Honey Wine (Mead)

Mead: Nectar of the Gods

Is there a beverage that conjures up more images than mead? Whether you associate it with Druids, pre-Roman civilizations of central Europe, Vikings and Teutonic raiders, Celts ancient or modern, it is impossible to deny the hold that mead has always had on the imagination of Western civilization.

It probably was mead that Homer and others had in mind when they described “nectar,” favored beverage of the inhabitants of Olympus. Certainly mead played a role in the Icelandic sagas, in Beowulf, in the writings of the ancient Irish bards. It is mentioned in the Bible, in African tribal lore, even in the epic of Gilgamesh. Wherever man has lived, he has made mead, even in lands where the grape or grain grew in abundance.

But what is mead? In general terms mead is wine made from honey. But there generality ends. Every region or people who has produced mead has given it a different, customized spin. One need only look at the varieties of mead in the northwestern European tradition to begin to see that diversity.

The most important ingredient, of course, is honey. The fresher and less treated the honey you can find, the better flavor and aroma you will get. Unpasteurized, unfiltered, and without preservatives is best.

As everyone knows, honey is produced by bees. The Latin name for honey bees is Apis mellifera, which means “honey carrier.” The various flavors of honey, which include orange blossom, wildflower and clover, are the result of the different nectars collected by a hive of bees in a particular year.

Honey wine's claim to fame in modern times is it's relationship to the term "honeymoon".

Prior to the institution of the formal marriage ceremony, a man would kidnap the object of his affection from a neighboring clan. While hiding from her searching relatives, he would ply her with honey wine for a full cycle of the moon. Such tactics might result in compliance or merely serve to keep her quiet. But, mead was generally regarded as an aphrodisiac, among other things. It was also thought to restore youthful vigor and the gift of song and poetry. The Greeks referred to it as "ambrosia" and "nectar of the gods" .

An ancient Norwegian custom had newly-weds drink honey wine for a whole cycle of the moon (month) to increase their fertility.

In medieval England, it was customary for the family of a couple make a honey wine upon the announcement of an arranged betrothal. Many betrothals, especially among ruling clans, occurred at birth. Such celebratory meads were greatly anticipated. Only the finest meads were so aged. The special honey wine would be served at the wedding feast. The amount of honey wine and the length of the feast reflected the family's wealth. A feast might extend through all the phases of the moon (a full month).

Today we still see a relationship between a family's wealth and the size of a wedding feast (ultimately to be known as the reception). Of all the customs that surround the event, the serving of honey wine has unfortunately fallen by the wayside. Instead of champagne, perhaps honey wine would be a more appropriate toast.