Quicklist: Types of Mead
- Black Mead
- Dry Mead
- Great Mead
- Mulled Mead
- Session Mead
- Sack Mead
- Short Mead
- Show Mead
- Sparkling Mead
- White Mead
Mead, also known as honey wine, is an alcoholic beverage which consists of fermented honey and water as its primary ingredients. Often times the beverage also incorporates various fruit, grains, hops and spices.
The defining characteristic of mead is honey which gives it a unique flavor. Taste of the beverage can vary depending on ABV content, water ratio, how long it has been aged and the addition of endless ingredients. In short, mead has as many varieties as its makers.
History of Mead
Known as the “nectar of the gods,” mead was believed to be descended from the heavens in the form of dew before it was collected by the bees. Mead may to be the oldest fermented drink. No one knows exactly when the beverage was discovered but there is plenty of speculation.
Since mead is a natural occurrence of yeast and water, mead may have been accidentally discovered during the Stone Age, after honey had become wet with rain and became contaminated with airborne wild yeast.
Tales of mead have been recorded throughout history: Egyptian pharaoh, King Tut, loved mead, as did the Norse explorer Erik the Red.
There are tales of Norsemen toasting each other with mead, drunk from the skulls of slain enemies. The Norse gods were also known to supply goddesses with cups of mead to seduce them.
In Greek mythology, Bacchus was known as the God of Mead, before he became the God of Wine. In his honor, the Greeks celebrated a “liberating” event once or twice a year, during which they participated in Dionysian drunken revelry and sexual indulgence.
During the Middle Ages, Queen Elizabeth is recorded to have her own recipe for mead. The alcoholic beverage was a favorite of Shakespeare and Chaucer, who wrote about mead on various occasions. In Germany, army troops were also plied with mead to fortify themselves.
However, the most noteworthy aspect of mead comes from its origin in wedding celebrations, and the term “honeymoon.” The beverage was drunk during the month-long wedding festivities to ensure fertility and the birth of sons.
Mead has been mentioned in the writings of Beowulf and King Arthur and was hailed as a royal drink. Even though the beverage was drunk by both nobles and paupers, in its declining years, it was exclusively consumed by royalty while the less privileged segments of the population embraced beer, the drink of the commoner.
Factors Affecting the Quality of Mead
Water needs to be mixed with honey to ferment, as honey is too viscous to ferment itself. If more water is added, the mead tends to be drier. However, here is a list of some other factors that affect the flavor of the beverage.
Sweetness: If less water is added, mead can be very sweet. If more water is added, it can become bone dry.
Alcohol by Volume: Mead can have an ABV ranging from 4four to 20 percent in most cases and even 75 percent in some regional meads, like the Lithuanian mead.
Color: The color of mead depends on the color and amount of honey used while brewing it. It can range from very pale, almost-clear amber to a dark molasses color. If fruit is added to mead, its color can range from royal purple and pink to blue.
Esters: The fruity aromas of meads are due to yeast esters. They can be very low or high in content.
Honey: The amount of honey in mead can range from a very low amount to very high. It can range from pronounced sweetness to almost nonexistent.
Expression of Fruit, Grain, and Spices: Mead may contain a very high amount of fruit, grain, and spices or a very low amount.
Alcohol by Volume in Various Types of Meads
Meads come with various alcohol levels. Here we are arranging the different types of meads from the lowest ABV to the highest:
Hydromel: 3.5-7.5% alcohol content
Standard Mead: 7.5-14% alcohol content
Session Mead: Less than 10% of alcohol content
Sack Mead: 14-18% alcohol content
Dessert Honey Wines: 14-22% alcohol content
Honey Liqueurs/Fortified Mead: Alcohol content as high as 60% or even higher
Types of Mead
The varieties of mead are almost endless. Here, we will list down some of the most popular types in alphabetical order:
This mead uses maple syrup instead of honey. Although this means it is not a traditional type of mead, it is still considered a mead as it is made in the same way, with the exception of maple syrup.
As the name implies, this type of mead consists of black currants. The amount of the fruit varies according to the maker; however, because of the currants, its color is dark purple or reddish black.
This especially delicious mead is made from honey that is caramelized or burned before it is added to the water. This can create a wide range of sweet flavors like toffee, marshmallow and caramel.
This is a variant of the Bochet-style mead and also contains berries like blackberries, black raspberries and elderberries.
Also known as bracket or bracket, this type of Welsh mead first used to be brewed with honey and hops. Later, it was made with honey and malted grains, with or without the hops.
As the name indicates, this type of mead incorporates chili peppers.
This mead is quite similar to cider as it contains apples or apple juice. It is made by mixing apple juice with honey to ferment. Sometimes, actual apple cider is used instead of just the juice, though that is not always the case.
Dry mead contains low honey content, typically just 2.5 pounds of honey in a gallon of mead. This type of mead has a very dry flavor with almost no sweetness from the honey.
Great mead is brewed to be bottled and aged for a long period of time, typically several years.
This is a type of spiced mead that is seasoned with spices, especially cinnamon and is possibly heated.
This is watered-down mead, which contains typically 3.5-7.5% of alcohol. When water is added to alcohol, its ABV decreases, and, as a result, its flavors also become diluted.
Melomel meads incorporate various fruit. Sometimes, spices may also be added to the mead.
This is a type of mead in which spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, orange peel, tea, and vanilla, are added. Since metheglin contains a wide variety of spices, it is also believed to have medicinal properties, besides being a very delicious drink.
This is a variant of melomel that is specifically created with a blend of honey and mulberries.
This type of mead typically includes fragrant spices and is warmed before heating. They are very popular during holiday seasons, especially in colder regions.
This mead is brewed with the juice of unripe grapes or verjuice and is a variety of pyment (explained below).
Oxymel, literally meaning acid and honey in Latin, is a historical mead variant that consists of wine, vinegar and honey.
Pyment is referred to several varieties of mead that is made with grapes, grape juice or grape wine. These meads depend on additives for their color and flavor.
Translating literally to “rose honey,” this mead is made from honey, rose petals, rose hips or rose attar. Sometimes, other additives are added to the mead to bring out new flavors; however, the very distinctive floral taste of roses is considered very delicious.
Session mead contains low alcohol content, usually 4-7% ABV and is usually carbonated for flavor and better texture.
Sack mead contains a high density of honey and, as a result, is very sweet. In fact, it is considered as the dessert wine of meads. The ABV is usually 14-18%.
Also known as quick mead, this mead needs very little time to mature. This means it can be brewed in just three days to a month. Because of the technique used to age them faster, short mead shares some qualities with ale and cider. In fact, some people also compare their taste to that of ale.
This is a basic or plain type of mead that does not have any added fruit or spices. It is usually only made of water, honey, and yeast, with a small amount of acid or other enzymes to balance its sweetness.
This mead is similar to sparkling wine and is carbonated. This mead has a small amount of extra honey or sugar placed into the mead just before it is bottled. This creates a secondary fermentation that gives an extra level of sweetness and effervescence to the mead.
This mead is white with the addition of fruit, herbs, and sometimes, even egg whites.
Mead Beverages from Around the World
Not surprisingly, there is a large variety of meads around the world. Some of the more popular ones are listed below.
Acan is a Mexican variant of mead. Mesoamerican cultures cultivated various species of stingless bees for their honey. The Yucatec Maya still drink Balché, a mead made from the bark of a Balché tree, which is soaked in honey and water, and fermented.
The ancient Maya also drank xtabentún, made from the honey nectar of morning glory plants. Balché and xtabentún played significant roles in ceremonial rituals of the Maya.
Ethiopian mead added with gesho, the shiny-leaf buckthorn, and fermented with wild yeast.
Also known as Suwa, this Eritrean and Ethiopian mead is made in the style of beer, but with the inclusion of honey.
The word “gverc” is derived from the German word for spices. This type of mead originated in Croatia and incorporates various spices into the drink.
A Croatian and Slovenian variety of mead.
A special type of mead made in Brittany, France.
Very sweet Polish mead made from one part honey and half part water.
Polish mead made from equal amounts of honey and water.
Polish mead from one part honey and three parts water.
Polish mead made from one part honey and two parts water.
A type of Mayan mead made from wild honey, freshwater, and the bark of the Balché tree.
A Finnish mead drink made with lemons and some sweeteners. This short mead takes just two days to a week to make and is very effervescent, sweet, and delicious, with barely any alcohol content.
This mead is commercially available in Bosnia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatian, Serbia, Slovakia and Montenegro.
This delicious Lithuanian mead is made from natural berry honey and berry juices and is infused with acorns, poplar buds, carnation flowers, juniper berries, and other herbs. Its alcohol content can go up to a whopping 75 percent.
This traditional Russian mead comes in three main varieties:
- Aged mead: A blend of honey and water or berry juice, this mead matures very slowly, taking anywhere between 12 to 50 years. The resulting product is rich in flavoring at a premium price.
- Drinking mead: Made with diluted honey and the traditional fermentation process.
- Boiled mead: Brewed with boiled wort of water, honey, and herbs and is close to beer.
A type of Nepalese mead seasoned with Himalayan spices and herbs. It has been manufactured since 1972 in Pokhara, Nepal.
Literally meaning “water-honey,” this mead has many variations, including the Galician aiguamel, French hydromel, Romanian hydromel, Portuguese hydromel, Catalan hydromel andaiguame, Italian idromele, and Spanish hidromiel and aguamiel.
Top Brands of Mead
A California product, all Chaucer’s meads are made using traditional methods and only water, honey and yeast. The process to make the mead takes about 60 days from start to finish.
Redstone Meadery in Boulder, Colorado sells their product in signature blue bottles. Available flavors include vanilla bean, black raspberry and juniper. If you’re in the local area you can even stop by the tasting room to sample the varieties they offer.
A popular mead in the United Kingdom is Friary mead. It’s made from honey harvested around Somerset, making it a true reflection of the local community. Instead of being a pure mead with only honey, water, and yeast, Friary mead includes apple and grape juices.
They also add ginger and whiskey to give it a unique flavor that balances sweetness with intensity. The whiskey makes it a mead spirit rather than a true mead, but it maintains the sweet, honey base associated with the beverage.
Source: Moonlight Meadery
Moonlight Meadery produces a wide variety of flavored meads. They specialize in dark, sweet fruits like blueberry and cherry. They make their meads near Pittsfield, New Hampshire. You can enjoy a beautiful mountain view while sampling their meads, beers and local cheeses.
Charm City Meadworks
Source: Charm City Meadworks
Charm City Meadworks from Maryland is unique because their product can be found in a can, making it more portable than other meads. It also has a lower ABV (alcohol by volume) than other meads at just 7%.
It’s slightly carbonated, making it a refreshing choice for summertime outings. Charm City is a unique choice that gives the flavor of mead in a lighter, more specialized form.
Another mead from the United Kingdom is Lindisfarne Mead, produced on Holy Island, off the northeast coast of England. Like many other meads this one combines the traditional ingredients with fermented grapes and local herbs. Those special touches give it a unique flavor connected to the local flora.
Kinsale Mead Co.
Source: Kinsale Mead Co.
Mead was popular in Ireland hundreds of years ago. Kinsale Mead Co. brought local mead back to Ireland in 2016 and has grown in popularity ever since. The pride themselves on combining medieval brewing practices with modern technology.
Their products honor the heritage of ancient meaderies but also offer modern, innovative flavors. Many varieties are fruity and semi-dry, appealing to a variety of tastes.
Where to Buy Mead
The online storefront of Vinoshipper connects local meaderies with potential customers around the world. It’s not the prettiest website, but what it lacks in beauty it more than makes up for with selection in this excellent and exhaustive mead directory.
Thousands of meads from 272 meaderies all have a home on the website. There isn’t a better place to find mead online, even if it will take some time to browse through all the potential options.
Drizly offers a mixture of direct delivery and shipping for mead and other alcoholic beverages in the larger U.S. states. They rely on partnerships with retailers and deliverers in the same way that DoorDash or similar services do.
You can have the order delivered immediately or at a scheduled time, and orders can also be shipped to a large number of locations.
Total Wine and More
Like Drizly, Total Wine is an alcohol vendor that serves a portion of the United States. Unlike Drizly, the store is its own entity with physical storefronts, so there are fewer service shenanigans compared to Drizly.
Delivery and shipping options are available, but delivery will only be an option if you’re close enough to head into the store yourself. That said, if you’ve already had a glass or two of mead and need more, the delivery option will keep you out of jail.
Check Out Your Local Meadery
Chances are that you have at least one meadery that operates close to where you live. A quick online search using “meadery” plus the name of your city or town might reveal them to you.
If one exists, give them a try to support a local business. The only downside is a single meadery isn’t likely to have the range of options from larger vendors, but some meaderies are truly prolific.
Your Local Farmer’s Market
Check out the farmer’s market if you have one in your area. There’s less of a guarantee of product availability compared to a larger store, but you can find unique mead varieties that are frequently at lower prices.
Not only may local meaderies have stands, but farmers may have bottles of the small batches made from excess crops.
What Mead Should Wine Drinkers Start With?
If you are a wine connoisseur, drinking your first glass of mead can be a strange experience since meads can have several versatile characteristics. The best bet for wine drinkers is to start with a pyment.
- A person who prefers red wine should begin with a Sangiovese pyment.
- A person who likes champagne should begin with sparkling mead wine with honey from orange blossoms.
- A chardonnay drinker should begin with a chardonnay pyment dry tupelo blossom honey.
- A person who prefers ice wine should begin with a white grape pyment.
- A person who prefers fruity red wines can go for any variety of red meads made with berries, including melomels.
As mentioned above, meads come in an almost inexhaustible variety and this makes it harder to understand which mead would be the best based on its types.
It is a good idea to try out a wide variety of mead to see what kind of flavors, alcohol levels, and colors you like the best. Many small breweries offer artisan-style meads with their unique twists and you can keep an eye out for them.