Contrary to popular belief, mead is older than beer. New studies have shown that mead more than likely started back in the hunter-gatherer communities of our older predecessors (think 8,000ish years ago). Many scientists now think that these people who roamed the earth stumbled, quite literally, upon some fermented combination of honey and water in the earth and drank that, or maybe they found an overturned beehive that had this fermented brew in it and…POOF!…their drunken selves fell to the earth with this new found discovery (you can use your imagination here). The rest is, as you would say, history. So, again, why is this beverage not very well known? The answer: the advent of agriculture.
We won’t go into too much detail here, but when humans discovered they could culture and grow mass amounts of grain and grapes it was just easier, more practical and way cheaper to create beer and wine. Bees are a complex organism that can sting you and, although honey is tasty, it can’t sustain an entire nation’s food requirements. Grapes and grain could also be preserved via fermentation and last an entire winter. Honey, as an antimicrobial, doesn’t require preservation. Therefore the need to ferment it is diminished. All of this lead mead to be considered a royalty beverage. Over time wine and beer came to be the drink of choice and mead was forgotten, but not for long.
Now you have a little history under your belt about the introduction of mead and how it is made….So now we ask what mead is. Answer: Take some water, honey, and yeast in a container. Put an airlock on it and let it set anywhere from a couple of weeks to years and…drum roll please….you have mead. If you want to add in some fruits or vegetables, call it a melomel. Maybe you want to add some herbs and spices in the mix? You have a nice metheglin. One of the main reasons that mead is making a comeback (and it ties into one of the most important aspects of mead) is it’s taste. Depending on your palate, it is recommended you research the honey you want to use to achieve the level of sweetness/dryness you wish to create.
It doesn’t stop there. When it comes to taste, the temperature of the room and the type of yeast that you use can alter the taste of the final product. There are now companies out there that actually create strains of yeast that can help you create flavors you want to hone in on (hello White Labs). You can literally have mead as sweet and rich as a port and as dry and light as a sauvignon blanc and make everyone at your party happy. Try finding a beer that can match that array.
The main difference between wine and mead is that they both use different ingredients in the fermentation process. With wines, you use fruit, yeast, water and a few other ingredients to feed the yeast and then to stabilize the acidity. With traditional mead, you use honey, water, yeast, and maybe some nutrient and energizer.
If you are a little lost on mead making, you can read The Compleat Meadmaker by Ken Schramm, as well as a few other books that will help you start your mead making journey. We used this to inspire us in our first recipes.
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Cheers to all things mead!