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Mead ( ) is an alcoholic beverage, made from honey and water via fermentation with yeast. Its alcoholic content may range from that of a mild ale to that of a strong wine. It may be still, carbonated, or sparkling; it may be dry, semi-sweet, or sweet. Mead is often referred to as "honey wine."

Depending on local traditions and specific recipes, it may be brewed with spices, fruits, or grain mash. It may be produced by fermentation of honey with grain mash; mead may also be flavored with hops to produce a bitter, beer-like flavor.

Mead is independently multicultural. It is known from many sources of ancient history throughout Europe, Africa and Asia, although archaeological evidence of it is ambiguous. Its origins are lost in prehistory; "it can be regarded as the ancestor of all fermented drinks," Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat has observed, "antedating the cultivation of the soil." Claude Lévi-Strauss makes a case for the invention of mead as a marker of the passage "from nature to culture."


The earliest archaeological evidence for the production of mead dates to around 7000 BC. Pottery vessels containing a mixture of mead, rice and other fruits along with organic compounds of fermentation were found in Northern China. In Europe, it is first attested in residual samples found in the characteristic ceramics of the Bell Beaker Culture.

The earliest surviving description of mead is in the hymns of the Rigveda, one of the sacred books of the historical Vedic religion and (later) Hinduism dated around 1700–1100 BC. During the Golden Age of Ancient Greece, mead was said to be the preferred drink. Aristotle (384–322 BC) discussed mead in his Meteorologica and elsewhere, while Pliny the Elder (AD 23–79) called mead militites in his Naturalis Historia and differentiated wine sweetened with honey or "honey-wine" from mead. The Spanish-Roman naturalist Columella gave a recipe for mead in De re rustica, about AD 60.

Around AD 550, the Brythonic speaking bard Taliesin wrote the or "Song of Mead." The legendary drinking, feasting and boasting of warriors in the mead hall is echoed in the mead hall Dyn Eidyn (modern day Edinburghmarker), and in the epic poem Y Gododdin, both dated around AD 700. In the Nordic Story Beowulf The Northmen drank Honey mead.Mead was the historical beverage par excellence and commonly brewed by the Germanic tribes in Northern Europe. Later, heavy taxation and regulations governing the ingredients of alcoholic beverages led to commercial mead becoming a more obscure beverage until recently. Some monasteries kept up the old traditions of mead-making as a by-product of beekeeping, especially in areas where grapes could not be grown.


The English word mead derives from the Old English medu, from Proto-Germanic meduz. Slavic med / miod , which means both "honey" and "mead," (Slovak, Serbian, Macedonian, Croatian: med vs. medovina, Polish 'miód' pronounce [mju:t] - honey, mead) and Baltic midus, which means "mead," also derive from the same Proto-Indo-European root (cf. Welsh medd, Old Irish mid, and Sanskrit madhu).


Mead was also popular in Central Europe and in the Baltic states. In Polish mead is called ( ), meaning "drinkable honey." In Russiamarker mead remained popular as medovukha and sbiten long after its decline in the West. Sbiten is often mentioned in the works of 19th-century Russian writers, including Gogol, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.

In Finlandmarker a sweet mead called (cognate with zymurgy) is still an essential seasonal brew connected with the Finnish Vappu (May Day) festival. It is usually spiced by adding both the pulp and rind of a lemon. During secondary fermentation, raisins are added to control the amount of sugars and to act as an indicator of readiness for consumption; they will rise to the top of the bottle when the drink is ready.

Ethiopianmarker mead is called tej (ጠጅ, ) and is usually home-made. It is flavored with the powdered leaves and bark of gesho, a hop-like bittering agent which is a species of buckthorn. A sweeter, less-alcoholic version called berz, aged for a shorter time, is also made. The traditional vessel for drinking tej is a rounded vase-shaped container called a berele.

Mead known as iQhilika is traditionally prepared by the Xhosa of South Africa.


Czech Medovina
Mead can have a wide range of flavors, depending on the source of the honey, additives (also known as "adjuncts" or "gruit"), including fruit and spices, the yeast employed during fermentation, and aging procedure. Mead can be difficult to find commercially. Some producers have marketed white wine with added honey as mead, often spelling it "meade." This is closer in style to a Hypocras. Blended varieties of mead may be known by either style represented. For instance, a mead made with cinnamon and apples may be referred to as either a cinnamon cyser or an apple metheglin.

A mead that also contains spices (such as cloves, cinnamon or nutmeg), or herbs (such as oregano, hops, or even lavender or chamomile), is called a metheglin ( ).

A mead that contains fruit (such as raspberry, blackberry or strawberry) is called a melomel, which was also used as a means of food preservation, keeping summer produce for the winter. A mead that is fermented with grape juice is called a pyment.

Mulled mead is a popular drink at Christmas time, where mead is flavored with spices (and sometimes various fruits) and warmed, traditionally by having a hot poker plunged into it.

Some meads retain some measure of the sweetness of the original honey, and some may even be considered as dessert wines. Drier meads are also available, and some producers offer sparkling meads. There are a number of faux-meads, which are actually cheap wines with large amounts of honey added, to produce a cloyingly sweet liqueur.

Historically, meads were fermented by wild yeasts and bacteria (as noted in the below quoted recipe) residing on the skins of the fruit or within the honey itself. Wild yeasts generally provide inconsistent results, and in modern times various brewing interests have isolated the strains now in use. Certain strains have gradually become associated with certain styles of mead. Mostly, these are strains that are also used in beer or wine production. However, several commercial labs, such as White Labs, WYeast, Vierka, have developed yeast strains specifically for mead.

Mead can be distilled to a brandy or liqueur strength. Krupnik is a sweet Polish liqueur made through such a process. A version of this called "honey jack" can be made by partly freezing a quantity of mead and pouring off the liquid without the ice crystals (a process known as freeze distillation), in the same way that applejack is made from cider.

Mead variants

  • Acan A Native Mexican version of mead.
  • Acerglyn — A mead made with honey and maple syrup.
  • Braggot — Braggot (also called bracket or brackett). Originally brewed with honey and hops, later with honey and malt — with or without hops added. Welsh origin (bragawd).
  • Black mead — A name sometimes given to the blend of honey and blackcurrants.
  • Capsicumel is a mead flavored with chile peppers.
  • Chouchenn is a kind of mead made in Brittany.
  • Cyser — A blend of honey and apple juice fermented together; see also cider.
  • Czwórniak — A Polish mead, made using three units of water for each unit of honey
  • Dandaghare — Dandaghare is a unique mead from Nepalmarker that combines the goodness of honey with select Himalayan herbs and spices. It has been brewed since 1972 by visionary entrepreneur Jhalak Thapa in the beautiful city of Pokharamarker.
  • Dwójniak — A Polish mead, made using equal amounts of water and honey
  • Great mead — Any mead that is intended to be aged several years. The designation is meant to distinguish this type of mead from "short mead" (see below).
  • Gverc or Medovina — Croatianmarker mead prepared in Samobormarker and many other places. The word “gverc” or “gvirc” is from the German " " and refers to various spices added to mead.
  • Hydromel — Hydromel literally means "water-honey" in Greek. It is also the French name for mead. (Compare with the Spanish hidromiel and aquamiel, Italian idromele and Portuguese hidromel). It is also used as a name for a very light or low-alcohol mead.
  • Medica — Slovenianmarker, Croatianmarker, variety of Mead.
  • Medovina — Czechmarker, Serbianmarker, Bulgarianmarker, Bosnianmarker and Slovakmarker for mead. Commercially available in Czech Republic, Slovakia and presumably other Central and Eastern European countries.
  • Medovukha — Eastern Slavic variant (honey-based fermented drink)
  • Melomel — Melomel is made from honey and any fruit. Depending on the fruit-base used, certain melomels may also be known by more specific names (see cyser, pyment, morat for examples)
  • Metheglin — Metheglin starts with traditional mead but has herbs and/or spices added. Some of the most common metheglins are ginger, tea, orange peel, nutmeg, coriander, cinnamon, cloves or vanilla. Its name indicates that many metheglins were originally employed as folk medicines. The Welsh word for mead is , and the word "metheglin" derives from , a compound of , "healing" + , "liquor."
  • Morat — Morat blends honey and mulberries.
  • Mulsum — Mulsum is not a true mead, but is unfermented honey blended with a high-alcohol wine.
  • Omphacomel — A mediæval mead recipe that blends honey with verjuice; could therefore be considered a variety of pyment (qv).
  • Oxymel — Another historical mead recipe, blending honey with wine vinegar.
  • Pitarrilla — Mayan drink made from a fermented mixture of wild honey, balché tree bark and fresh water.
  • Pyment — Pyment blends honey and red or white grapes. Pyment made with white grape juice is sometimes called "white mead."
  • Półtorak — A Polish mead, made using two units of honey for each unit of water
  • Rhodomel — Rhodomel is made from honey, rose hips, petals or rose attar and water.
  • Sack mead — This refers to mead that is made with more copious amounts of honey than usual. The finished product retains an extremely high specific gravity and elevated levels of sweetness. It derives its name, according to one theory, from the fortified dessert wine Sherry (which is sometimes sweetened after fermentation and in England once bore the nickname of "sack"); another theory is that the term derived from the Japanese drink sake, being introduced by Spanish and Portuguese traders.
  • Short mead — Also called "quick mead." A type of mead recipe that is meant to age quickly, for immediate consumption. Because of the techniques used in its creation, short mead shares some qualities found in cider (or even light ale): primarily that it is effervescent, and often has a cidery taste. It can also be champagne-like.
  • Show mead — A term which has come to mean "plain" mead: that which has honey and water as a base, with no fruits, spices or extra flavorings. Since honey alone often does not provide enough nourishment for the yeast to carry on its lifecycle, a mead that is devoid of fruit, etc. will sometimes require a special yeast nutrient and other enzymes to produce an acceptable finished product. In most competitions (including all those using the BJCP style guidelines as well as the International Mead Fest) the term "traditional mead" is used for this variety.
  • Sima - a quickly-fermented Finnish variety, seasoned with lemon and associated with the festival of vappu.
  • Tej — Tej is an Ethiopian mead, fermented with wild yeasts (and bacteria), and with the addition of gesho. Recipes vary from family to family, with some recipes leaning towards braggot with the inclusion of grains.
  • Trójniak — A Polish mead, made using two units of water for each unit of honey.



  • International Mead Festival — Sponsored by the International Mead Association, this festival is held every year on the weekend closest to Valentine's Day in or near Denvermarker, Coloradomarker. It claims to be the largest and most prestigious mead festival in the world. Both professional and home-brewed meads are judged.
  • Real Ale Festival in Chicagomarker, Illinois, includes categories for mead as well as cider and perry.
  • Woodbridge International Mead Festival - Sponsored by local residents, it claims to be the only mead festival east of the Mississippi. While there are relatively few types of mead available, all are home-brewed and go through a rigorous judging process.

In literature

Mead features prominently in several of the works of Neil Gaiman. Early in the novel American Gods, the protagonist drinks a particularly unpleasant round of mead (colorfully described as tasting of "drunken diabetic's piss") with his new employer Mr. Wednesday to seal their contract. It is also a favorite drink of the title character of Gaiman's Sandman series.

In the novel The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken, Bonnie and Sylvia are offered metheglin to hearten them for the walk.

In the Eragon inheritance books mead is the most often drank liquid (other than water)

In the novel Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling, Professor Slughorn shares a bottle of mead with Harry and Ron which he had originally intended to give to Dumbledore for Christmas; Ron is nearly killed upon drinking the beverage, which had been poisoned.

In the Thomas Pynchon novel Gravity's Rainbow, the character Pirate Prentice serves homemade banana mead at his "Banana Breakfasts."

Eckbert Attquiet (a 63 year old medieval re-enactor) eschews the trappings of modern life, and is diligently inebriated on home-made mead or melomel throughout Tod Wodicka's tragicomic novel All Shall be Well; and All Shall be Well; and All Manner of Things Shall be Well.

Mead is the favorite beverage of the skin-changer Beorn in Tolkien's The Hobbit.

It's the favorite drink of the dwarf culture on the Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle .

Mead is featured in Beowulf, where the main character fights the evil Grendel at the mead-hall, as well as in its modern parallel novel Grendel. Mead is Beowulf's beverage of choice while merrymaking in the mead-hall.

In Film

In the 1999 film The 13th Warrior, the main character Ahmad Ibn Fadlan, a Muslim Arab, refuses the Vikings' mead because Allah forbids the partaking of the fermentation of grain and grape, until he is finally told that mead is made from honey. However, the film is incorrect due to the fact that consumption of fermented honey is specifically prohibited in the Islamic faith as well (the fact that mead is fermented honey doesn't make a difference because all intoxicants are forbidden).

See also


  1. Beer is produced by the fermentation of grain, but grain can be used in mead provided it is strained off immediately. As long as the primary substance fermented is still honey, the drink is still mead.
  2. Hops are better known as the bitter ingredient of beer. However, they have also been used in mead both anciently and in modern times. The Legend of Frithiof mentions hops: That this formula is still in use is shown by the recipe for "Real Monastery Mead" in
  3. Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat (Anthea Bell, tr.) The History of Food, 2nd ed. 2009:30.
  4. Lévi-Strauss, J. and D. Weightman, tr. From Honey to Ashes, London:Cape 1973 (Du miel aux cendres, Paris 1960)
  5. Rigveda Book 5 v. 43:3–4, Book 8 v. 5:6, etc
  6. Llyfr Taliesin XIX
  7. Online Etymology Dictionary entry for 'mead'
  8. Aylett, Mary. Country Wines, Odhams Press, 1953, p.79
  9. Tayleur, p.291
  10. Sack in the Oxford Companion to Wine
  11. 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
  12. International Mead Festival official website
  13. Real Ale Festival official website

Further reading

External links

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