By Joy Neighbors
With autumn comes the desire for a richly flavored adult beverage that channels the tastes of the season.
Connoisseurs, get ready to enjoy a glass of mead wine with its delectable honey flavor. Mead is the oldest of all fermented drinks and has been popular in Europe, Asia and Africa for thousands of years. In fact, traces of mead have been found in pottery dating from 7000 BC in Northern China. In ancient Greece, mead was known as Ambrosia and considered to be the drink of the gods, and it has been a celebratory drink in Europe since the Renaissance.
In the Old English poem Beowulf, the Danish warriors were feasting in mead halls, so called because mead was consumed there in copious quantities, when Grendel the monster attacked. The warriors didn’t notice because the party was too loud, thanks in part, to the never-ending flow of mead. (And you never thought freshman literature would come in handy.)
Mead has always been thought to have mystical, magical powers. The word “honeymoon” comes from the European tradition where a newly married couple was expected to drink honey mead every day for an entire month – during one moon phase. If the custom was followed, the first child was predicted to be a boy. It was also believed that the sweeter the mead, the sweeter the union.
Also known as honey wine, mead is crafted by fermenting honey, water and yeast. Honey consists of 70 percent sugar, which is what the yeast feeds on to create the alcohol content, which can range from 8 percent to around 20 percent. Since honey was plentiful, mead was always available to everyone.
Many mead varieties
Some recipes also call for the addition of fruits, and others include a grain mash that adds a bitter beer-like taste. Mead can be crafted sweet by using a lot of honey, semi-sweet when mixed half and half with water, or dry using just a little honey for flavor. And the type of honey used influences the aroma, flavor and color of the mead. Mead can also be crafted as a still, carbonated or sparkling wine.
Monasteries that tended bees produced mead as a natural by-product. But the beverage varies in each country around the globe. In Poland, mead is called Dwójniak and is crafted using equal parts of water and honey. Chouchenn is the name for mead made in Brittany, which uses seawater. The Germans make a version known as Gverc, which refers to spices added to the mead base. The Welsh added herbs and spices and call it Metheglin.
There are also different varieties of mead. If you craft mead with honey and mulberries it is called Morat. Mead made with honey and maple syrup is known as Acerglyn. If you caramelize or burn the honey before adding water, the mead will have a toffee and chocolate flavor and is known as Bochet. Beer drinkers may prefer Braggot or Brackett, a mead crafted using honey and hops, or honey and malt. (The Welsh call it Bragawd.) Blend honey with white grapes and you create Pyment, a white mead. The reverse is a black mead made from honey and black currants.
Regardless of how you craft it, mead is a delicious wine with a rich heritage. Indeed, it’s a valid contender as the perfect drink for the harvest season.
Joy Neighbors, from eastern Illinois, knows the wine industry well. She writes a weekly wine blog, has judged national wine competitions, and speaks nationally and internationally. Follow her blog at http://joysjoyofwine.blogspot.com.