What is it?
Well, besides that stuff you’ve seen Vikings drink on TV, mead is basically wine that is made from honey rather than grapes. That’s a very generalized description that many fans bristle at, so, more specifically, it is: a typically spiced version of fermented honey that may be dry or sweet, carbonated or naturally sparkling, syrupy or thin, and can be served warm (similar in temperature to mulled wine or mulled cider) or chilled. This 9000-year-old drink is older than wine and beer and has been labelled the “drink of kings” due to its once-ubiquitous popularity across Europe. It’s also been called the nectar of the gods, due to its history in Norse culture. Basically, Thor and Co. would get smashed on mead before going out and smashing sh*t up themselves.
Much like the regional grapes used in wine, honey has many distinct elements that make one area’s honey different from another. This means mead will also be different from region to region, giving it a wonderful locality that some other spirits do not have. Its surge in popularity in recent years has been confirmed by the – and I bet you didn’t know this organization existed – American Mead Market Association, which claimed last year that mead has seen a 130% market growth since 2011. It’s officially the most expanding drink on the market with the highest amount of new customers. Take that, craft beer!
Where To Get It?
There are now 250 meaderies (a vineyard for mead) and a growing number of mazers (the fancy word for a trained mead-maker) across the country. Community and farmers markets as well as wine-making estates are seeing more and more shops and stalls selling the brew. Meanwhile, bars are getting hip to the trend and are putting the drink on their winter warmer menus. There’s really no excuse for your favorite Brooklyn haunt, or a regional winter escape in Washington to not have it available.
While mead is not yet a common sight at American liquor stores just yet, in a sign of things to come, the drink is becoming more widely available in the bottle shops of English-speaking countries like Australia. Down under, a bottle from the local liquor store goes for the relatively cheap price of $15 – the average cost of a decent wine or a six pack of IPA beer.
If you’re not particularly fussed and want to spend the money, you can even try making your own. It’s complicated, but if you’ve already experimented with making your own beer, then this shouldn’t be all that different or difficult.
What To Do With It?
If you’ve decided to embrace your inner Beowulf this coming cold season, then there are some things you should know. If you’re going to serve your mead warm, and this is recommended as it allows the blend of honey and spices to be truly enhanced, you can do this several ways. If you’re drinking for one – or maybe you want to impress a certain somebody with a sweet and tasty nightcap – then simply poor the desired amount into a mug and warm in the microwave. It’s really that easy. With varieties ranging from (typically) 8%-20% alcohol content, they can pack a mighty punch during cold and flu season, so if you wince a little bit too much at the taste of whiskey, then mead is a perfect soothing winter tonic to kick those germs to the curb. For added medicinal oomph, try elderberry mead).
For larger groups, mulled mead makes a wonderfully tangy alternative to a Christmas party and will be a festive treat for many. When preparing for a party, you can either use a slow-cooker/crock-pot or a large saucepan. If the particular brand of mead you are using is not spiced already, then simply add a mulling spice mixture (which includes cloves, cinnamon, and other spices) as you would to a pot of a mulled wine or cider. Using a slow-cooker or crock-pot is particularly useful during a party as it allows the stove-top to be used for other cooking. Just make sure to not boil the drink as then the alcohol will disappear and, really, the alcohol is the entire point.
If, however, you feel like drinking something cool, then mead can also be served chilled for a unique summer cocktail. Simply pour over ice and add soda water or lemonade with a slice of cucumber, lime and/or lemon. For an extra lazy-Sunday afternoon, add a splash of gin. It quenches the thirst in ways you would have never known.
Why Should You Get It?
As if it wasn’t already clear enough, mead is freakin’ delicious! It’s as simple as that. Just remember that it can be very alcoholic and the smooth, warming nature of mead means it can go down deceptively easy. Pace yourself on a winter’s eve and you’ll be wanting to tell everyone about it.