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A beginner's guide to mead, the drink shaking off its 'ye olde' image

Mead is reinventing itself as a thoroughly modern tipple.

Mead is widely believed to be the very first alcoholic drink, with evidence of honey fermentation in China dating as far back as 7000 BC.

Photograph by Getty Images
By Zane Henry
Published 5 Nov 2021, 17:02 GMT

Mead? Isn’t that what the Vikings drank?

It was certainly popular during the Middle Ages, and it was the drink of choice for the Danish warriors in the Old English epic poem Beowulf. But mead is much older than that, so much so that it’s widely believed to be the very first alcoholic drink, with evidence of honey fermentation in China dating as far back as 7000 BC. Ancient civilisations elsewhere in Asia, as well as in Europe and Africa, subsequently developed their own versions.

How’s it made?

Befitting a drink with such a long history, there are innumerable iterations, but, in its simplest form, mead is made from honey and water, fermented with yeast. In terms of classification, it’s a drink apart, being neither brewed like a beer, nor a type of wine or spirit. It’s also simple enough to be made at home, under the guidance of YouTube tutorials, should you wish. But be warned: although easy to make, it’s hard to perfect.

So who’s making it?

Modern mead-makers include Bermondsey-based Gosnells of London, which has a range of canned sparkling meads — Hopped, Citra Sea, Hibiscus and Sour — plus bottled meads. Superstition Meadery, in Arizona, ages some of its meads in bourbon and wine barrels, creating a vast range of flavour profiles. Meanwhile, in New York, actor and entrepreneur Dylan Sprouse — passionate about mead since his teenage years — has co-founded All-Wise Meadery. It makes traditional meads, as well as varieties flavoured with rose petals and oolong tea.

How should I drink it?

Mead can be served neat, either chilled or at room temperature, depending on the type. The sparkling varieties make a great alternative to a cider. Mead’s burgeoning popularity means it’s also increasingly used as a cocktail ingredient. Take, for example, bride’s nectar from The Cocktail Trading Co., in Shoreditch, east London, which is made from jasmine mead, calvados, yellow Chartreuse and lemon juice.

Gosnells Mead Garden, in Peckham, features a machine that serves up ‘frozen ‘meaderita’ on warmer days. 

Photograph by Thomas Alexander Photography

Three of the best bars for mead

Gosnells Mead Garden, London
This outside space in Peckham features a machine that serves up ‘frozen ‘meaderita’ on warmer days. 

All-Wise Meadery, New York
This meadery’s tasting room is the place to try its Show Mead, made with New York honey. 

Superstition Meadery, Arizona
Sample variants (Peanut Butter Jelly Crime, anyone?) while savouring gourmet snacks. 

Love food and travel? Taste the world at the National Geographic Traveller Food Festival, our immersive culinary event taking place on 16-17 July 2022 at London’s Business Design Centre. Find out more and book your tickets.

Published in Issue 12 (autumn 2021) of National Geographic Traveller Food

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