It’s Mead Time is an up close and personal look at mead, an adult beverage fermented with honey and water that dates back centuries, and its continuing rise in popularity throughout craft libations circles. Each month, together with Scott Neeley, Founder and mead maker at KingView Mead, we look to deliver news, information, and commentary about ‘The Hero’s Drink’ and bring you plenty of reasons why mead should be added to your consumption list.
The Great Mead World Tour
The current adult beverage renaissance you and I are enjoying is pretty outstanding and, as diverse and plentiful as our options have become, it’s pretty cool when you realize the drinking culture of today is the continuation of something that dates back hundreds, even thousands of years. In other words, our predecessors liked to hit the sauce as much as we do. In fact, when the framers of the United States Constitution got together to complete the document that basically laid out the direction of our nation in 1787, a receipt from a local tavern said the 177 delegates consumed the following: 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, 8 bottles of whiskey, 22 bottles of porter, 8 bottles of hard cider, 12 bottles of beer, and 7 bowls of alcoholic punch.
If history is any guide, we know that some pretty great accomplishments come together over a tasty libation. When it comes to mead, you have to go back…waaaaaaay back…in the history books to discover when the first mead touched human lips. Many reports say the honey-based wine’s lineage goes back 8,000 years while others say it may date back even further. What’s fascinating about this adult beverage is that many, including my mead partner-in-crime Scott Neeley of KingView Mead, consider it to be the godfather of all potent potables. Think about that. The incredibly diverse portfolio of drink choices we have at our disposal today…may have all begun with mead. If you haven’t grown an appreciation for mead yet, maybe that fact will nudge you in the right direction.
In addition to potentially starting it all, the history of mead spans the globe. And each part of the map has its own interpretations and creators. For example, some of the oldest meads on record were born on the Island of Crete, the largest island in Greece, where wine had not yet come to pass. The term for ‘drunk’ in classical Greek vernacular was stated as ‘honey-intoxicated.’
Back in the day, a very popular drink across Northern Europe was Polish mead that was produced by monks in monasteries in areas of the country where grapes could not be grown. It was the preferred drink of the Polish-Lithuanian ‘szlatchta,’ which translates to ‘nobility’ and Polish Prince Leszek explained to the Pope that Polish knights could not participate in the Crusades because there was no mead in Palestine. Coincidentally, this is one of the first documented cases of people helping people. As years went on, mead’s popularity waned once wines became available via importation.
Making the leap to Russia, mead remained incredibly popular despite its decline in Western countries and was known as ‘medovukha’ and ‘sbiten.’ Sbiten is referenced often by 19th century Russian writers such as Gogol, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy and was affectionately known as the nectar of the gods in many countries.
Finland was the home of a sweet mead known as ‘Sima’ and, to this day, is still an essential seasonal beverage connected with the Finnish Vappu, or ‘May Day,’ Festival. It is typically spiced by adding both the pulp and the rind of a lemon with raisins added during secondary fermentation to control the amount of sugars in the the concoction, as well as to act as an indicator of readiness for consumption (the raisins rise to the top of the bottle when the drink is ready).
Mead, or ‘tej,’ as it was known in Ethiopia, is flavored with the powdered leaves and bark of ‘gesho,’ a bittering agent similar to a hop which is derived from the buckthorn. A sweeter, less-alcoholic version of Ethiopian mead called ‘berz,’ aged for a shorter time and also found its way into the early libation rotation. Ethiopians drank tej from a rounded vase-shaped container known as a ‘berele.’
Have you updated your passport yet? It’s fascinating to know that mead, while created differently, helped so many people from ancient times imbibe. There is also evidence that mead was made in parts of India, China, Japan, Southeast Asia, and Central Africa. Mead is still made in various parts of the world, capturing the essence of traditional mead creation practices in modern times. In fact, The Holy Island of Lindisfarne in Northeast England still makes mead and continues a rich tradition that dates back to Anglo-Saxon times.
To conclude, here’s a fun fact: the word “honeymoon” can supposedly be traced back to the practice of a bride’s father dowering her with enough mead for a month-long celebration of her marriage. So…maybe forget the cakes and cookie tables and just start setting up mead stations at all receptions? That sounds lovely.
Want to learn more about mead? Check out Mead Day 2017 on August 5th!