Gastronomists and brew fanatics take heed: we have honey mead making kits and resources in our online store, and mead available at our retail locations (Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and Bedford Square in Westport, Connecticut, excluded). It’ll be a historical and gustatory delight for those of you who enjoy trying new things, and a whole new way to enjoy honey.
But perhaps you’ve heard of mead without ever diving into its history before. It’s growing in popularity, and the scope of its cultural influence may surprise you. But if you haven’t tried it, or your only experience with it is seeing a label at a liquor store, you might not know its backstory.
What Exactly Is Honey Mead?
It might surprise you to learn that most historians and archaeologists agree that mead is actually the oldest alcoholic beverage in the world. While the widespread use of mead throughout Northern Europe (think the meadhalls of Beowulf and kin) would not come till thousands of years later, the first alcoholic beverages created from fermented honey arose nearly 9,000 years ago.
The exact origin is contested, and since mead enjoyed a wide, cosmopolitan distribution throughout much of the Old World, some suggest that the first mead may have been intentionally brewed in Greece around 8,000 or 9,000 years ago. There is evidence to support this, but some theorize that it originated elsewhere, since it is mentioned explicitly in the Rig Veda, a holy Hindu text. There are even some that believe honey was intentionally allowed to ferment in hollowed-out wooden containers in Africa over 200,000 years ago!
Today, at its most basic, honey mead is an alcoholic drink that is sometimes called honey wine - but though these drinks are similar, they are by no means the same. Generally speaking, mead is a fermented drink that is created from honey and water, along with yeast and potentially some additional ingredients. The yeast in the water feeds on the sugars in the honey, creating alcohol as a by-product.
Mead can be either sweet or dry, but even dry meads retain the distinct signature, almost sweetness of the honey from which they have been brewed. There are also many variations on the “basic” mead. For example, metheglin is a type of mead that has been brewed or flavored with spices, and melomel is a mead that has been brewed or flavored with fruits. Owing to its age and widespread distribution, there is no shortage of variety in types of honey mead.
Mead has a long and rich history of consumption throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa, and figures widely in historical and cultural texts. In fact, though mead was never as popular in the United States as grain fermented beverages like ales, among some the tradition persists of giving a gift of mead as a wedding gift - and in fact, it is believed that this is where the term “honeymoon” originated: from giving a gift of traditional mead brewed with honey.
Can You Make Your Own?
One of the great things about this unique drink is that there is a rich cultural tradition in some areas of brewing your own for personal consumption, much as there has been for producing cider from a crop of apples, or wine, or beer.
At its most basic, all you need to make your own homemade mead is honey, water, and yeast, along with some yeast nutrients and the right equipment. Here at Savannah Bee Company, we can see to all of that!
You’ll also need a mead recipe in order to create your own sweet mead, along with herbs and spices if you want to flavor it. Lucky for you, there is a wealth of resources readily available from a variety of mead makers associations, such as the American Mead Makers’ Association. Everything you need to create a delicious batch of mead is right at your fingertips.
For example, our Mead Making Kit comes with yeast and yeast nutrients, as well as a 1-gallon carboy, an airlock, a rubber stopper, a siphon, thermometer tape, a funnel, and detailed instructions for producing a gallon batch. Of course, we also sell honey, so we have everything you need!
We also sell a unique resource, our Make Mead Like a Viking book by Jereme Zimmerman, which contains a wealth of information and guidance on brewing honey-based beers and meads. Rich with historical information, tips and techniques, the book dives into the culture and rituals surrounding mead’s widespread use throughout the world.
Learn More About Mead!
Perhaps the first step in brewing your own delectable honey mead at home is giving it a taste before you do so if only so you know what style of mead you’d like to brew, or what type of honey you’d like to use. To do that, you’ll have to come and visit us at one of our locations.
While we don’t sell mead online, we love to see our valued customers in-store - and in some of them, we offer mead. Take a look at our locations and see which one is closest to you, then make it a point to visit and learn more about mead and mead making.