Mead: What is it and how do you make it?

We got the Valley Cyzer Apple Honey Wine half-hiding there on the left side. Locally-made in Western Mass by Green River Ambrosia.

Mead! The ancient drink. One of the world’s oldest fermented beverages and the reason behind the word “honeymoon”—good thing Dave and I did not drink it after the wedding, if the mead had been “proper,” we’d currently have a bun in the oven! (Side reminder that Dave and I need to learn how to make our own bread).

So… What do I mean by all this nonsense? Let’s start from the beginning. Mead is an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting a mixture of honey and water, with at least 50 percent of the fermentable sugars coming from honey.[1][2]

And what was all that about the bun in the oven? Well,

“Mead was a part of the rituals of the Celts, AngloSaxons and Vikings. It was believed to have magical, healing powers even capable of increasing fertility. The word honeymoon is derived from the practice of the newlyweds drinking mead for one month (a moon) after the wedding. If the mead was “proper,” a son would be born nine months later.”[1]

If you would like to read further on the topic, you can read the rest of this cool article on the Art and Science Behind Making Mead. The article provides you a background on mead as well as (perhaps more importantly) a guide on how to brew it yourself for those enthusiastic home-brewers—we’re looking at you, Varun—including basic mead recipes/formulae and several variations with diversified flavors. Interestingly, mead-brewing equipment is similar to that used in brewing beer, even though the current licensing for brewing mead classifies it as a wine.[2]

We stopped by Nejaime’s Wine in Lenox last weekend and got some Valley Cyzer Apple Honey Wine. My first thought upon tasting mead: “This tastes like the best beer I’ve ever had!” Even though it’s obviously not beer per se, but that’s what my mind decided to feed me on instinct. The alcohol content felt comparably mild at first, though, and after a few sips it felt as strong as regular wine, and then as strong as vodka—you will not find a high tolerance to alcohol in this household… Mostly because we fall asleep before being able to “tolerate” it.

The labeling behind this sweet alcoholic nectar can spark a bit of controversy, though, since mead is often considered to be a specialty beer and there is some discrepancy between honey wine and mead, so that some consider them to be the same thing while others emphasize their differences, with mead having a higher percentage of honey, often having grain or herbs, and being aged longer than honey wine.[3] On a less technical note, Dave and I found that after leaving our honey wine open for a while and/or overnight in a mug in the fridge, the flavor of honey becomes a lot more prominent. (Not sure whether there were other factors—perhaps even involving perception—involved. Will have to further test this hypothesis.)

Found the National Honey Board site if you’d like to “Discover the natural wonders of honey”!

References

[1] “Making Mead: the Art and the Science” by the National Honey Board http://web.mit.edu/adorai/Public/makingmead.pdf
[2] “The Alchemy of Mead” by Dawn Hibbard at Kettering University, 2006  https://news.kettering.edu/news/alchemy-mead
[3] “What’s the Difference Between Mead and Honey Wine (T’ej)?” by Joel MacCharles of WellPreserved.ca http://www.wellpreserved.ca/whats-the-difference-between-mead-and-honey-wine-tej/