Your Guide to Drinking Mead

Although mead is often associated with Viking and Medieval culture, it has been enjoyed by many others as well. Mead is likely the oldest alcoholic beverage, with evidence of its production being traced back to 6,500 to 7,000 B.C. in Northern China. That's certainly well before beer and grape wine made an appearance. Here’s why you should give this ancient drink a try now.

What is Mead?

Simply put - grapes make wine, grains make beer, apples make cider, and honey makes mead.

Mead is made more like wine, not brewed like beer. In mead's simplest form, honey is mixed with water and yeast is added. The yeast begins to consume the sugars, producing mainly alcohol (ethanol) and carbon dioxide (CO2).

However, there are different styles of mead—still or sparkling, and sweet, semisweet, or dry. Other ingredients such as fruits, herbs, and spices can also be added. Alcohol content can vary quite a bit as well, between 2% and 20% alcohol. By comparison, red wine normally has somewhere around 14 to 15% alcohol and white wine around 11 to 13% alcohol in the United States.

What Does Mead Taste Like?

Mead has wine-like characteristics, like appearance (color, clarity, legs), levels of sweetness (dry to sweet), mouthfeel (thin to full), and alcohol levels.

Depending on what your experiences are, most mead tastes similar to wine, but with the flavor of honey and whatever was used to flavor it. Real honey presents true terroir, the French term that suggests an agricultural product’s influence from climate, vegetation (floral source), elevation, sea proximity, and precipitation. “Although honey bees may collect nectar in the same field at the same time each year, the resulting honey can differ based on climate changes such as rainfall, soil composition, and temperature,” says Jessica Schindler with the National Honey Board.

A well-made traditional mead, made from just honey and water, will highlight the terroir from where the honey was produced. However, a good mead made with fruit, herbs, and/or spices will display less honey character but it will still be in balance with the other ingredients.

So mead can vary a lot in flavor. It can taste more like beer, cider, wine, or even ginger ale. So there will be at least one style you’ll love.

How Much Does Mead Cost?

Prices of mead can vary widely, typically corresponding with the cost to produce it. Most of the cost is associated with the high price of honey. However, other ingredients (fruit, spices, herbs, etc.), aging methods (barrel-aging), and labor intensity (harvesting and processing fresh fruit) can contribute significantly to the cost as well.

As a rule of thumb, lower-alcohol varieties are generally less expensive because they use less honey and aren’t typically aged for as long as higher-alcohol meads.

With that said, good mead is priced somewhat between quality craft beer and wine from a boutique (small) winery.

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