What Exactly is Honey Wine?

If I said mead, you probably say: what? Or immediately think of the Canterbury Tales. Either way, mead isn’t a common or familiar word in our day in age. But modern wine and beer experts are bringing it back because, at it’s core, mead is honey wine. 

Mead consists of three simple ingredients: yeast, honey, and water.

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If you think the concept of drinking boozy honey is weird, you’ll probably be surprised to hear that mead predates wine. And by a lot. Mead dates back as far as 20,000 years ago with ties to 7000 BC China.

Mead is so old, we don’t even know its origin story. Historians guess that it was accidentally concocted as a result of ancient honey-storing techniques. It’s theorized that honey was kept in pots with a layer of water on top to keep away lazy bees (why pollinate when the honey’s sitting right there in a bucket?) It’s likely that the water naturally attracted wild yeasts that then fermented the honey water. 

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Mead was the original wingman

The term”honeymoon” is actually derived from the tradition of providing newlyweds with enough mead to last an entire month or to the next full moon. Honey wine for a month = honeymoon.

The hope was that the bride and groom were more likely to produce offspring with the help of a mead-induced buzz. Not exactly romantic, but probably practical in the days of planned marriages, especially those specifically arranged to create heirs.

But let’s get back to the drink in hand

Mead is around 75% water and 25% honey. It’s fruity brother, Cyzer, swaps water for apple cider.

There are three common types of mead:

Hydromil = This mead is usually carbonated with 10-15% honey by volume (hbv), which ferments into 3-7% alcohol

Standard = This is usually a still mead with 15-20% hbv, which makes 7 – 14% abv.

Sack = This is a syrupy dessert mead with  50% hbv and 14% abv. Unfortunately, the extra alcohol also comes with additional tax, so sacks are a bit more rare at independent meaderies. 

Want mead? SAVE THE BEES!

Good meaderies respect the bees and use certified honey. This means only 15% of the total hive honey is extracted for commercial use. If more than 15% of the honey is extracted, it can cause hive collapse; this is when bees abandon their home. Overuse of honey  directly affects the survival of honeybees. 

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80% of honey in the US is produced in North and South Dakota. Bees are loaded with their hives into giant semi-trucks and brought around the country to pollinate crops. Not all honey is pure however, China and Thailand have been caught producing fake honey (made from high fructose corn syrup) in response to the bee and honey crisis, so mead-makers have to be careful  to avoid fake honey. 

What else do I need to know about mead?

Just like wine, mead can be mixed with other flavors to create unique tastes! Common flavors include apple, cinnamon, vanilla, and fruits (blueberry, raspberry, etc).

Stay tuned for an article on Moonlight Meadery in Londonderry, NH, for an exclusive on local mead culture and flavors!

CC Attribution: “Honey Bee” by John (cygnus921 @flickr)

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