Throughout history, mead was always renowned and popular with both the nobles and the royalty to the peasants and the workers. In manuscripts from all over the world there’s mead mentioned someplace, from the Far East, to Europe and Africa, and all the way up to America.
Early Historic Records
Mead goes back to around 5000 BC, and its believed to be the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man due to the availability of honey. Probably, mead was discovered by huntsmen who while on a hunting trip came across a beehive submerged in water with fermented honey and drank from it, and thus mead was discovered.
From Greek manuscripts, honey and mead were believed to hold a divine connection to the ancient Gods and that they had mystical properties. Beekeeping, in fact, may have originated from there. Temple priests kept beehives as an honor to the Gods and the honey produced was utilized in various ways, including mead brewing. In turn, all honey products produced were sold to the people for a reasonable price. The Romans use to trade using mead, house lords would offer their best mead to other house lords as a sign of good faith. The sweeter and refined the mead was, the greater recognition the house lord obtained.
Up in the North, mead had a special place for the Norse. It was endlessly used during festive ritual gatherings and as medicine. It was believed by the Norse that the fallen warriors who go to Valhalla would be rewarded the best Mead for their bravery by the Norse gods. It was also responsible for the creation of the Honeymoon festivities newly weds enjoy today. Back then, the tradition was that a newly wed couple would drink mead everyday for a month in order the increase the woman’s fertility and conception chances. If the wife got pregnant within that month’s time, the brewer would get special recognition and better business.
Hence why the term Honey-moon, it referred to the time needed for the moon to complete a cycle and to the consummation of mead for fertility.
The Medieval Times
In medieval times, mead was still quite a popular beverage, but as fashions changed, so did the demand for mead, and with the discovery of grapes and wine, mead had some competition to keep up with. Mead production was still good, however, people started to craft other beverages composed of honey, and this gave birth to the Pyments, the Hippocras, and the Metheglins.
Pyments were designed by amateurs who wanted a shot at wealth and popularity by selling honey based concoctions to “heal” specific alignments and illnesses, but mostly to bitter ends with severe consequences. These beverages became a get-drunk-quick drinks for peasant drunkards to enjoy. Pyments, nowadays, is the category name given to all the mead-wine hybrids in production. There are pyments that survived from those times, among these is the famous Queen Elizabeth’s Mead, which was a horrendous beverage that was crafted in the name the queen. Later, this beverage was refined and improved and over the years it become quite a renowned pyment that every mead lover would enjoy.
Hippocras and Metheglins originated during the middle ages as well. The Hippocras dates back to ancient Greece. It was designed by the famous Greek priest- physician Hippocrates, who studied the properties of various herbs and spices, and, infused them with honey and grapes to craft specific pyments for medicinal purposes. All his research was then used by medieval physicians to prescribe hippocras to their patients as medicine. Metheglins, trace their origins to Wales, where the word Metheglin literally means medicine in Welsh. Like Hippocras, Metheglins were beverages crafted out of honey and herbs to create medicines to cure minor and major alignments. Trying to combine the various properties of honey and herbs, these physicians manage to craft actual remedies and even nowadays, some metheglins are renounced to have specific effects on us.
Mead also has an abundant rich history in medieval legends. The most famous amongst these is the Irish legend of St. Brigitte. It was said that when the King of Leinster visited her, they ran out of beverages to drink, and so, she took a large barrel of water and turned it to mead, similar to the biblical story of Kana. Nowadays, this saint is considered to be the patron saint of mead and wine brewers in Ireland.
The Napoleonic era
During the Napoleonic wars, mead was still in production and in fact there was a mead similar to an ale, because, hops was part of its recipe thus more of a beer crossover then a mead.
Back then sugar was still quite expansive to acquire, making honey the official sweetener used by the majority and so was mead production. The war brought with it the need for inns and taverns to constantly replenish their mead stock alongside ale and cider. This increased demand, and so mead was constantly being produced. Until the 18th century, mead and honey were still popular, but with the opening of the sugar cane plantations in the West Indies, sugar became available in bulks for purchase, and this brought with it the downfall of honey and all related beverages that utilised it, including mead.
Honey prices were going up and so was mead, and since it became cheaper to produce malt beer then mead, then obviously malt beer became the popular drink on the streets, putting the guillotine on mead nearly to elimination. It is thanks to the armatures who kept the hobby of mead brewing that mead and all its related products survived.
To conclude our history lesson, mead exists nowadays thanks to the perseverance and love by the brewers that still wanted to brew it back than. It is thanks to them, that we’re still enjoying this beverage today.