A User’s Guide to Mead

There is nothing so compelling as the ancient lure of mead.  It has long been associated with kings and their mighty men of valor, used for high-spirited celebrations and somber remembrances.  Made from fermented sweet honey and water, this elixir has been a staple of civilizations from the ancient Egyptians, to the Anglo-Saxons, to more modern liquor coinsures.  Although mead was replaced on many a nobleman’s table by the introduction of Mediterranean wines, the appeal of mead has lasted throughout the centuries, carrying with it the various brewing processes we now enjoy today.

The process is simple.  Fresh honeycomb is added to large vats of boiling water, where the wax is allowed to melt, releasing the precious golden honey from inside the combs.  Once the honey has completely dissolved, the heated mixture is then cooled, allowing the wax to harden into thick slabs that can easily be removed and stored for later uses.  The honey water is then allowed to ferment, either from the naturally occurring yeast in the air or through the addition of dissolved brewer’s yeast.  Mead making does not require the special temperatures for aging and storing that wine making requires, and can easily be done with materials close at hand.

Mead comes in a wide range of varieties, based on the addition of fruit and other ingredients added during the “cooking” process.  Here are just a few of the options available, as well as some common terms associated with mead making:

High Mead:  Also known as sack mead, high mead refers to the sweeter variety of mead enjoyed by the early nobles.  The honey content was much higher, creating a richer, sweeter flavor than more traditional mead.

Great mead:  Much like fine wine, great mead refers to a variety of mead that is aged for several years before being considered “ready” for consumption.  This extra aging process enhances the rich flavor of the mead.

Quick Mead:  This mead is made to be processed and consumed in a much quicker time than traditional mead.  It requires a shorter aging period, and therefore is often called “short mead.”  The flavors are not as rich in this variety because of the shorter aging period.

Traditional Mead:  This term refers to the semi-sweet flavor associated with meads of the past.  Traditional mead is typically filtered, creating beautiful, golden beverage, perfect for any occasion or meal.

Metheglin:  This traditional mead includes the addition of herbs and spices to enhance the flavor of the mead.  Such additions might include cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, nutmeg, and even cardamom for extra spice.

Melomel:  This type of mead is made from honey and fruit.  It is often used as a dessert liquor because of the enhanced sweetness of the resulting beverages.

Morat:  Morat is a type of melomel made from combining honey with mulberries.

Cyser:  Cyser is another specific type of melomel made from combining honey with apples.  Also known as ‘hard cider’, this seasonal favorite can be made using any of the traditional ‘old style’ apples, including some of the more flavorful crabapple varieties.

Rhodomel:  Sometimes known as rose wine, this mead combines honey with rose hips or rose water to add a fruity perfume to the mead.  It can easily be incorporated into special celebrations like weddings and anniversaries.

Honeysuckle Metheglin:  This specialty mead combines the subtle sunshine flavor of hand-picked honeysuckle blossoms with the sweetness of honey.

No matter what your preference, there is a mead variety to suit everyone.  Be creative, be inventive, but most of all, be willing to give mead a try.  You will quickly discover why this ancient brew was called ‘the elixir of the gods.’  Helen Stephens