History of Mead
Mead is referenced in the ancient cultures of China, India, Greece and Egypt. Chinese pottery vessels dating from 7000 B.C.E. suggest evidence of mead fermentation that predates both wine and beer. The first batch of mead was probably a chance discovery: Early foragers likely drank the contents of a rainwater-flooded beehive that had fermented naturally with the help of airborne yeast.
The earliest documented evidence suggests that a fermented honey beverage was drunk in India some 4000 years ago. Mead is almost certainly the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man and likely discovered before the wheel was invented. As long as there have been bees and honey there has been mead. Mead occurs naturally when honey is mixed with water and yeast. A chance occurrence of mead was likely produced during the Stone Age when honey became wet from rain and wild yeast in the air settled into the mixture. Once knowledge of mead production was in place, it spread globally, and was popular with Vikings, Mayans, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans alike.
The ancient Greeks called mead ambrosia or nectar and it was believed to be the drink of the gods, descended from the Heavens as dew, before being gathered in by the bees. Because of this belief, it is easy to see why the ancients thought mead had magical and sacred properties and would prolong life, bestow health, strength, virility, re-creative powers, wit and poetry.
Mead’s popularity has waxed and waned and is currently on the rise throughout the world. The history of mead has roots in royalty, religion, sex, and violence throughout the ages of time and cultures of the world.
There are tales of Norsemen toasting one another with mead drunk from skulls of their slain enemies.
The ancient Greeks honored Bacchus, who was widely regarded as the God of Mead long before he became accepted as the God of Wine. The Greeks respected a mead-making season after which the mead matured and was saved for an orgy which took place once or twice a year.
The Moors considered honey to be an aphrodisiac while Pollio Romulus wrote to Julius Caesar that at 100 years old he attributed his full sex life to drinking copious amounts of metheglin — a spiced mead.
During the Middle Ages, Queen Elizabeth possessed her own royal recipe for mead and Chaucer wrote of mead on more than one occasion. Shakespeare drank mead.
In Germany, judges were served mead and army troops were provided mead for fortification.
But mead’s real claim to fame is in its origins in wedding celebrations, hence the word “Honeymoon.” Mead was traditionally drunk during the month-long celebrations following weddings to insure fertility and the birth of sons. Some customs sent the bride to bed and then filled the bridegroom with mead until he could no longer stand. He was then delivered to the bride’s bedside to sire a son that very night. If, perchance, the bride did, in fact, bear a son nine months later, the maker of the mead was complimented on its quality.
Craft mead has made a resurgence in today’s beverage market with the access to modern fermentation techniques, quality honey and it being a gluten-free, natural beverage. It is also one of the most versatile drinks in the craft market.