Mead is an ancient drink, thought by many to be the first fermented beverage. Mead is diluted honey that has been fermented. The earliest meads were likely accidental fermentations with wild yeasts, but this eventually developed into organized, intentional meadmaking.
The earliest styles were likely sweet drinks, often mixed with fruit juices or flavored with spices. Mead became the drink of choice in northern Europe, and enjoyed popularity until improved brewing techniques provided a cheaper, more consistent beverage, and cane and beet sugar replaced honey as a sweetener.
There are almost as many kinds of mead as there are meadmakers. There are several general categories that meadmakers use to classify their products.
Traditional meads are made from water, honey and yeast. They range from dry to semisweet. The driest are lacking in the characteristic honey sweetness, but they capture the true “essence” of the honey. The sweeter versions retain some of the sweetness of the honey without being syrupy or cloying.
Bochets are made from caramelized honey which adds a layer of complexity, especially to sweet meads.
Sack Meads are very sweet traditional meads, often aged for extended periods. They can have the character and complexity of a port or sherry, or the sweetness and fruitiness of a late harvest grape varietal.
Melomels are meads made with fruit. Depending on the process and fruits used, these can be very fruity, aromatic and sweet, or dry with just a hint of fruit essence (or anywhere in between).
Metheglins are meads made with herbs and spices. Our word “medicine” likely descended from this term. The varieties in this category are almost limitless. Frequent spices used are clove, cinnamon, ginger, and other “wintery” spices. Juniper is another common additive, as are many herbs in the mint and sage group such as mint, lavender, rosemary, sage, etc.
Pyment is a fermented blend of honey and grape juice – probably an ancestor of our grape wines. Pyment can be as diverse as the grapes and honeys used to produce it.
Hippocras is a spiced pyment, usually sweet.It is believed to have been popular among early Mediterranean peoples.
Cyser is mead made with apples, and can be as varied as the myriad apple varieties and the numerous British, French, and American interpretations of cider. The addition of honey allows more variation in sweetness, alcohol content, and shelf life.
Hydromel is a newer category used to classify any mead that is less than 10% alcohol (unless you speak French – then it’s just mead). Our Bee Brews are hydromels. These meads can be as varied as the other categories listed above, if not as common.
Braggot is mead made from malted grains and honey, often with hops as well. It can be thought of as a beer/mead hybrid, and probably predates all-grain beers in origin. Modern interpretations vary from sweet “barleywine-style” braggots, to light, hoppy brews.
Mead is experiencing a renaissance, both among commercial producers and homebrewers. Remember to ask for mead at your favorite restaurants, bars, and wine shops.