(n.) This alcoholic beverage made from honey rivals beer for the distinction of oldest alcoholic beverage, with archeological evidence showing production in India, China and Europe all well over two-thousand years ago. Made from fermenting a water-honey solution, mead is often called a “wine,” because the process is similar.
Traditionally, a honey-water mix was left in open air to be fermented by wild yeasts, though today, cultivated strains of yeast are available to the modern mead maker. Most mead takes at least three years of aging to turn to a drinkable product. This can be done in stainless steel tanks or barrels. Different styles of honey will affect the flavor of the mead; the lighter more delicate honeys will yield light mead, darker honeys will produce more caramelized flavors.
There are different schools of thought as to why mead fell out of favor after the Middle Ages: some cite the rise of beer and wine, others, the rise of sugar as the world’s preferred sweetener. Today though, things are changing: Once known as a lowly denizen of renaissance fairs and historical reenactments, mead too has been swept up by the craft spirits craze. New artisanal distilleries are opening apace, and bartenders are working it into cocktails. The offerings come in a range of styles borrowed from other spirit categories: hop-flavored and dry, carbonated, oak-aged and infused with herbs or fruits. Producers worth seeking out include B. Nektar and Kuhnhenn.