An Introduction to Mead

Posted on April 8th, 2010

Although beer is our main focus here at Beeriety, we sometimes like to profile related fields that are also popular among craft beer enthusiasts. Humans have been drinking mead for a long, long time. In fact, its thought to be the first type of alcohol ever produced, dating back all the way to 7000 BCE. The Romans drank mead, the Vikings drank mead and people today still drink mead, although in much smaller numbers. Since the mid-1990’s there has been a growing interest in the beverage and more great mead makers are cropping up with each passing year. Although it can be tough to find in some parts of the US, the unique variety of flavors possible with mead makes it worth seeking out.

The mead brewing process is very similar to the beer brewing process. Both start with a sugar-rich substance, (with beer it’s grains, with mead it’s honey) which is steeped and boiled and then brought back down to room temperature. Yeast is added to ferment the mixture, converting the sugars to CO2 and alcohol. After a few weeks to a few months of aging, a delicious beverage is the end result.

Also just like with beer, from this simple process a whole range of flavors and styles are possible. Meads range from sweet to dry, from still to sparkling, and everything in between. Sometimes the labels on bottles of mead can be difficult to decipher so here’s a quick rundown of some mead styles and terms:

Show mead – A basic mead but with just honey, water and yeast. Frequently multiple types of honey will be used and blended together

Traditional mead – Basic mead that makes uses of some additives, but still tastes very similar to show mead

Varietal Mead – Mead made from honey from a single type of honey from a single region

Metheglin – Mead made with spices and herbs.

Pyment – Mead made with grapes or blended with wine.

Cyser – Mead made with apples or blended with cider.

Braggot – Mead made with grain or blended with beer.

Melomel – Mead brewed with fruit, usually something different than grapes or apples.

Hydromel – Low alcohol mead, between 1-6% alcohol by volume.

Standard strength – Moderately alcoholic mead, usually 7.5-14% ABV

Sack strength – Mead of more than 14% ABV

Still – Uncarbonated mead.

Petillant – Lightly carbonated mead.

Sparkling – Fully carbonated mead, similar to beer or sparkling wine in effervescence

These terms are frequently combined on a label, so you’ll see a bottle marked “petillant hydromel braggot” or “sparkling sack melomel.” Occasionally you’ll even see mead marked as “honeywine,” but that’s really a bit of a misnomer, since it doesn’t have much to do with actual wine. By far the biggest mead brewery, or meadery is Red Stone out of Colorado.  They are available in almost 30 different states and all of their styles are worth a try. Head over to their website for further info on availability.

Have you ever tried mead? What do you think of it? let us known on Twitter or in the comments.