Admit it, you thought the only time mead was consumed nowadays was at Renaissance Fairs or following a rousing day of LARPing – that’s Live Action Role Playing, for those of you not in the know. But, contrary to popular belief, this ancient honey wine is not just for the Dungeons and Dragons set. Made since ancient times from fermented honey and water, mead is a great drink to add to your fall table, especially if you’ll be celebrating Rosh Hashanah this week. Think of mead as the more adult version of apples and honey with the mead being your honey and a delicious slice of sweet apple cake standing in for the traditional apple slice.
We can trace mead’s origins all the way back to 7000 BCE and mainland China, where archeological digs have unearthed ancient pottery with mead residue inside. From there the recipe for mead traveled to Europe and Africa. In both locations historians believe mead caught on in places where the climates and/or soils didn’t support healthy grape production. With no ability to make wine, mead was a great option, since all one needed was access to bees and water.
As society progressed and we developed the ability to trade with locations much further away from us, many forgot about Mmad, losing the need for it with the influx of wine from other regions. But some cultures across the world maintained mead as a staple beverage, including Ethiopia, which continued to perfect the beverage known as Tej — a beverage that is still drunk at Ethiopian tables to this day.
Recently, mead has experienced a resurgence in the U.S., with craft meaderies opening across the country to brew meads of all different styles. While the traditional sweet mead can still be found, craft mead brewers are now making meads that truly push the boundaries of the beverage, from the very dry and bubbly almost sparkling wine style, to the sweet and fruity that is reminiscent of Riesling.
As the industry has expanded, so has experimentation, with many brewers striving to make meads that not only appeal to their tastes, but that of their peers as well. In many instances, this means new styles of the elixir mixed with fresh fruits and berries, or meads that are “hopped” and made in the style of an American IPA. While mead used to also be a beverage that, historically, was simply fermented and then bottled, some brewers have started to age it like wine, letting the mead rest in stainless steel or oak for up to a year before placing it in the bottle. The result of all of this experimentation is a high quality beverage that is definitely like nothing you may have had with that turkey leg ten years ago at the Renaissance Fair.
Just like wine, mead can only be great if the ingredients used to make it are, and for mead that all begins with the flowers. Because the base ingredients of mead are simply water and honey, the flowers the bees visited in the process of creating their sticky sweet syrup are incredibly important. Some people say drinking mead is like drinking the elixir of thousands of flowers at once and each mead can have completely different characteristics depending on the types of flowers visited by the bees.
Because mead is usually at least a little sweet, it’s a great accompaniment for spicier foods, which is probably why it’s been a constant on the Ethiopian table for all this time. It also pairs wonderfully with stews, hard sharp cheese and of course desserts.
So add mead to your table, and say cheers to a sweet new year — you won’t be disappointed.
Here are a few Meaderies we like:
Maine Mead Works – Certified Kosher