All About MEad
Here is the episode transcription of the section about Mead and its amazing history.
When I think of villagers and Vikings, I think of ale being drunk from a flagon or mead from the horn of an animal, willfully foregoing water. And this depreciation isn't inaccurate. In the early centuries, water was anything but clean. People bathed, pooped, poisoned, and even died in the water. But ale and mead were always there to satiate after a day of pillaging.
By far the most popular mid-winter celebratory drink was and is mead. Represented in almost every early century film or television show as “wine or beer”. Mead is in fact neither wine nor beer.
Mead has long often been confused for beer or wine. But Mead actually has its own category and profession. Mead was traditionally made from just honey, airborne yeast, and water. The American Mead Makers Association’s (AMMA) official definition classifies the sweet beverage as derived either from honey and water, or from a mixture of honey and water with hops, fruit, spices, grain, or other agricultural products and flavors; but stipulates that honey must represent the largest percentage of the starting fermentable sugars by weight.
Like wine, mead is also left to age comparatively longer than beer – an average of 2 to 3 years. And unlike both beer and wine, beer, Mead's alcohol content ranges between 6 and 20 percent ABV, depending on the fermentation; whereas wine and beer typically come in at a much lower ABV.
Mead pre-dates both beer and wine by not hundreds, but thousands of years. Historian, journalist, and writer Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat even went so far as to say mead could be regarded as “the ancestor of all fermented drinks, antedating even the cultivation of the soil” – and there is some evidence to support this.
According to a recent article by BBC, in Northern China, pottery vessels containing chemical signatures of a mixture of honey, rice, and other fruits, along with organic compounds of fermentation, were dated around 6,500 and 7,000 BC.
In Europe, it is first attested in residual samples found in ceramics from 2,800 to 1,800 BC. Because the ancient Greeks thought of bees as messengers of the heavens, they reportedly referred to mead as “the nectar of the gods,” using it in a variety of sacred rituals.
mead is even credited for the term “honeymoon,” as it was historically served at weddings and gifted to newlyweds. The couple would drink it in excess a “moon” – or month – after their ceremony to enhance fertility.
So honey is the primary ingredient in mead. But with that in mind take a moment to consider that there are as many possible types of honey as there are flowering plants fertilized by bees in the world. Then take into account that with each changing year and season. the honey harvested will yield different flavors depending on rain, nutrients in the soil, plant and bee health, and so many more factors. That's just one huge crazy piece of the recipe. Don’t forget to factor in the type of yeast and technique used in production, aging, and the addition of fruit or spice – all of which will impact the taste and mouthfeel of the final product. With so many variables, it’s easy to see how this drink can boast such an incredible variety, ranging from still, carbonated, or sparkling; to dry, semi-sweet, or sweet; and thick or light.
However, you decide to enjoy Mead, it's obvious that it's experiencing a steady and successful resurgence. (AMMA) indicated that on average, a meadery opens in the US every 3 days. There are roughly 500 meaderies in the US alone.