Lia Crowe enjoys a glass of Harvest Melomel, Mixed Berry Melomel Mead, at the Tugwell Creek Honey Farm and Meadery. Don Denton photography

Lia Crowe enjoys a glass of Harvest Melomel, Mixed Berry Melomel Mead, at the Tugwell Creek Honey Farm and Meadery. Don Denton photography

Mead For The Ages

Honey wine is the world’s oldest alcoholic drink

  • Nov. 22, 2018 11:45 a.m.

– Story by Pamela Durkin

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Mead is the oldest alcoholic beverage known to humankind, predating both beer and wine. Throughout history it has been reputed to prolong life, enhance fertility and bestow strength. Also known as “honey-wine,” mead’s history is as rich as its flavour, and savvy modern consumers seeking new taste sensations that are healthy and environmentally friendly have sparked a renewed interest in the age-old brew.

History lesson

As long as there have been bees and honey, there has been mead. In its basic form, mead is simply honey mixed with water and yeast. Historians believe humans were introduced to this intoxicating brew during the Stone Age when, by chance, wild yeast in the air settled into honey that was wet from rain, thereby fermenting the mixture. The drink was then replicated throughout the ages and cultures of the world.

Mead’s vaulted status was indeed widespread and enduring. The Greeks called it the “nectar of the Gods” and claimed it bestowed virility. In the Middle Ages, the Anglo Saxons were convinced it induced creativity.

Remnants of mead’s mythology survive to this day. The term “honeymoon” comes from the ancient practice of plying newlyweds with mead for one month after their nuptials to ensure fertility and male progeny.

Similarly the word “medicine” is derived from the term for spiced mead — Metheglin. Although Mead’s popularity waxed and waned after the Middle Ages, it is currently experiencing a renaissance. High quality meads are being produced at meaderies across Canada, and several have garnered international acclaim, including some sublime meads from BC.

“It’s exciting to see BC meads making such a buzz,” enthuses Emily Vanderschee, co-owner of Kelowna’s Meadow Vista Honey Wines. “We have the most amazing honey here, with lovely fruity notes and a lightness that comes from the diverse plants and flora native to BC. It always helps to start with delicious honey.”

A bottle and glass of Solstice Metheglin, Spiced Honey Metheglin Mead, at the Tugwell Creek Honey Farm and Meadery. Don Denton photography

Fine dining establishments have taken note of the “buzz,” and several of BC’s favourite foodie haunts — including Victoria’s BeLove, Sooke’s Harbour House and the Okanagan’s elegant Sparkling Hill Resort — now include mead on their menus.

“Our guests are intrigued to try mead and pleasantly surprised by the sophistication it offers,” notes Sooke Harbour House sommelier Jess Howard.

And it seems upscale diners aren’t the only ones getting acquainted with mead’s delightful flavour—according to the BC Liquor Distribution Branch, there has been a significant increase in the volume of mead sold in government liquor stores since 2014.

To your health

There are some compelling reasons to give mead a try. Scientists have discovered that honey, mead’s main ingredient, is loaded with compounds that offer some amazing health benefits. For instance, recent research has shown that chrysin, a flavonoid found in abundance in honey, has the ability to inhibit the proliferation of (and induce apoptosis or “cell death”) in — cancer cells. Chrysin has also been shown to suppress neuroinflammation, which suggests it may be a protective agent for a group of neurodegenerative diseases caused by inflammation.

Honey’s therapeutic edge doesn’t end there. Researchers have also found that the consumption of natural honey reduces cardiovascular risk factors, particularly in individuals who already have an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease.

And for those who suffer from grape wine induced migraines, mead may be the perfect alternative. Many experts believe that it’s a substance in the grape skin that causes migraines in sensitive individuals. One caveat exists, however: mead is an alcoholic beverage, so moderate consumption is key.

Good for the world, too

Mead is not only good for you — it’s good for the planet, too. Its production doesn’t require the cultivation of any land, minimizing its environmental impact. Furthermore, by drinking mead, you support bees and the beekeepers who are valiantly trying to keep a threatened honeybee population alive.

“Every bottle of mead we sell supports the bees,” notes Vanderschee.

Why is bee survival so critical?

“We desperately need honeybees to sustain our agriculture,” explains Bob Liptrott, co-owner of Sooke’s award winning Tugwell Creek Honey Farm and Meadery. “One third of all the food we eat requires pollination by bees.”

Lia Crowe enjoys a glass of Harvest Melomel, Mixed Berry Melomel Mead, at the Tugwell Creek Honey Farm and Meadery. Don Denton photography

Culinary pairings

Because mead has been around so long and embraced by so many cultures, there are many different types of mead and methods of production. It can be sweet or dry, sparkling or still, fruity or spicy — or not. A basic mead made of honey, water and yeast is called “traditional.” Once a mead-maker begins adding other components, like fruits or herbs, it takes on a different character and variety name.

Worldwide, there are so many varieties of mead it is impossible to make specific suggestions about pairing this beverage with food. The type of honey used to make mead will affect is flavour and aroma. A traditional mead made with buckwheat honey will taste completely different from one made with a milder honey such as orange-blossom or clover.

A good rule of thumb is to ask the mead-maker — who knows the characteristics of his product — for pairing suggestions to create the perfect culinary marriage. In general, sweet meads pair beautifully with desserts and cheeses; light, crisp meads enhance salads, seafood and Asian cuisine. Heartier meads, such as Pyment or Metheglin, marry well with ethnic dishes, stews and meats.

Of course, mead, like wine, is not just for drinking. Cooking with the brew imparts enticing flavours to both sweet and savoury dishes.

“We love cooking with mead, and our website is chock-full of recipes that incorporate mead,” says Vanderschee. “Our Mabon Mead, which won an award at the recent World Wine Championships, is amazing for cooking the holiday turkey!”

Chef Thomas Yesdresyski of the Sooke Harbour House also describes mead as a superb culinary muse, noting that he and his team use it in a variety of ways.

Why not fill your kitchen with mead’s marvellous aroma and save a bee by incorporating mead into your culinary repertoire?

To find a mead-maker in your area visit winesofcanada.com/mead.

COMMON MEAD VARIETIES

Traditional: A basic mead made of honey, water and yeast.

Varietal: Similar to traditional mead, but made from honey from a particular flower source (such as clover or blossom honey).

Melomel: Made with the addition of a single fruit or blend of fruits.

Pyment: Made specifically with the addition of grape juice.

Cyser: Made specifically with the addition of apple juice (similar to apple cider).

Metheglin: Made with herbs and spices.

Sack or fortified: Has a higher alcohol content than other meads.

(It also contains more honey.)

DrinkFoodHealthHoneyKelownaMeadMeaderyMeadow Vista WineryPamela DurkinSookeTugwell Creek Honey Farm and Meaderywine

Just Posted

The total earnings of Town of Qualicum Beach council and mayor amounted to $186,649 in 2020, including expenses. (Town of Qualicum Beach photo)
Nine Qualicum Beach town employees earned more than $100K in 2020

Mayor and council received earnings totalling $186,649

(PQB News file photo)
Fireworks report highlights enforcement challenges for Regional District of Nanaimo

Director: ‘I just think it’s wasting everybody’s time’

Terry Mazzei next to a truck after it was struck by lightning, with him inside, on Wednesday afternoon, June 9. He walked away from the incident without injury and the truck sustained only mild damage; a blown front tire and newly broken gas gauge. (Wendy Mazzei photo)
Nanoose Bay man walks away unscathed after lightning strike

VIDEO: ‘We like to think that his dad was watching over him’

Douglas Holmes, current Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District chief administrative officer, is set to take on that position at the Regional District of Nanaimo come late August. (Submitted photo)
Regional District of Nanaimo’s next CAO keen to work on building partnerships

Douglas Holmes to take over top administrator role with RDN this summer

This young fledgling white raven was spotted in the Coombs area on May 16. (Mike Yip photo)
Expert says 2 sets of parents producing rare white ravens in mid-Island area

One of the iconic birds is currently recovering at wildlife centre after being rescued

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

Most Read