- This article is about the beverage. There is also Mead, Nebraska and the ornithologist Chris Mead.
Mead is a fermented alcoholic beverage made of honey, water, and yeast. It is sometimes known as "honey wine" (for obvious reasons) and is generally pronounced "meed" (IPA: /mi:d/), though South Africans usually pronounce it "med", to rhyme with "red" (IPA: /mɛd/).
The word mead refers to the sugary fluid excreted by flowers. In symbology mead is the tipple of the gods.
A mead that also contains spices (like cloves, cinnamon or nutmeg) or herbs (such as oregano or even lavender or chamomile) is called metheglin. The etymon of this word could be from the Welsh word meddyglyn, meaning "medicinal liquor", as healing herbs were often stored as metheglin so they would be available over the winter (as well as making them much easier to swallow). This could be also from Slavic "miod/med" which means "honey".
A mead that contains fruit (such as strawberry, blackcurrant or even rose-hips) is called melomel and was also used as a delicious way to "store" summer produce for the winter.
Mulled mead is a popular winter holiday drink, where mead is warmed (traditionally by having a hot poker plunged into it) and flavoured with spices.
Hippocras is spiced grape wine sweetened with honey. A grape-based wine with added honey is called a pyment.
Cyser is made with apple juice and honey; braggot or bracket is made with malted barley and honey.
Mead was very popular in Northern Europe where grapes could not be grown, but it faded in popularity once wine imports became economical. Mead was especially popular with the Slavs and was called in Polish miód (pronounced myoot), meaning honey. Mead was a popular drink among the Polish szlachta. During the Crusades Polish prince Leszek the White explained to the pope that Polish knights couldn't participate in the crusades because there is no mead in Palestine.
In Finland a sweet mead called Sima (cognate with zymurgy), is still an essential seasonal brew connected with the Finnish Vappu festival. It is usually spiced by adding both the flesh 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.
Mead is probably also the origin of the word honeymoon as the father of the bride was said to give as a dowry a month's supply of the liquor. Mead is mentioned in many old north Anglo-Saxon stories, including Beowulf.
Mead can have a wide range of flavors, depending on the source of the honey, additives (including fruit and spices), yeast employed during fermentation, and aging procedure. Mead can be difficult to find commercially, though some producers have been successful marketing it.
Many meads retain some measure of the sweetness of the original honey, and some can even be considered as dessert wines. Drier meads are also available, and some producers offer sparkling meads, which (like champagne) can make for a delightful celebratory toast.
How to make mead
Gather your equipment.
You will need a fermentation vessel, preferably a glass carboy, an airlock and a rubber bung. Check with a local home brew supply store for these things. You will also need honey, water (filtered is best), and yeast. Fruit or spices are optional.
Sterilize all of your equipment (potassium metabisulphite is a common sterilizing agent, make sure to remove all traces of this chemical; if you are allergic to sulphites then use other sterilization methods) and wash your hands before you begin.
3 pounds of honey per gallon (U.S.). (So if you have a 5 gallon (U.S.) carboy, use 15 pounds of honey.) 1 pound of raisins. 1 packet of dry winemaker's yeast
- (n.b.: some vintners prefer to create a starter culture by preparing a mixture of one cup of room temperature sterilized fruit juice and the freeze dried winemaking yeast and placing it into a smaller one quart sterilized container fitted with a rubber stopper and airlock for a day or two until the mixture is bubbling. Keep this container at room temperature out of direct sunlight. This starter culture will cause the fermentation below to begin with vigor and may prevent your mead from failing to ferment.)
Fill a large pot half way with water and place it on the stove. As you heat the water, slowly add the honey. Heating will help dissolve the honey. There is a common disagreement among mead makers as to whether you should boil the honey or not. Ultimately it is your decision, either way will work fine. Boiling will alter the flavor, but will enhance the clarity of the finished mead.
After a time of heating the honey (which helps it dissolve and can also pasteurize it) cool the mixture to between (170°F/76°C) and (140°F/60°C) and add the raisins. Continue to cool, then transfer the honey/water to the carboy. Allow to cool to room temperature (68°F/20°C). Rehydrate the yeast according to supplier's directions, then add to honey/water mixture (must). Put on the airlock and wait. Place the carboy in a cool (68°F/20°C), dark place. In a few hours (possibly a day) your airlock should start to allow bubbles to escape. This is waste carbon dioxide (CO2) and shows that the yeast is processing the sugar into alcohol. You may see the raisins rise to the surface of the fermenting mixture. This is normal. Do not interfere unless they block the airlock, in which case you will have to rack. Do not stir or agitate the fermenting mixture, as this may cause the liquid to rise up and spill out of the airlock.
After a week or two you might want to rack your mead into a second sterilized carboy. This racking will clear out the lees and allow your mead to clear faster. You will need a sterilized tube to siphon the mead into the second carboy. Avoid splashing the mead as it fills the carboy, as it may cause an unpleasant taste in the final product. Place an airlock on the second carboy. It is imperative that sterile conditions be maintained while the carboys are open to avoid vinegar infection (keep your fingers out!). Continue to rack every two weeks until all signs of fermentation have stopped (usually when the airlock doesn't produce any bubbles for a long period of time) and your mead has cleared (if you can read a newspaper through the carboy then it is clear)
Then it is time to bottle your mead. Again, you will use sterilized bottles, and use airtight caps, or quality corks to seal the bottles. Be SURE that fermentation is complete, lest pressure build up inside your sealed bottles. Allow your mead to age for at least 6 months in the bottle before drinking.