Mead, also called honey wine, is an alcoholic beverage that is
produced by fermenting a solution of honey and water. It may also be
produced by fermenting a solution of water and honey with grain mash,
which is strained after fermentation. Depending on local traditions
and specific recipes, it may be flavored with spices, fruit, or hops
which produce a bitter, beer-like flavor. The alcoholic content of
mead may range from about 8% ABV to 18%. It may be still, carbonated,
or naturally sparkling, and it may be dry, semi-sweet, or sweet.
Mead 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." Mead has played an important
role in the beliefs and mythology of some peoples. One such example is
the Mead of Poetry, a mead of Norse mythology crafted from the blood
of the wise being Kvasir which turns the drinker into a poet or
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
Hinduism dated around 1700–1100 BC. During the Golden Age of Ancient
Greece, mead was said to be the preferred drink. Aristotle discussed
mead in his Meteorologica and elsewhere. The Spanish-Roman naturalist
Columella gave a recipe for mead in De re rustica, about AD 60.
Take rainwater kept for several years, and mix a sextarius of this
water with a pound of honey. For a weaker mead, mix a sextarius of
water with nine ounces of honey. The whole is exposed to the sun for
40 days, and then left on a shelf near the fire. If you have no rain
water, then boil spring water.
Around AD 550, the Brythonic-speaking bard Taliesin wrote the Kanu y
med 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 Edinburgh), and in the epic poem Y Gododdin, both dated
around AD 700. In the Old English epic poem Beowulf, the Danish
warriors drank mead. Later, 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.