The History of Mead

Mead is actually a wine! Instead of being made from grapes, it is actually made from honey! And it’s quite good! Because of all this, Mead is also sometimes called “honey wine”. In addition to the basic simple ingredients of Mead (honey, yeast, spring water), it can also be “spiced” or even “herbed”. Common spices include nutmeg, cinnamon or cloves (a concoction often referred to as being “Mulled” when warmed up and served on a cold wintry evening), and such herbs as chamomile, lavender, hops or even oregano have been used to vary the taste. If spices and herbs fail to offer enough variety, it’s possible to layer in small amounts of fruit (although purists would probably no longer call the result a “true Mead”).

The art of making Mead has been with us for many years and was mentioned as early as 1700-1100 B.C. In England today, “English Mead” remains one of their oldest alcoholic beverages.

As Mead became more and more popular, the demand for fresh honey soon outgrew the natural production capability of the bees that made it. With higher demands, came higher prices which ultimately resulted in a search for a cheaper substitute to aid in the fermentation process. To that end, the humble grape quickly became the preferred ingredient in wine making and remains so to this very day.

Today, the art of making Mead is experiencing a “come back”. With a wide variety of yeasts to choose from, and the modern ability to import honey from distant locations, Mead now enjoys many new and exciting flavors. (Special note: If you purchase Mead that is spelled “M e a d e” with a final “e” on the end, you are most likely buying a hybrid that contains both honey and white wine).

Here is an early recipe from “The Flowing Bowl – 19th Century Cocktail Bar Recipes” by Edward Spencer:

“Take of spring water what quantity you please, and make it more than blood-warm, and dissolve honey in it till ’tis strong enough to bear an Egg, the breadth of a shilling; then boil it gently near an hour, taking off the scum as it rises; then put to about nine or ten gallons seven or eight large blades of mace, three nutmegs quartered, twenty cloves, three or four sticks of cinnamon, two or three roots of ginger, and a quarter of an ounce of Jamaica pepper; put these spices into the kettle to the honey and water, a whole lemon, with a sprig of sweet-briar and a sprig of rosemary; tie the briar and rosemary together, and when they have boiled a little while take them out and throw them away; but let your liquor stand on the spice in a clean earthen pot till the next day; then strain it into a vessel that is fit for it; put the spice in a bag, and hang it in the vessel, stop it, and at three months draw it into bottles. Be sure that ’tis fine when ’tis bottled; after ’tis bottled six weeks ’tis fit to drink.”

Ah yes, back in the “good old days” you couldn’t just go buy a cake of yeast to get the fermentation process rolling. What to do what to do? Well, yeast and bacteria was all around! Oh yeah. And if you slipped some fruit skin or even had some honey sitting around long enough… you had live yeast and other bacteria ready to do the job! Not to worry though. As the yeast made alcohol, the alcohol killed anything too nasty. This is why, in the days when water was often too contaminated to drink, people drank Mead instead!!! Thankfully, today we have custom made yeasts which are so tailor made they’re actually associated with different types of Mead.

Just as you can make “Apple Jack” from Cider, you can make “Honey Jack” from Mead. This can be done by partially freezing some Mead, and then pouring off any liquid that doesn’t have crystals. (I know someone who used to do that with Rolling Rock Beer… but THAT is another story!!!).

Related Posts:

Olde Recipes for Mead and Metheglyn

External Links:

History and Magic of Mead – By Richard B. Webb
A Brief History of Mead – By Sky River Mead
A Brief History of Mead – By Lady Bridget and Lord Riekin
Mead – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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