Mead: A Primer

Mead: A Primer

By Willie Wrede

31 March 2019

Some of you, who have been paying attention to the latest trends in American drinking culture, are aware of a new type of fermented honey beverage hitting the markets and creating a buzz…Mead. For those of you who aren’t as dialed in, or who have heard the term before but aren’t quite sure about what it is, you are not alone. There’s a saying going around in the industry “Mead is the oldest form of fermented beverage that nobody’s heard of.” To a large extent that’s true. At over 9,000 years old Mead, which is fermented honey, is the oldest…but due to a recent Bud Light commercial with actors crying “Dilly Dilly!” millions of people are now more aware.

One chief reason that most folks haven’t tried it yet, is because up until just a few years ago, Mead was only produced by a handful of wineries, which peddled their wares at Renaissance Faires. There were approximately 65 dedicated Meaderies in operation five years ago, but the scene is exploding a la craft beer, albeit at a much slower rate. Today there are close to 500 Meaderies across the United States, with many more in the planning stages, and wineries are adding mead to their product lineup as well. As with cider, most mead is gluten free, and we all know how well that sells in today’s market climate. With over 60 varieties of honey available domestically, and approximately 300 varieties worldwide, all of which have regional influences on their flavor, Mead is the ultimate blank canvas awaiting the artist’s brush.

Pop Culture is giving Mead a boost. HBO’s Game of Thrones, originally written by George R.R. Martin, History Channel’s Vikings, Marvel’s Thor movies, Beowulf, The Lord of The Rings, and Harry Potter, are all somewhat responsible for the rise in recent popularity.  Mead has long been a part of fantasy fiction and is mentioned in stories or sagas from long ago.

Most people instantly think that Mead will be too sweet or thick, like the honey it is made from. That’s not usually the case. There were a lot of people blending honey with cheap white wine and calling that Mead. This still happens at some venues where the folks in charge make a business over quality decision. It is also sold like this in some widely distributed labels that say “Meade” with an extra “E” tacked on the end. This faux Mead is called a Mulsum, and is an ancient Roman drink. Today the Mead landscape has adopted some of the best things about Craft alcohol, and there are wide ranges of sweetness levels, flavor combinations, alcohol strengths, and styles available. Meaderies have been surprising people, some of which have the highest average ratings on a popular beer tracking app called Untappd, and the secondary market is ablaze with “whales” being traded and sold for several time the retail value.

An exhaustive list of the various styles of Mead would fill an entire magazine. At last count there were more than 30, and the industry continues to innovate and create more. Where can you find it? Most producers start small, and do a distribution model, but Mead bars are popping up everywhere. Themes run from punkish, to modern/hip. Others take inspiration from their heritage or interests in history. Most establishments sell their product on, and we are no different.  See the shop tab to find our current list of bottled varieties, or join one of our Mead Clubs, and get the latest releases sent right to your door!

About the author: Willie Wrede is the founder, co-owner, and Mead Maker at Meduseld Meadery in Lancaster, PA. Meduseld means Mead Hall in old English, and that mental image is exactly what you’ll find when you walk through our doors. Willie is a BJCP Mead Judge, and a Veteran who likes to get lost in the worlds of Fantasy fiction, derives a lot of inspiration for recipes from those novels, from history, and his travels abroad in the U.S. Armed Forces.