Mead is a honey-based alcoholic drink. It has many healing qualities and health benefits. Traditional mead is still made from honey and water, with a little yeast and lemon juice. The origins of mead go back to the most ancient of times. It features in mythology, legends, pagan rituals and funeral customs, and is thought to be an aphrodisiac. Mead is now much less familiar than it was in the days when it was commonly drunk during the first month of marriage, or the honey-moon period, as a health drink, to give the couple extra energy and stamina, and in the belief it would help them to conceive a strong healthy boy.
The history of mead
Long before land was cultivated by our early ancestors, honey from wild bees was mixed with water and left to ferment. In time this would become a potent sweet 'nectar'.
The ancient Greeks kept bees and collected honey for the purpose of making mead. The mead would have been stored in an amphora, a long-necked pot, and poured into shallow bowl-shaped pottery drinking vessels. The immortality of Greek gods was attributed to their diet of nectar and ambrosia, possibly a liquid form of fermented honey.
The Romans had a drink, similar to mead, called mulsum, which was wine sweetened with honey. Pyment, a blend of grape juice or wine and honey, is still being produced.
It has been documented that early mead drinkers used specially carved animal horns, and by the fourteenth century mead these were replaced by traditional maplewood drinking vessels known as mazers.
Different types of mead
Herbs or spices were often added to the honey to make a medicinal form of mead called metheglin. Various kinds of fruit and berries were added to the honey and water to make a form of mead known as melomel. Fermented apples and honey were used to produce a potent drink called cyser.
Braggot, or bracket, was a type of ale made with malt and honey. Sack mead was sweeter than the usual mead, made by adding extra honey during fermentation and kept for least four years in an oak barrel, until it developed its full maturity. Regular mead usually takes one year to mature.
Over the past three centuries the use of honey as a general sweetener has been replaced by a wider use of sugar, and therefore fewer people have felt the necessity of keeping their own bees. Ale, lager, beer, wine and spirits have become much more popular drinks.
The International Mead Association now hosts an annual mead festival in Colorado, U.S.A. Mead will continue to be enjoyed by those who appreciate its traditional qualities and value it as one of the most ancient alcoholic drinks in the world.