A modern day resurgence is happening with the consumption of one of the world’s oldest and most legendary beverages. Romanced in Norse legends and a favourite tipple in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, mead is once again popular among the trendy youth today.
It is thought that Mead was discovered by accident. Some ancient travellers stumbled upon a beehive that had filled with rainwater. Parched with dry throats, they consumed the sweet honey water to quench their thirst. Unaware that the honey would have fermented in the water, they soon became intoxicated.
Clean, drinkable, fresh water was not always easy to find in ancient times, so alcohol, having anti-bacterial properties made beverages safe for drinking. The practice of boiling water to make teas and also rid it of pathogens came later on.
In ancient Greece, Mead was referred to as “Ambrosia” or “Nectar” and was reputed to be the drink of the gods. They believed the liquid descended from heaven as dew before being gathered by bees. It was a pagan tradition for brides and grooms to drink mead, made from honey, at their wedding and for a month afterwards. The term “honeymoon” was borne from this practice.
Monks are the first to have produced and drunk Mead in the UK and Ireland. An irony to be sure, considering Mead was considered to be a powerful aphrodisiac, enhancing virility and fertility! When many monastries were dissolved in the 16th century by King Henry VIII, Mead production virtually disappeared.
During the Middle Ages, it was more expensive to buy than wine and beer and so was more popular among the nobility. Peasants who enjoyed the drink, would produce their own of inferior quality brew. In Wales the drink was brewed with herbs and spices to treat a number of illnesses and became known as Metheglin, from the Welsh word ‘medcyglin’, meaning medicine. When mixed with the borage or starflower herb it was used on hypochondriacs.
Over the centuries, Mead was consumed both young and sweet (after fermentation), and also aged and therefore drier tasting, preferred by the Vikings.
Today, Mead production is once again popular, particularly in North America. There are more than 500 meaderies on the continent, several hailing from British Columbia and Alberta. Modern production of Mead often involves playing with flavours, enhancing the honey based beverage with dried flowers, elderflower, herbs and spices. While traditionally very alcoholic, with a content of about 16 or 17 per cent, modern meads contain much less alcohol settling in between 6-11%.
In Edmonton, we are the largest retail seller of Alberta mead, featuring the range of products from Chinook Arch Meadery, Fallen Timber, and Grey Owl Mead.
Trendy bars capitalizing in the resurgence of Cocktail Culture are including Mead as a component in popular drinks.
Next time you want to try something a little different, drink some Mead. Valentines Day is coming, perhaps you can sweeten it up a little!