. Mead is just as complex as wine, thanks to a few factors.



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