Mead is the type of beverage that you’d expect Thor, the Norse god of thunder, to guzzle and then smash his stein to the ground before shouting, “ANOTHER!” It is the drink of Vikings, Danish warriors, and many other historic figures.
Unless you’ve played period-piece video games or have a basic understanding of historic beverages, you may not have heard of mead (at least in terms of an alcoholic beverage).
However, in the mid-2010s, it has seen a notable resurgence in popularity. This can be attributed to the increased demand for craft beverages seen in the ubiquity of breweries, cideries, and distilleries.
Don’t call it a comeback, I been here for millennia. -mead
What is mead?
Mead is a category of alcohol (like wine or beer) made primarily from fermented honey. In other words, grapes are to wine as honey is to mead.
It is most often served at room temperature, but can also be chilled or served hot (120-130°F).
Mead dates way back to 7,000 B.C. in Crete, Northern China, and perhaps even thousands of years earlier in Southern Africa. This is far before any records of wine or other alcoholic drinks.
Fun fact: The term “honeymoon” was coined from the use of mead by newlyweds. According to Scandinavian history, the honey-based drink was given to brides and grooms for one full month based on one moon cycle after getting married. The idea was that drinking this alcoholic beverage would increase the chances of pregnancy.
What does it taste like?
Mead, like wine and beer, has many different variations. You might assume that since this beverage is made from honey, it tastes sweet like cotton candy wine. Yes, there are some very sweet versions, but there are some very dry types as well.
It can also be flavored with different fruits and garnishes that lead to an infinite array of flavors.
What are some different types?
There are 3 main types of unflavored mead:
There are dozens of different styles of mead:
- show mead – traditional style made only with honey, water, and yeast
- quick/short mead – made with low honey & alcohol content for faster fermentation and aging; light-bodied
- great/sack mead – made with high honey & alcohol content for longer fermentation and aging; full-bodied, sweet dessert wine-like taste
- acerglyn – made with maple syrup; sweet flavor
- bochet/dark – made with caramelized honey; sweet caramel/chocolatey flavor
- bochetomel – bochet with fruits
- braggot – a hybrid of mead and beer (a.k.a. honey beer)
- capsicumel – made with chili peppers to add spice or balance to flavors
- coffee – made with coffee or espresso beans
- cyser – made with fermented apple juice instead of water
- hydromel – made with light, delicate flavors; usually between 3.5% to 7.5% alcohol content
- session – a hydromel made with fruit, spices or hops; the lightest of all meads
- melomel – made with fruit
- black – a type of melomel made with black currants
- morat – a type of melomel made with mulberries
- oak – made by fermenting in oak barrels to exposed to oak
- oxymel – made with wine vinegar
- pyment – made with grapes or grape juice
- hippocras – a type of pyment made with herbs or spices
- metheglin – made with herbs and/or spices (e.g. cinnamon, vanilla, ginger or nutmeg)
- regional – made in a specific geographic location which produces unique characteristics
- rhodomel – made with rose petals
- sparkling – made with carbonation to give it fizz
Is mead healthy?
Mead can be considered healthy or unhealthy depending on what drinks you compare it to.
Compared with water, it may be considered unhealthy since it is a high-calorie beverage that contains sugar and alcohol. When ingested in excessive amounts on a regular basis, it can increase the risk of diabetes and obesity.
However, it is considered to be healthier than beer or wine since honey is more easily metabolized by the liver. It is gluten-free and sulfite-free, making it suitable for those with celiac disease, gluten sensitivities, and sulfite sensitivities. Because the primary ingredient is honey, it is commonly believed to hold the same health benefits as honey. Honey has antibacterial properties, contains antioxidants, can lower blood pressure, and is not as harmful to diabetics as sugar. (Note: Raw honey contains more health benefits than regular honey.)
Keep in mind that the alcohol by volume (ABV) of mead can range anywhere between 3.5–20.5%, depending on the fermentation process. So while drinking one of type of mead might not even give you a buzz, another type of mead can get you drunk.
Where to buy mead
Looking for mead near you? Zoom in on this interactive map to find a local meadery!
Know of other places that serve mead? Add them to the comments below!
How to make mead
Want to try your hand at making this delicious beverage at home? Here is a simple 3-ingredient recipe that you can test out for yourself!
- 1.5-2.5 pounds raw unfiltered honey
- approx. 1/2 gallon water (filtered or bottled)
- 1/2 packet wine yeast
- Sterilize all equipment. (Here are some sterilization methods.)
- Boil water in large pot.
- Remove pot of boiling water from heat. When the water is no longer bubbling, add honey and mix until fully incorporated.
- With a funnel, carefully pour honey in jug.
- Place lid and gently shake to mix contents. Allow to cool (at least 30 mins).
- Open jug and use thermometer to check temperature of liquid. When below 90°F, add in yeast.
- Top jug off with water and replace lid. Shake gently to evenly mix contents.
- Allow to sit in a dark place at room temperature for 2-6 weeks to ferment (until bubbles stop surfacing).
- Pour into bottles and enjoy! (Feel free to age in sealed bottles up to 6 months.)
Mead improves with time, so the longer you age your mead, the better it will taste. Also, please drink responsibly.
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Kristina Reynolds is the Founder & CEO of Glutto and an alumna of the University of California, San Diego. She writes articles & posts for Glutto Digest with insights from fellow industry experts. Furthermore, she is the author of The Fittest Food Lovers: How EVERY BODY Can be Incredibly Fit and Still Enjoy Food, a collaborative philanthropic book with proceeds going to charities that fight world hunger.