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The Colorful History of Mead

As we continue to learn about beverages, we often wonder how we came to this point.  Below are some fun facts and history tid bits that we’ve gathered about the origin of mead. 

The rich history of mead is 20,000-40,000 years old with roots in Africa making it one of, if not, the oldest alcoholic beverages.  These early African dwellers gathered honey and accidentally wildly-fermented mead.  The theory goes that bees made hives inside hollowed out trees and when it rained the honey and water mixed, became stagnant for some time.  As it sat, natural wild yeast introduced itself and in a matter of days  a basic alcohol/mead was produced.  As hunters and gatherers feast on what they thought was just water were pleasantly surprised at the intoxicating qualities.  As these people left Africa to explore other corners of the world they took with them the knowledge of mead and how to make it and upon reaching far-away lands they began to share their know-how with other civilizations each adding their own unique touches. Some historians believe that cavemen may have has this discovery. 

Ancient Greeks believed mead to be the drink of the Gods and believed mead to have magical powers and sacred properties. Bees were thought to be the messengers of God.  Indications show not only the Greeks enjoyed mead but the Romans, Egyptians, Ethiopians, Scandinavians, Assyrians, Incas and Aztecs used mead for religious purposes and for festivals and celebrations.  King Midas, Queen Elizabeth I and King Tut were all happy customers.

The term honeymoon comes from the ancient tradition of giving a bridal couple a supply of honey-wine to last for 30 days, moon-to-moon.  Long thought to provide a fruitful union for the newlyweds. 

Production of mead declined as grapes, a less expensive but just as potent form of wine production, become readily available.  Mead is one again on the rise and not just the drink of royalty.  Today’s meads are crafted for our modern palates while still offering a glimpse of the past.   Due to the fresh taste and amazing versatility of 21st century meads, the mead market is one of the fastest growing segments in the alcoholic beverages industry. 

 

News articles from recent months relating to mead…. (see Time, BBC, Forbes – hiddenlegendwinery.com)

Chemical analysis of traces absorbed and preserved of ancient pottery jars from the Neolithic village of Jiahu in the Henan province of northern China revealed residue left behind the alcoholic beverages they had once contained.  According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, chemical analysis of the residue confirmed that a fermented drink made of grape and hawthorne fruit wine, honey mead and rice beer was being produced in 7000-5600 BC (McGovern et al., 2005: McGovern 2009). (3)(4) The results of this analysis were published in December 2004. (5)(6)  This is approximately the time when barley beer and grape wine were beginning to be made in the Middle East.