What is mead?
Mead is an alcoholic beverage. It’s a fermented beverage made of honey, water, and yeast, but it can also be flavoured with fruits, spices, grains or hops. The alcoholic content ranges from about 3.0% ABV to more than 20%.
The most common mead is traditional mead, but there are several subcategories. These variations are made by adding other ingredients such as fruits, grains, and spices. All these subcategories have their distinguishing characteristics and names. They include Pyment, Cyser, Braggot, Hippocras meads and Bochet, just to name a few. The first two sub-styles are mead with added fruit juices: Pyment (mead with grape juice) and Cyser (mead with apple juice). Bochet uses caramelised honey.
What is mead's ABV?
ABV means alcohol by volume, which is the global standard measurement for assessing the strength of an alcoholic beverage. The higher the ABV, the more alcohol a drink contains. For instance, you may expect wine to generally fall in the region of 12.5–13.5% ABV region, whereas the most common commercial liquors like Vodka and Rum will be somewhere around the 40% ABV. Beer is generally quite light by comparison. The average ABV of beer is only 4.5%.
Meads range is between 3%–20% ABV, depending on the fermentation. The region of 3%–7% ABV is considered a ‘session’ mead, 7% to 14% is considered standard, and 14% to 20% are called ‘sack' meads.
History of mead
Unfortunately, there is a lack of archaeological research into the history of mead. Its origins are not well defined. The ancient Greeks called mead ambrosia or nectar, and it was believed to be the drink of the gods. Celtic mythology tells of a river of mead running through paradise. The Anglo-Saxon culture held mead up as the bestower of immortality. Some historians suggest that a fermented honey beverage was drunk in India 4000 years ago. Other historians believe it originated from 20,000 to 40,000 years ago in Africa when tribes would drink the liquid created by honeybees that took up residence in hollowed-out tree trunks.
How to make mead
Mead is a bit easier than making beer, so you need less equipment, too. As with all fermentation processes, it’s necessary to have a sterile environment. So, before you start, wash all your equipment and wash down your workspace with warm soapy water. Mead is a bit easier than making beer, so you need less equipment, too.
These are the steps for making a simple, still mead:
- Add boiled water to the sterilised and rinsed container of choice, whether that be bucket or demijohn.
- Add the honey to the water and stir again until all the honey has dissolved.
- Add mead yeast and some sort of additional nutrition to the honey-water mixture – the added nutrition might be fruit, such as raisins – and stir to dissolve using the spoon.
- Leave the mixture to cool down to room temperature for a while, then transfer using a funnel.
- Leave your liquid to cool down to room temperature before pitching the yeast.
- Pitch the yeast, rehydrate it according to instructions written on the packet, and leave for about 5 minutes.
- Add it to your bucket or demijohn and shake gently.
- Fit an airlock – with a cap and a bung – to your demijohn, fill the airlock with water and leave it in a cool dark place where it won’t be disturbed for two weeks. The yeast should start to work, turning the sugar into CO2 and alcohol. The airlock ensures no contaminants get in but the CO2 gets out. You’ll know your yeast pitch was successful if after about 6 hrs when gas starts to bubble out of your airlock.
- When the bubbling stops, that tells you the first fermentation is finished. Transfer the mead to a second bucket or demijohn, leaving the sediment behind. Store in a dark place for about two months.
How to serve mead
Even though there is no one right way to serve mead, you should know a few tips for the best results.
If your mead is too sweet, the coldness can make the sweetness less overwhelming.
It is best served at 10 – 14°C and to get it to this temperature, you can simply store your mead in the fridge. Before serving, don't forget to allow it to sit in the glass for a few minutes at room temperature so it won’t be too cold.
As you've just read, mead is usually served a little bit chilled, but can also be enjoyed warmed up if you want something a little warmer for a cold day. The ideal temperature for serving hot mead is about 50°C. You should be careful not to overheat it – If mead reaches 60°C or above, it will start to foam leaving you with an unpleasant taste in your mouth.