Those of you who were following the crazy conversation between me and my “spirit sistah” Crys on the Congratulations, Crystal post might have noticed us expressing our fondness for a beverage known as “mead” – which I fondly referred to as “Nectar of the Gods.”
Maybe you were wondering “just what the heck IS mead???”
Mead is not just one of the most wonderful alcoholic beverages known to man, it is also one of the oldest – if not THE oldest – alcoholic beverages in human civilization. Basically, mead is honey wine; made from honey, water, and yeast. If we stop to consider that honey was the only naturally occurring sugar in predawn civilization, and consider what would happen if that collected honey were to ferment naturally, it isn’t hard to understand how mead thus became the oldest alcoholic beverage known to humanity.
From the beginnings of man, honey has been seen as “godstuff” – a gift from the Divine Spirits, of which the honeybee was their heavenly agent. Ancient civilizations everywhere maintained a central core belief in honey as originating from the dwelling place of the gods, and thus imbued with divine qualities. Honeybees enjoyed a sacred relationship with these Immortals, and appear again and again in myth as their protectors and messengers.
By consuming honey, humans were allowed a glimpse of eternity…a taste of the nectar of the gods. In modern times, what better way to achieve immortality (if only temporary) than to sit and relax with a glass of honey wine… namely, mead?
While mead has played a significant role in the rites and rituals of various civilizations for thousands of years, perhaps one of the more endearing and enduring rituals occurs as part of the marriage ceremony. While the sharing of the cup of wine and the drinking of large quantities of alcohol is a common tradition at many weddings, there is another custom that is a direct reference to mead. In times past, weddings would take place during specific phases of the moon – oftentimes at the New Moon, to signify the beginning of a new life. The newly married couple would be given a supply of mead, with the instruction to share a glass of mead every night before going to bed – in the belief that doing so would bless the marriage (and in particular bring about the conception of a child). This act of partaking of the mead was to continue for a entire moon cycle (around 28 days) until the next New Moon. Thus during this month of mead drinking, the couple was engaging in the rites of the honeymoon.
While some of the best meads I’ve ever had were home-brewed, there are a number of good commercial meads to be found. One is called Chaucer’s Mead, produced by Bargetto Winery, which is located in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. This is a nice sweet wine that can be enjoyed either chilled, or heated with spices for a delicious mulled wine that can warm you up on a cold winter evening.
Another so-called “mead” that I have often seen marketed is Bunratty’s Meade, which comes clear across the ocean from County Clare, Ireland. However, as you will read in the comments below, there is some debate as to whether or not this can be considered a true mead, or is in fact a honeyed wine – meaning that it’s actually white wine to which honey and flavorings have been added. This beverage is somewhat similar in flavor to Chaucer’s, but I think it’s not quite as sweet and has a bit more of a “bite” to it. I have to confess that since I have a soft spot for anything Irish, I do enjoy this one. But I can appreciate the feelings of those who see it as being little more than a “bastardized wine” trying to pass itself off as a mead when it doesn’t meet the true definition or standards of an actual mead – which technically requires that the basic composition be honey and water which is mixed together with yeast and then fermented, and to which other ingredients may be added. However, the fact remains that it is commonly found in wine shops and liquor stores, and truthfully I don’t think it’s a bad tasting brew (although others may disagree with me).
There are a number of small wineries and meaderies around the country that produce and sell mead, and some of them do have websites where you can order their potent potables. However, be aware that due to federal and state shipping laws, you may discover that these products can’t be shipped to your state. Be sure to check both your own state laws and with the mead producer to determine if you can indeed order from them and have your bottles or cases sent to you. Also check out your local fine wine shops and the larger well-stocked liquor stores or warehouses… you may find locally made meads sold there.
There are a couple of excellent websites where you can learn more about mead, and also find information about local wineries/meaderies for purchasing mead. One such website is GotMead.com, which is a great resource for those wanting to learn more about this beverage:
Another good site is HoneyWine.com, which provides information on how to order various meads over the internet, and a list of those states where meads can be shipped (click “meaderies” in the menu):
One of my personal favorite meads is Pirtle’s, made by Pirtle Winery, a small family owned winery in northwest Missouri near Kansas City. They make an Effervescent Mead – a bubbly champagne-style mead – which has won several mead competitions and in my humble opinion is excellent! They only ship to thirteen states plus the District of Columbia, but if you are one of those lucky folks residing in such a state, I highly recommend you try it. Their Blackberry Mead is excellent also.
Although most meads do tend to be on the sweet side, there are a number of meads that are rather dry, and those that taste more like drinking an ale. Some meads are flavored with fruit and spices, while others are left plain, allowing the honey flavor in itself to be savored. You may find you have to try several different varieties until you find one to your liking. I’ve had some meads I really enjoyed, and others I didn’t care for.
But when we find a mead we do like, Crystal and I can get blissfully happy on this Nectar of the Gods…
Here Ocean and Crystal Dolphin show a couple of the bottles enjoyed at a mead-drinking gathering… we’re both holding bottles on Bunratty’s Irish Meade, and on the table is a bottle of Chaucer’s Mead.