What Is Mead (Honey Wine)?

Backlit Bottles of Mead

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In This Article

Mead, often called honey wine, is an alcoholic beverage brewed from honey, yeast, and water. The ancient libations has been brewed and enjoyed for thousands of years by the ancient Romans, Greeks, Africans, and Chinese and is still made and served around the world. Famously popular in Celtic countries, mead can be made in a range of styles, from dry to sweet, with fruit, herbs, hops, or spices sometimes added. Because mead can be made in a wide range of ways, the alcohol content can range from low to high.

Fast Facts

  • Regions: Worldwide
  • Origin: Unknown
  • Sweetness: Dry to very sweet
  • Color: Gold
  • ABV: 8–20% 

Taste and Flavor Profile

Mead is an incredibly varied drink that is available from dry to sweet and can take on a wide range of flavors. The flavors can vary depending on what type of honey is used, how the mead is treated, and what additional ingredients (if any) are added. Aromas and flavors will reflect the honey's origins (such as clover, wildflower, etc.) and any added flavorings. This often includes floral, honey, and sometimes spicy notes. Mead is typically low in acidity and, since it is not made using grapes, contains no tannins.

There are countless sub-groups of mead. Here are some of the more common types:

  • Braggot: Sometimes considered more a beer than a mead, braggot is either a mix of the two drinks or mead brewed with hops and malt.
  • Melomel: Flavored with fruit or fruit juice, melomel is often made with blackberries and/or raspberries.
  • Cyser: Mead made using apples is known as cyser.
  • Metheglin: Spiced, herbal mead, metheglin is historically used for medicinal purposes.
  • Acerglyn: A mead-like beverage, acerglyn is made using maple syrup.
  • Great Mead: A refined, aged mead is often called "great mead."
  • Sparkling Mead: Mead can be made as a carbonated, sparkling beverage, and can be in combination with other styles.

Regions and Origins

Many countries have a heritage with mead, with evidence of imbibing dating back to Ancient China, Greece, Rome, and Egypt. In fact, it may be the oldest known alcoholic beverage. Ancient Greeks referred to mead as "ambrosia," and it was believed to be a favorite beverage of King Solomon and Queen Sheba. Mead appears in everything from "Beowulf" to "The Lord of the Rings."

In Celtic cultures, mead was believed to enhance virility and fertility while also contributing supposed aphrodisiac qualities. As a result, mead quickly found its way into Irish wedding ceremonies. The term “honeymoon” is believed to have stemmed from the Irish tradition of newlyweds drinking honey wine every day for one full moon after their weddings. Today, some Irish weddings still include a traditional mead toast.

Countries around the world still enjoy this alcoholic beverage, with mead remaining popular in Celtic countries like Ireland, eastern Europe, Russia, and Ethiopia, where it is called tej. Hundreds of wineries and breweries produce mead in the United States, and many fans brew up the drink in their own at home.

Food Pairings

Dry, classic meads can be paired similarly to a flavorful white wine. Try serving mead with a cheeseboard including cured meats, nuts, and olives. Dry mead will also pair nicely with fresh seafood dishes like fish tacos or shrimp pasta. Dry or semi-dry mead is a traditional accompaniment to an Irish meal, including corned beef. Sweeter mead can serve as a nice counterpoint to spicy foods like Korean beef stew.

Depending on the style, mead can be served chilled, at room temperature, or warmed. Sparkling, fruit-infused, and braggot-style meads are typically served cold, while some sweet meads are heated during cold months as a warm beverage. While traditional mead vessels exist, most opt to serve mead in a white wine glass or tumblers.

Key Producers, Brands, and Buying Tips

Mead isn't commonly available in grocery stores but is usually stocked in well-appointed liquor stores and wine shops. Many independent breweries make braggot, which can be obtained directly from the brewers. Mead can be easily ordered online or through a shop. If you can't find dry mead, try a dry white wine instead like chardonnay.

When shopping for mead, look for these brands that make high-quality and widely available mead:

  • Schramm's
  • Wild Blossom
  • Heidrun
  • B. Nektar
  • Brothers Drake
  • Medovina
  • Redstone
  • Sap House