The history of mead is the history of honey. Oddly enough, honey is the only food found in nature that never spoils. As such, honey has enjoyed almost a mystical reputation from as far east as Japan and as far west as the Polynesian Islands… in other words: around the world.










While no one can pinpoint the exact time period or location where mead was discovered, there is evidence of it in nearly every ancient culture. Mead was the preferred drink during the Meditteranean “Age of Gold”, and the word for drunk in classical Greek translates to "intoxicated with honey.” The Vedas (Hindu holy book) mentions honey as a sacred item as far back as 8000 years ago. The Egyptians used honey as a medicinal unguent, including it in their burial preparations. Early records of mead are also found in the Far East, Scandinavia, the British Isles, and early aboriginal cultures in the Americas.





With each culture comes a distinct set of differences in how the mead is made, and for what purpose. For instance, in Beowulf, we read about “Viking” mead as a frothy honey-ale. Theoretically, we surmise that this honey drink is probably cut with water or beer, and is frothy due to the fact that it is still fermenting – being drunk within days of the foam layer on top of the barrel subsiding. This would make it a low-alcohol drink as well, but with a strong honey taste. In the Edda, we read about the creation of mead by dwarves – intended as a gift for the giants, it was stolen by Odin for his own use. Now Valkyries present horns of mead to new souls in Valhalla.



In ancient Rome, we read about mulsum – a wine blended with honey after the ferment. In ancient Greece, ypocras is the spiced ‘nectar of the gods’, taken along with the army when they go to war to assure victory. Aristotle discusses the value of bees and honey in everyday life, and often refers to “nectar” or “ambrosia” in the context of fermented honey.



In the ancient Gaelic cultures, honey was so revered that it was included in religious ceremonies. Saint Brigid, a patron saint of beer, reputedly turned water into mead for the king of Leinster. To this day, the “blessing of the mead” still takes place in Cornwall every year on the anniversary (which happens to be the feast day of Saint Bartholomew.) Mead is mentioned in the Welsh epic, y Gododdin.

The late Sir Robert Gayre is probably considered the foremost authority on ancient mead practices. He cites Celtic legend which states that heaven runs with a river of mead. Celtic history is full of stories of mead halls where men would gather to share “honey beer” and talk about their victories in battle and the hunt.

Geoffrey of Monmouth, an historian of English Kings, cites a conversation between High King Vortigern (king of the Bretons in the mid-4th century) and a young lady where a cup of mead was shared while toasting each others’ respective health.

Mead was so important in Slavic culture that the Polish prince, Lescek the White declined to participate in a Crusade due to the lack of mead in Palestine.

Mead in northern Europe was popular partly because grapes would not grow there. Once grape imports were economically possible in the north, mead popularity began to decline. It remained popular as a drink of the masses because it was easy to make and honey was plentiful. It was also popular as a medicinal beverage. Oddly, the medicinal properties of honey have been bourn out by science, as it has been proven to be contra-bacterial.

In Finland, mead flavored with lemon is served to celebrate May Day every year.

The most famous mead makers in the world reside on the island of Lindisfarne in the British Isles, where mead has been manufactured continuously since the end of the Roman occupation.




Probably the most famous “history of mead” story is the legend of the honeymoon. During the middle ages, it was widely believed that honey would promote the birth of a male child. It was considered very lucky when the first-born to a newly married couple was a boy. Therefore, on the day of their wedding, the father of the groom would gift the couple with enough honey to last a full month, or moon, thus assuring that the child conceived during the first days of the marriage would be a boy. Oddly enough, modern science seems to support this theory. Apparently, a diet rich in honey alters the female pH levels enough to provide a favorable environment for conception of a male.





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