Swedish elderflower-flavoured mead.
Typefermented beverage
Alcohol by volume 3.5–20.5%
Proof (US)7°–41°
Colourpale yellow
Flavourdry, sweet or semi-sweet
Ingredientsfermenting honey
Variantsmetheglyn, chouchen, bochet,
Related productstej, midus, medovukha, bais, balché

Mead (/md/), also called hydromel, particularly when low in alcohol content, is an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting honey mixed with water, and sometimes with added ingredients such as fruits, spices, grains, or hops.[1][2][3] The alcoholic content ranges from about 3.5% ABV[4] to more than 20%. The defining characteristic of mead is that the majority of the beverage's fermentable sugar is derived from honey.[5] It may be still, carbonated, or naturally sparkling; dry, semi-sweet, or sweet.[6]

The term honey wine is sometimes used as a synonym for mead,[7][8] although wine is typically defined to be the product of fermented grapes or certain other fruits,[9] and some cultures have honey wines that are distinct from mead. The honey wine of Hungary, for example, is the fermentation of honey-sweetened pomace of grapes or other fruits.[10]

Mead was produced in ancient times throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia,[11][12][13][14] and has played an important role in the mythology of some peoples. In Norse mythology, for example, the Mead of Poetry, crafted from the blood of Kvasir (a wise being born from the mingled spittle of the Aesir and Vanir deities) would turn anyone who drank it into a poet or scholar.


Mead is a drink widely considered to have been discovered prior to the advent of both agriculture and ceramic pottery in the Neolithic,[15] due to the prevalence of naturally occurring fermentation and the distribution of eusocial honey-producing insects worldwide;[16] as a result, it is hard to pinpoint the exact historical origin of mead given the possibility of multiple discovery or potential knowledge transfer between early humans prior to recorded history.[17][18][19] In Europe, mead is first described from residual samples found in ceramics of the Bell Beaker Culture (c. 2800–1800 BCE).[20] With the eventual rise of ceramic pottery and increasing use of fermentation in food processing to preserve surplus agricultural crops,[21] evidence of mead begins to show up in the archaeological record more clearly, with pottery vessels from northern China dating from at least 7000 BCE discovered containing chemical signatures consistent with the presence of honey, rice, and organic compounds associated with fermentation.[20][22][23]

The earliest surviving written record of mead is possibly the soma mentioned in the hymns of the Rigveda,[24] one of the sacred books of the historical Vedic religion and (later) Hinduism dated around 1700–1100 BCE. The Rigveda predates the Indo-Iranian separation, dated to roughly 2000 BCE, so this mention may originate from the Western Steppe or Eastern Europe.[25][26][27] The Abri, a northern subgroup of the Taulantii, were known to the ancient Greek writers for their technique of preparing mead from honey.[28] Taulantii could prepare mead, wine from honey like the Abri.[29] During the Golden Age of ancient Greece, mead was said to be the preferred drink.[30] Aristotle (384–322 BCE) discussed mead made in Illiria in his Meteorologica and elsewhere, while Pliny the Elder (23–79 CE) called mead militites in his Naturalis Historia and differentiated wine sweetened with honey or "honey-wine" from mead.[31] The Hispanic-Roman naturalist Columella gave a recipe for mead in De re rustica, about 60 CE.

Take rainwater kept for several years, and mix a sextarius[32] of this water with a [Roman] pound[33] of honey. For a weaker mead, mix a sextarius of water with nine ounces[34] of honey. The whole is exposed to the sun for 40 days and then left on a shelf near the fire. If you have no rain water, then boil spring water.[35]

Ancient Greek writer Pytheas described a grain and honey drink similar to mead that he encountered while travelling in Thule.[36] According to James Henry Ramsay this was an earlier version of Welsh metheglin.[37] When 12-year-old Prince Charles II visited Wales in 1642 Welsh metheglin was served at the feast as a symbol of Welsh presence in the emerging British identity in the years between the Union of the Crowns in 1603 and the creation of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707.[38][39]

A mention of "meodu scencu" (mead-cup) in Beowulf

There is a poem attributed to the Welsh bard Taliesin, who lived around 550 CE, called the Kanu y med or "Song of Mead" (Cân y medd).[40] The legendary drinking, feasting, and boasting of warriors in the mead hall is echoed in the mead hall Din Eidyn (modern-day Edinburgh) as depicted in the poem Y Gododdin, attributed to the poet Aneirin who would have been a contemporary of Taliesin. In the Old English epic poem Beowulf, the Danish warriors drank mead. In both Insular Celtic and Germanic poetry, mead was the primary heroic or divine drink, see Mead of poetry.

Mead (Old Irish mid) was a popular drink in medieval Ireland.[41] Beekeeping was brought around the 5th century, traditionally attributed to Modomnoc, and mead came with it. A banquet hall on the Hill of Tara was known as Tech Mid Chuarda ("house of the circling of mead"). Mead was often infused with hazelnuts.[42] Many other legends of saints mention mead, as does that of the Children of Lir.[43]

Later, taxation and regulations governing the ingredients of alcoholic beverages led to commercial mead becoming a more obscure beverage until recently.[44] Some monasteries kept up the traditions of mead-making as a by-product of beekeeping, especially in areas where grapes could not be grown.


The English mead – "fermented honey drink" – derives from the Old English meodu or medu,[45] and Proto-Indo-European language, *médʰu.[46] Its cognates include Old Norse mjǫðr, Proto-Slavic medъ, Middle Dutch mede, and Old High German metu, and the ancient Irish queen Medb, among others.[46] The Chinese word for honey, (蜜) was borrowed from the extinct Indo-European Tocharian word mit – also a cognate with the English word mead.[47]

Fermentation process

Meads will often ferment well at the same temperatures at which wine is fermented, and the yeast used in mead making is often identical to that used in wine making (particularly those used in the preparation of white wines). Many home mead makers choose to use wine yeasts to make their meads.[48]

By measuring the specific gravity of the mead once before fermentation and throughout the fermentation process using a hydrometer or refractometer, mead makers can determine the proportion of alcohol by volume that will appear in the final product. This also serves to troubleshoot a "stuck" batch, one where the fermentation process has been halted prematurely by dormant or dried yeast.[49][50]

With many different styles of mead possible, there are many different processes employed, although many producers will use techniques recognizable from wine-making. One such example is to rack the product into a second container, once fermentation slows down significantly. These are known as a primary and a secondary fermentation, respectively. Some larger commercial fermenters are designed to allow both primary and secondary fermentation to happen inside the same vessel. Racking is done for two reasons: it lets the mead sit away from the remains of the yeast cells (lees) that have died during the fermentation process. Second, this lets the mead have time to clear. Cloudiness can be caused by either yeast[51] or suspended protein molecules.[50] There is also the possibility that the pectin from any fruit that is used could have set which gives the mead a cloudy look.[50] The cloudiness can be cleared up by either "cold breaking", which is leaving the mead in a cold environment overnight, or using a fining material, such as sparkolloid, bentonite, egg white, or isinglass.[50] If the mead-maker wishes to backsweeten the product (add supplementary sweetener) or prevent it from oxidizing, potassium metabisulfite and potassium sorbate are added. After the mead clears, it is bottled and distributed.

Primary fermentation usually takes 28 to 56 days, after which the must is placed in a secondary fermentation vessel for 6 to 9 months of aging.[52][53] Durations of primary and secondary fermentation producing satisfactory mead may vary considerably according to numerous factors, such as floral origin of the honey and its natural sugar and microorganism contents, must water percentage, pH, additives used, and strain of yeast, among others.[53][54] Although supplementation of the must with non-nitrogen based salts, or vitamins has been tested to improve mead qualities, no evidence suggests that adding micronutrients reduced fermentation time or improved quality.[52] Cell immobilization methods, however, proved effective for enhancing mead quality.[53]


Mead can have a wide range of flavors depending on the source of the honey, additives (also known as "adjuncts" or "gruit") including fruit and spices, the yeast employed during fermentation, and the aging procedure.[20] Some producers have erroneously marketed white wine sweetened and flavored with honey after fermentation as mead, sometimes spelling it "meade."[20][55] Some producers ferment a blend of honey and other sugars, such as white refined sugar, again, mislabeling the product as mead. This is closer in style to a hypocras. Blended varieties of mead may be known by the style represented; for instance, a mead made with cinnamon and apples may be referred to as either a cinnamon metheglin or an apple cyser.

A mead that also contains spices (such as cloves, cinnamon or nutmeg), or herbs (such as meadowsweet, hops, or even lavender or chamomile), is called a metheglin /mɪˈθɛɡlɪn/.[56][57]

A mead that contains fruit (such as raspberry, blackberry or strawberry) is called a melomel,[58] which was also used as a means of food preservation, keeping summer produce for the winter. A mead that is fermented with grape juice is called a pyment.[58]

Mulled mead is a popular drink at Christmas time, where mead is flavored with spices (and sometimes various fruits) and warmed, traditionally by having a hot poker plunged into it.[59]

Some meads retain some measure of the sweetness of the original honey, and some may even be considered as dessert wines. Drier meads are also available, and some producers offer sparkling meads.

Historically, meads were fermented with wild yeasts and bacteria (as noted in the recipe quoted above) residing on the skins of the fruit or within the honey itself. Wild yeasts can produce inconsistent results. Yeast companies have isolated strains of yeast that produce consistently appealing products. Brewers, winemakers, and mead makers commonly use them for fermentation, including yeast strains identified specifically for mead fermentation. These are strains that have been selected because of their characteristic of preserving delicate honey flavors and aromas.[citation needed]

Mead can also be distilled to a brandy or liqueur strength, in which case it is sometimes referred to as a whiskey.[60] A version called "honey jack" can be made by partly freezing a quantity of mead and straining the ice out of the liquid (a process known as freeze distillation), in the same way that applejack is made from cider.[citation needed]

Regional variants

In Finland, a sweet mead called sima is connected with the Finnish Vappu festival (although in modern practice, brown sugar is often used in place of honey[61]). During secondary fermentation, added-raisins augment the amount of sugar available to the yeast and indicate readiness for consumption, rising to the top of the bottle when sufficiently depleted.[citation needed] Sima is commonly served with both the pulp and rind of a lemon.

An Ethiopian mead variant tej (ጠጅ, Template:IPA-am) is usually home-made and flavored with the powdered leaves and bark of gesho, a hop-like bittering agent which is a species of buckthorn. A sweeter, less-alcoholic version (honey-water) called berz, aged for a shorter time, is also made.

Mead in Poland and Ireland has been part of culinary tradition for over a thousand years.[62][63][64]

In the United States, mead is enjoying a resurgence, starting with small home meaderies and now with a number of small commercial meaderies.[65] As mead becomes more widely available, it is seeing increased attention and exposure from the news media.[66][67] This resurgence can also been seen around the world in the UK and Australia particularly with session (lower alcohol styles) some times call hydromel[68] and Mead-Beer Hybrids also known as Braggots.[69]

List of mead variants

This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources in this section. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Mead" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (April 2018) (Learn how and when to remove this message)
A homebrewed melomel
Bottles of "medica" (r.meditsa) – a mead made in Međimurje County, northern Croatia
Trójniak — a Polish mead, made using two units of water for each unit of honey

See also


  1. ^ "Mead dictionary definition | mead defined".
  2. ^ Beer is produced by the fermentation of grain, but the grain can be used in mead provided it is strained off immediately. As long as the primary substance fermented is still honey, the drink is still mead.Fitch, Ed (1990). The Rites of Odin (1st ed.). Llewellyn Worldwide. p. 290. ISBN 978-0-87542-224-4.
  3. ^ Hops are better known as the bitter ingredient of beer. However, they have also been used in mead both ancient and in modern times. The Legend of Frithiof mentions hops: Mohnike, G.C.F. (September 1828 – January 1829). "Tegner's Legend of Frithiof". The Foreign Quarterly Review. III. London: Treuttel and Würtz, Treuttel, Jun and Richter. He next ... bids ... Halfdan recollect ... that to produce mead hops must be mingled with the honey; That this formula is still in use is shown by the recipe for "Real Monastery Mead" in Molokhovets, Elena (1998). Classic Russian Cooking: Elena Molokhovets' A Gift to Young Housewives. Translated by Joyce Stetson. Indiana University Press. p. 474. ISBN 978-0-253-21210-8.
  4. ^ Lichine, Alexis (1987). Alexis Lichine's new encyclopedia of wines & spirits. Knopf. OCLC 1244230688.
  5. ^ Gayre, Robert (1986). Brewing Mead. Brewers Publications. p. 158. ISBN 978-0-937381-00-7. ...Therefore to our synopsis: Mead is the general name for all drinks made of honey.
  6. ^ Rose, Anthony H. (1977). Alcoholic Beverages. Michigan: Academic Press. p. 413.
  7. ^ Morse, Roger (1992). Making Mead (Honey Wine). Wicwas Press. ISBN 978-1878075048.
  8. ^ Schramm, Ken (2003). The Compleat Meadmaker: Home Production of Honey Wine From Your First Batch to Award-winning Fruit and Herb Variations. Brewers Publications. ISBN 978-0-937381-80-9.
  9. ^ Robinson, Jancis (1999). The Oxford Companion to Wine (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 775.
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  11. ^ Toussaint-Samat, Maguelonne (2009). A history of food. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-8119-8. OCLC 1020512534.
  12. ^ Hornsey, Ian (2003). A History of Beer and Brewing. Royal Society of Chemistry. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-85404-630-0. ...mead was known in Europe long before wine, although archaeological evidence of it is rather ambiguous. This is principally because the confirmed presence of beeswax or certain types of pollen ... is only indicative of the presence of honey (which could have been used for sweetening some other drink) – not necessarily of the production of mead.
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  32. ^ about half a liter
  33. ^ about 1/3 kg
  34. ^ about ¼ kilograms
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Further reading