What is Mead?
The oldest drinks trend you’ve never tried.
By Samuel Boulton & Chelsi Abbott-Pace
Dating back to the beginning of man, Mead is known as the oldest alcoholic beverage to exist. The earliest archaeological evidence of Honey Wine comes from 9000 BC in northern China. Alcohol, as we all know has to be fermented from a simple sugar, in nature this simple sugar is most commonly found in two sources, honey and fruit. Honey being the easiest to find in the wild was taken by natives, naturally fermented, and drank; this was the beginning of not only Mead but all alcohol.
The Vikings between early 800 – 1050 AD popularised the beverage on their travels, as they sailed around the world mead was carried on all their ships as it had a more favourable shelf life then the likes of beer and ale at the time as well as its ease of access. Mead stayed in popularity for many years, in the 16th century mead was produced in monasteries as monks were keen bee keepers, by the 17th century there we’re many mead recipes appearing in books include recipes with additional ingredients, such as spices, citrus and other local plants. Popularity of Beer and Ale rose in the 18th century leaving mead halls and taverns to start brewing and selling these instead, this marked the decline of the worlds’ first alcohol.
Meads revival began about 10 years ago, where sales of the product have been slowly increasing. In December 2018 The English Heritage Company report it’s seen a 8% increase in mead sales over the past 3 years and now reporting to sell 52,000 bottles a year, that’s one every 10 minutes! Coupled with the success of popular TV shows such as Game Of Thrones and Vikings one mead producer has report the to be selling 700 bottles a week on Amazon alone. Consumers in the UK are receptive to this Mead; this is down to mead being prevalent in many places throughout the British upbringing. At school we hear about Mead in textbooks from the Vikings and again in stories of Robin Hood and Friar Tuck, later in our teen years fantasy games such as Skyrim & Dungeons & Dragons show the characters drinking Mead, with mentions of it in Lord of The Rings and again, Game Of Thrones. Then later in life historical places such as the Battle Abbey in Hastings (one of the UK’s most visited historical sites and home to the Battle of Hastings) has a history in Mead. Not to mention the historical pagan traditions which have become staple in British society such as the Honeymoon, coming from the pagan tradition of drinking mead to aid fertility on the first night of marriage.
In 2018 the UK welcomed the first Cocktail Bar & Meadery, The Vanguard in Birmingham. Owner Samuel Boulton says “I wanted to open a bar which had a point of interest to myself but also would educate consumers on alcohol, we narrowed the choices down to a few but Mead was consistently the most popular in our pre opening research. Since opening in February we have served almost 4000 servings of mead and introduced almost 3000 people to it.”
Modern day Mead is like most other categories filled with the good and the bad. There are two styles being produced, fermented mead and vetted mead. Now there is no regulation in the UK for Mead production so most follow the American standards. Fermented Mead is normally made from at least 51% fermented honey or more (most are 100%), where as Vatted Mead or (correctly named Pyments) is a blend of Honey, Alcohol and Wine. One requires far more skill than the other.
Mead in cocktails is a new task as there are many different styles, sweetness and flavours to be experimented with. Simply put there are two main varieties of Mead, sparkling which is lower percentage between 4.5% and 5.5% with lower sweetness, more like a medium sweet cider, Gosnell’s from Peckham are a great example of this. Then there is the still style, much higher ABV, normally above 10%, sweeter and very honey forward, Lyme Bay from Devon are a true example of this. Each of these can then be broken down into categories such as Hydromel’s, Melomels (Fruit meads), Metheglin (Spiced meads) and more.
Using Mead in cocktails the key to success is balance, mainly balancing sweetness with flavour. Here are some examples from The Vanguard’s cocktail menu.
The Bassano Word
40ml Lyme Bay Rhubarb Mead
20ml Nardini Acqua di Cedro
20ml Distilleries Et Domaines De Provence Elixir
5ml St George Pear Brandy Eue de Vie
Stirred over Ice and served in a coup
Garnished with Lemon Zest
This drink was the winner of the Nardini KIN vs Vanguard takeover at Tales on Tour 2018.
30ml Lyme Bay Rhubarb Mead
Stirred over Ice and served in a rocks glass of ice
Garnished with Lemon Zest
The Bartenders Handshake
25ml Gosnell’s London Mead
25ml Fernet Branca
25ml Lime Juice
Shake & Strain over Ice in a rocks glass
Garnished with Lime Wheel
The Bubbles Fiend
50ml Sparkling Grape Juice
20ml Shire Mead
4 Drops Fruity Droplets (Blend of Blackberry, Violet, Raspberry)
75ml Perrier Joulet Champagne
Built in a flute