Thursday, 26 October, 2000

Mead

Most people have heard of mead, but few know what it is.  I know that I'd read about it for years, but before I started brewing beer I just thought it was medieval ale or something.  Actually, it's a fermented beverage made from honey.  Some people call it honey wine, but wine is made from fruit.  And it's not beer, because beer is made from grains.  (On a similar note, sake, often called 'rice wine,' is really a beer because it's made from grain).  In any case, the stuff is excellent.

Mead was a real treat during the Middle Ages because honey was hard to come by.  Today we understand bee husbandry, and obtaining 15 pounds of honey (about 5 quarts, depending on the type of honey) for a 5 gallon batch is trivial.  If brewers in the Middle Ages wanted honey, they had to find a bee hive somewhere, smoke out the bees, and steal it.  That's a lot more work than taking a gallon jug down to the supermarket.

Making mead is actually easier than making beer because there are fewer ingredients.  But it takes longer.  Meads take years to mature.  The bottle I opened over the weekend, for example, was from a batch that Debra and I made almost three years ago.  It was very good.  It's hard to believe that I poured out a bottle from the same batch about six months ago because it tasted so bad.  Because we don't pasteurize our mead (or the beer, for that matter) before bottling it, there are still biological and chemical processes taking place in the bottle.

I've been disappointed in the commercial meads that I've tried.  Most of the commercial meads are too sweet for my taste, and they don't seem to have aged them before pasteurizing and bottling.  As a result, most have an unpleasant  hot alcohol taste.  Some of our friends like Chaucer's, which is the only mead I've been able to find in local stores.  I've had some very good meads from Earle Estates Meadery.

If you're interested in making mead or learning more about it, start at the Mead Maker's Page, or at Honeywine.com.  The Honeywine site has links to many commercial meaderies from which you can order.