What exactly is Mead? It is a delicious honey wine that is made from fermented honey in lieu of grapes, along with water and yeast and has been enjoyed by Celtic nations for centuries. Mead may be made in a range of styles from dry to off-dry to full on sweet, with some producers bringing fruit, herbs, and even spices into the Mead-making mix. Similar to wine, some Meads are built to age a bit and can end up with a Port or Sherry-like character.
The history of Mead is as long and rich and captivating as the beverage itself. Mead is thought to be the oldest alcoholic beverages known to man. It was most likely discovered quite by accident, when some thirsty hunter-gathers discovered an upturned beehive filled with rainwater. They drank the sweet water completely unaware of what fermentation and alcohol were and experienced the first intoxication. Likely it was in a quest to replicate this experience the art of mead-making was begun.
The tapestry of mead history is rich and wonderful. References are littered throughout history and literature. Chaucer speaks of making Claret sweeter with the addition of honey. In 1771 Smollett writes that knowledge of mead-making is considered one of the arts of a true country gentleman. Queen Elizabeth was known to have her own favorite recipe, including rosemary, bay leaves, sweet briar and thyme. But perhaps Howell, Clerk to the Privy Council, said it best in 1640 when he wrote, “The juice of bees, not Bacchus, here behold, Which British Bards were wont to quaff of old; The berries of the grape with Furies swell, But in the honey comb the Graces dwell.”