If you have ever been to a Medieval or Viking festival, you will notice that they do not just sell the odd, ancient clothes or souvenirs, but they also sell a large variety of traditional meads.
Mead, also known as the old drink of the gods, has been popular for thousands of years, and we even drink it today.
The 250 meaderies in the USA, and many more around the world, are living proof of this.
Mead is often compared to beer but there are some clear differences. In this article, we explore what mead is and how it differs from traditional beer.
What Is Mead?
Mead is broadly defined as an alcoholic drink which is made with water and fermented honey.
This definition does not take into account the large variety of meads on the market today, and it doesn’t look at the differences in how different meads are made.
We will take a look at how made is made further down but generally, real mead is a blend of water and honey. A brewer then adds mead yeast to encourage fermentation.
There are also other natural flavorings added to the brew at this point to improve the taste and give each mead its distinct note.
Is Mead The Same As Honey Wine?
As mead is made with honey as a base ingredient, it is very easy to see why mead and honey wine are often used interchangeably.
However, honey wine and mead are not always the same. They both differ in the amount of honey that is used to start the fermentation process, and the amount of honey at the end.
Mead starts and ends with a relatively high amount of honey. In comparison, honey wine has roughly 20% less honey in it than when it started.
This in itself seems to be a clear distinction between the two but the real reason why these two beverages are often used in the same sentence is because of a legal mishap.
In the US, the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) are responsible for labeling alcoholic beverages appropriately.
When the TTB put down the labeling standards for mead, they named it honey wine instead.
You were not able to label a mead product on the market as mead in the USA because of this issue, until 2016.
The American Mead Maker Association has been advocating for a change to the laws for many years and in 2016, rules were amended, so meaderies now have the option to use either honey wine or mead on their labels.
Under modern European law, the production of mead is fully protected. Producers of mead must label their product as mead when it is produced in a certain way and has a certain honey content.
In other countries, such as the UK, meadmakers may also use wine or other alcoholic drinks as a base for their mead.
A Short History Of Mead
Mead has a very long tradition over thousands of years. As honey is a natural ingredient that can be found almost anywhere around the world where there are bees, mead was the one of the most widely drunk alcoholic beverage in the ancient world.
This also makes finding the origins of mead a little tricky. Some scientists believe that mead was first brewed in Africa, and it then eventually found its way to Europe and other continents.
Although mead is often connected to the Vikings, a lot of other peoples enjoyed this drink, including the Anglo-Saxons, Chinese, Greeks and Ethiopians.
With trade and urbanization, different foods and developments ended up even in the smallest of provinces.
Bee-keeping was originally an exclusively royal business, which meant that mead was only made for royalty, such as kings.
What Is Mead’s Alcoholic Content?
Just like with beer, the exact ABV of beer can vary widely, from 3% up to 20%. You will find that thick and sweet sack meads typically have an ABV between 14% and 20%.
In comparison, light session meads only have an alcoholic content of 3% to 7%. And then there are some standard meads that are between the 7% and 14%.
Mead Vs. Beer ABV
It is difficult to compare mead and beer because they are made in a different way.
If you are just looking at the ABV of both these alcoholic drinks, then you will find that the standard Pilsner is between 4% and 5%, while most craft beers have an ABV between 8% and 12%.
Mead Vs. Wine ABV
Similar to beer, wine also varies widely in style and alcohol content. As a rule of thumb, white wines have less alcohol than red wines.
White wines often have an ABV of 10%, whereas red wines can rise up to 12%.
Other beverages that are similar to wine, such as sherry or port, can go up as far as 34% ABV.
The Art Of Making Mead
Meadmaking is an art similar to beer and wine making. It does take some skill and a lot of experience.
Meaderies start their mead with good quality water, and then add honey to this. This delusion means that there is a lot less sugar in the mix than in the honey. Amongst brewers, this diluted honey is called must.
Meadmakers also add spices and fruit after the honey has been diluted in the water. Some meadmakers also swap a little bit of the water with fruit juice to give the mead a sweeter flavor.
The alcohol content and the taste of the mead depend on these spices, as well as the quality of the honey and also the temperature at fermentation.
Then there is heat applied to the water and honey mix. This will kill any bacteria. Saying this, not every meadery still uses this step, as they also believe that the heat does not just kill any microbes but also natural flavors.
Natural honey also has anti-microbial properties which a meadery can rely on when there is no heat used.
Once the honey is fully diluted in water, a mix of yeast is added to help start the fermentation process.
As honey alone is not enough to keep the yeast alive, meadmakers also need to add oxygen and nutrients to the mix.
When the fermentation process starts, the mead needs to age for some time. This can be between a few months and a couple of years until the mead is done.
Then, the mead is bottled and sent out to retailers and distributors.
What Are The Differences Between Mead And Beer?
Although mead can sometimes look very similar to beer, it is definitely not the same.
The main different between mead and beer is that they begin in different ways. Beer begins with hops and water, while mead is started with honey and water.
They both then have individual yeasts added to the process, which helps them to ferment and create alcohol.
Both mead and craft beers can be very versatile in color, flavor, alcohol content and more.
Brewers come up with ever more interesting flavor combinations for both of these alcoholic beverages.
One of these combinations is braggot, which is essentially mead that is blended with malt, beer or hops. It combines the flavors of both mead and beer.
However, typically mead and beer are very distinct and different, and both have their own individual flavor notes.
What Does Mead Taste Like?
The taste of mead can vary depending on the type of honey, herbs or spices used during the production process.
Honey in itself is a natural product that can have so many different flavors depending on where it was made.
When you then add additional ingredients, such as herbs, spices or different juices, to the mix, you can get a large variety of notes that are suitable for craft meads.
Find The Best Mead For You
With so many flavors available, you can easily find the right one that fits your personal tastes.
Here are some of our favorite mead and honey wines.
Viking Blod (Denmark)
Viking blod may be labeled as a 19% ABV honey wine but it emerged out of a traditional mead recipe that contains dried hibiscus.
Its floral aftertaste makes it particularly appealing for everyone who likes the sweet notes.
Lancashire Mead Company (United Kingdom)
The UK is famous for its long meadmaking tradition, and you can find some of the best mead in the world there.
The Lancashire Mead Company sell a variety of mead based on traditional recipes and experimental craft concepts.
A big plus is that their mead is suitable for vegetarians and it is gluten free.
Lindisfarne Spiced Mead (United Kingdom)
Another medium-sized meadery, Lindisfarne Spiced Mead uses a wine as a base, together with different herbs.
Heidrun Meadery (United States)
This US meadery produces mainly champagne-like mead that is very easy to sip and taste.
Four Fires Meadery (United States)
This meadery in Ohio started out as a small meadmaking venture in a shed, and it grew to a very successful business with a large range of refreshing and unique mead.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Mead Get You Drunk?
Yes, mead can get you drunk if you have too much of it. Mead has a relatively high ABV, so you may feel drunk already after a few glasses.
Saying this, mead does not have the same alcohol content as whiskey. Mead is much more similar to beer when it comes to ABV, so you will net get drunk as quickly.
Is Mead Healthier Than Beer?
This depends on who you ask. While mead is made with honey, beer is made with hops. Both honey and hops are natural ingredients which can be beneficial for the body.
However, it is important to note that an overconsumption of either beer or mead can lead to health issues.
Mead may be almost as old as mankind but it certainly isn’t boring. This delicious alcoholic drink is no more popular than ever.
Although mead often stands in competition with beer, it is important to remember that both have their individual flavors, and it’s worth trying both to find out what you like.