Honey, I Love You (Especially in Mead)!

17 Feb

With Valentine’s Day just past, there are sure to be countless new brides and bridegrooms to be popping up all over. The day after Valentine’s Day is known for high-pitched squeals from the office water cooler as the glowing bride to be shows off what set back some poor guy two month’s pay. With love in the air and up-coming nuptials, I thought it would be interesting to talk about mead this week. Often spoken of as the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man, mead is a fermented drink made from honey. Technically mead is a wine, not a beer. But, it is brewed and is often bittered by the addition or hops or other herbs. So, it sort of fits here.

As is the case with many great discoveries, mead was a happy accident with origins tracing back more than 20,000 years. Early African bushmen discovered that after elephants broke of branches of Baobab and Miombo trees hollows formed at the break points. Bees moved into these hollows, built hives, and produced honey during the dry season. Then, when the rains came the hollows filled with water. Wild yeasts settled in and fermentation began. Given time the water, honey, and yeast produced a natural form of mead. The bushmen figured out that they could drink the liquid and the first hangover was suffered.

The bushmen learned the secrets of how mead was made and brought this knowledge with them as they left Africa. Slowly mead production began to spread across the globe. Mead became a staple across the civilized world, making footholds in Europe, India, and China. But, as countries became more urbanized, mead making – a largely rural activity – began to die off.

Oddly enough, the need for ceremonial candles kept the production of mead going. Monks used warm water to rinse honey from honeycombs which they used to make candles. The honey water that resulted from this was kept, allowed to ferment, and drank. There’s a reason Friar Tuck and Robin’s men were so merry!

But, what’s the connection of mead to marriage? Ever wonder where the term “honeymoon” came from? There are several theories. One of the more common is that the word honeymoon has its roots in the Norse word “hjunottsmanathr” (don’t even ask how to pronounce it). This described the practice of Vikings abducting a bride from villages and then taking them into hiding until her family stopped looking for her. During this time mead was consumed to keep the abductor’s strength up in order for him to impregnate her.

Another explanation speaks to an ancient Babylonian tradition where honeymoon was used to describe the tradition in which the bride’s father served mead to the groom. The groom drank mead every night for the first month of the marriage to boost fertility. Thus the mead represented the honey and the month, or lunar cycle, represented the moon.

Today mead is making a come-back of sorts with nearly 150 meaderies now in the United States alone. As craft brewing grows, so does mead production. More and more, aficionados are seeking new brews to discover and are looking to meads to add a new twist to their drink roster. There are many different style of mead to choose from including T’ej the national drink of Ethiopia and an ingredient in a recent brew created by Dogfish Head Brewery called Bitch’s Brew.

Other types of mead include:

Braggot a drink brewed with honey and hops and later brewed with honey and malt.
Black mead is a name given to mead made with a blend of honey and black currants.
Cyser, as the name hints to, is a form of mead made with honey and apple juice fermented together.
Pyment is a blend of honey and red or white grapes.
Sack mead refers to mead that is made with a larger amount of honey, which produces a sweeter, higher gravity drink.

Meads to Try

Chaucer’s Mead
This mead is produced utilizing fresh honey without the addition of artificial flavorings, concentrates or artificial colorings. The honey is collected from hives throughout Northern California and is a blend of three types; orange, alfalfa and sage. Each of these honeys bring a unique quality to the blend and contributes to the overall complexity. Orange adds a pungent orange blossom flavor and has light color. Alfalfa is neutral in flavor but yields a dark, amber color. Sage, on the other hand, has a mild taste and a light color.

Starrlight Mead
This meadery in North Carolina offers five meads including an off-dry, semi-sweet, and three fruit meads; peach, apple, and blackberry.

Other Beers I’ve Been Drinking

Blue Point Toasted Lager
This brew pours a dark golden color with a thin head. You won’t smell much in the way of hops from this beer, but you will detect a slight breadiness. Upon first sip you should notice the strong, sweet, toasted malt flavor and just a hint of citrusy hops. Interesting for its very forward toasty flavor.

Blue Point Hoptical Illusion
Light golden color and a thin, rapidly dissipating head characterize the pour. Take a whiff and you may notice grapefruit and other fruit notes such as peach or pineapple. Your first drink will open with grapefruit and its inherent bitterness.

Intuition Ale Works Golden Spiral
Ben has his first tapping of a Belgian brew at the tap room and I for one like it quite a bit. In my mug this beer shows as a good unfiltered Belgian should golden and cloudy. On the nose you will detect banana and sweetness. Take a sip and the banana, which is strong on the nose, is a whisper wrapped in the spicy, delicious flavors awakened by the malted barley, wheat, and Belgian yeast strains.

Looking back one has to be happy with the coincidences which led to the creation of mead. It’s no wonder that many ancient civilizations deified bees and considered mead a drink for royalty and Gods. But, you also have to wonder about the traditions of drinking mead for fortitude and fertility. I mean, you drink very much of this stuff and morning is not going to be very welcome. Still, as an addition to your drinking repertoire, mead is worthy of a drink every now and then.

NOTE: The Springfield Brew Crew is hosting their next event on Saturday, February 19th at 7:30. This month’s theme; Belgian Beer Bonanza. Go to “MEETS” page for location details and the “RULES” page for tasting rules.

For those of you who do not know about the Springfield Brew Crew; we are a group of beer lovers based in the oldest and most historic neighborhood of Jacksonville, FL. We host monthly beer tasting events to educate and open the palettes of beer drinkers everywhere.

Long Live the Brewers!


Marc Wisdom

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Posted by on February 17, 2011 in Beer, Beer Styles


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