What Is Mead?

Mead is an ancient drink that has survived over the centuries. But what exactly is mead and where can you try some?

It may have been at a special event, such as a wedding or an anniversary that you first noticed the rather odd bottle of liquor sitting at the table. You take a sip and find it enticing, sweet and filling. Your host or hostess reply to your query that you're drinking mead. But what is mead and why has it started to gain in popularity among the general public?

Let's look at the basics first. Mead is basically an alcoholic drink consisting of honey, water and yeast that have been fermented, much like beer. It may contain other ingredients, such as spices or herbs to enhance the flavor; possibly different types of fruit depending on the circumstances.

But where did this drink come from? Honey has been harvested around the world from the very earliest signs of human settlement, when man learnt how to deal with the honeybee and to dip into the sweet hives and retrive the sticky liquid. It didn't take a long time before humans discovered either by accident or by planned intervention that fermented honey, water and yeast added a very different taste to the drink. At the same time the idea of fermenting grapes was also taking root, so the flourishing industry depended more on what was available in what area as far as resources went to create a local drink.

Mead became popular all the way from Ethopia, where it was named "tej" to Finland where it was called "sima". Of course all these countries used honey as a base for their drink but then added whatever local herbs and fruits were available. Because of the sweet taste this drink became more popular than beer and wine in many locations, becoming a favorite local and state drink. In fact, during one Crusade a Polish Prince complained to the Pope that his knights could not go all the way to Palestine because there was no mead to be had!

In fact one common word used today has a direct link back to the days when mead was a popular drink. The word "honeymoon" refers to the old wedding custom of the father of the bride delivering a month's worth of mead to the groom and his family as part of the dowry.

So why isn't mead as popular today as it was in the past? Blame it on an aggressive wine industry that expanded beyond the local vineyard, with various types of grapes that could withstand different weather conditions and thrive where before there would be no chance of a grape surviving. It didn't take too long before mead became more of a local delicacy, made by small brewmasters and home brewers who wanted to keep the tradition alive.

You can probably find mead in your local liquor store if you look hard enough; there has been a concentrated effort by European brewers to try and resuscitate this ancient drink to compete with the wine and beer market. You can, of course, brew up a batch at home but this requires a lot of equipment and of course training in order to make sure your mead is safe to drink.

And of course you can always ask around and see if there's a local brewery or brewmaster who is busy bottling mead for a small but enthusiastic market. Odds are that once you find a supplier, be it international or local, that you won't lack for this sweet drink.

Mead has roots in the ancient world, with historical connections to the Greeks, the Romans and almost every country on record. The next time you frequent your local liquor store why not ask the manager if he or she has a bottle of mead on their shelves or can order in one for you? After all, it was good enough for the Norse gods - why not for you?

© High Speed Ventures 2011