Column What is mead? How an ancient tradition became the modern drink of choice.
The elixir of the Vikings and then the Middle Ages, mead is as old as it gets when it comes to beverages. But these days it has regained a name for itself, as craft drinking culture has grown and old recipes have become new again.
So, just exactly what is mead? Simple: fermented honey. Mead is also known as honey wine, and just like honey has had almost magical powers throughout the ages, it’s no surprise that people started turning it into a drink long ago.
But what’s intriguing about mead, is that it’s a libation that can truly embody the spirit of “drink local.” In London recently, I came across a bottle of Gosnells. “From bee to bottle” it said on the label, a nod to the fact that the honey is produced in Southeast London, on the exact same site where the mead is produced and bottled. It doesn’t really get much more local than that, and meaderies around the world are doing the same thing.
The Viking connection to mead is strong, and in Norse mythology the drink had special powers, referred to as the Mead of Poetry. Norse gods created a man called Kvasir, and he was the wisest man that ever lived. No one was able to ask him a question to which he couldn’t find an answer. But when people always have the right answer, it’s easy to have enemies. He was invited into the home of two dwarves, and they killed him, brewing mead with his blood. Anyone who drank this drink would become as intelligent as Kvasir; the mead an instant way to become a poet or a scholar. The drink of the Nordic Diet so to say.
No wonder we’re seduced by the idea of mead. But mead isn’t the only popular drink on the craft booze market. There are also beer/honey concoctions, known as braggot, an old beer style that’s making a comeback. There’s Brooklyn Brewery’s Buzz Bomb and the Viking Braggot Company in Eugene, Oregon. Considering the plight of honey bees, anything that promotes their survival – like eating and drinking their honey – is a good thing.
The base of mead – honey, water and yeast to get the fermentation going – can be the starting point for many different flavors, as mead makers can add spices and other ingredients to flavor the mead, like fruits, and even vegetables. Beet mead, anyone? Whether they’re purists or brewers that like to play around, more and more mead enthusiasts are popping up everywhere from San Francisco, where you can buy a Buzzerkeley, to B Nektar in Michigan, which makes Zombie Killer, a blend of Michigan honey, cherries and apples, to Honeygirl Meadery in North Carolina, known for fruity mead blends, like fig mead. In fact, the production of mead is growing so popular that the number of meaderies in the U.S. has more than doubled in the last three years.
But you don’t need a brewery to get your mead fix. As a staple ancient drink, the mead production process is simple, and you can make mead yourself at home, without much more than honey, water and yeast. If you are a true mead enthusiast, there’s the mead-devoted website GotMead.com, which has lots of resources for getting started on your own mead production.
From bee to bottle in the spirit of the Vikings? That deserves a heartfelt skål.
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This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at www.foodieunderground.com.
Images: Anna Brones, Steve Guzzardi