While the history of wine dates back thousands of years, historians point to another beverage as the first alcoholic drink: mead.
A fermented beverage made of honey, water, and yeast, it’s often called “honey wine.” That, however, is a bit of a misnomer, as this unique drink is unlike any wine, or even beer or cider. Here’s all you need to know about this ancient alcoholic beverage currently undergoing a resurgence in the U.S.
A Brief History
Its exact origins are unknown, but some texts show ancient Greeks consumed a honey-and-water mixture as a way to honor the goddess Aphrodite — one reason why it’s referred to as the “nectar of the gods.” It’s also thought that Nordic Vikings celebrated battles and long voyages with mead. More recently, historians believe it originated anywhere 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.
In early England, mead was often infused with herbs and thought to aid in digestion or improve depression, and during medieval times, honey wine was an essential part of a new marriage. In fact, the term “honeymoon” comes from mead — after marriage, a couple was supposed to drink this honey liquid as a way to boost fertility.
How It’s Made
Like any alcoholic beverage, mead starts with fermentation. Water is added to honey to dilute the thick liquid, then yeast converts the sugars in the honey to alcohol. Once this primary fermentation is complete, the mead is moved into another fermentation vessel for further clarification.
It sounds simple, but just like wine, mead can be incredibly complex. Honey itself shows a wide range of flavor profiles — just like wine grapes — depending on the type of flower pollen used. The thought of a honey wine may conjure up the idea of sweetness, but mead can be brewed in a range of styles, from dry to semi-sweet to sparkling.
In terms of alcohol content, mead is closer to wine than beer, ranging anywhere from eight to 20 percent ABV. And like high-end wines, meads can age for several years, developing new layers of complexity.