Craft beer is no longer a fringe hobby, in fact ‘craft’ everything is now the norm. The trend toward ‘craft’ food and drinks has been well underway for decades, organic and locally-sourced foods, beer made by your friends, artisan distilleries, inventive cocktail recipes, and the recent rise of craft beer and cider have all been a part of rediscovering lost traditions and searching for new horizons. It was only a matter of time before someone in the beverage industry started turning their attention towards mead.
Mead is fermented with three basic ingredients: honey, yeast and water. It isn’t classified as beer or wine in the typical sense, but stands apart in its own rank of alcoholic beverage (which could be part of the lack of mead makers). You might hear mead referred to as honey wine, that’s not 100% accurate. Mead is created by fermenting honey, while wine is made from fermented fruit. And though mead is often flavored with various fruits, that does not make it wine.
It is entirely possible that mead was the first alcoholic beverage humans knew how to produce. Chinese pottery vessels dating from 7000 B.C. suggest evidence of mead fermentation that out-ages both wine and beer. Mead was popular with with Vikings, Mayans, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. So why is this ancient drink just now starting to get the spotlight, despite being around for millennia?
You could peg mead’s rise on the interests of brewers and drinkers to continually try something new. You could also attribute it to the growing organic movement, as mead is fairly simple to maintain organic ingredients. Weirdly enough you can also make a case that HBO’s Game of Thrones is responsible. Huh? According to the American Mead Makers Association’s 2014 annual industry report, mead sales jumped 130 per cent the year following the debut of Game of Thrones, which is not only impressive but also made mead the fastest growing alcohol market in the US that year.
Mead is also incredibly diverse, making it an attractive drink for all types of people. Sweet, dry, still or sparkling—all describe varieties of mead. There’s a mead that contains juice or fruit like blackberries and raspberries. Then there’s cyser, an apple-based mead; acerglyn, made with maple syrup; braggot, a mead/beer blend brewed with hops or barley; rhodomel, a very old style laced with roses—and more.
Now that being said, mead growth hasn’t gone without its challenges. As mead can’t be classified as beer or wine, some regulators are struggling to know what to do with meaderies. Take for example in British Columbia where not too long ago there wasn’t even a mead license, meaning when Tugwell Creek Meadery opened in 2003, the government had to create a whole new license just for them!
That hasn’t seemed to stop the explosive interest in mead making though. There are meaderies all over Canada, and hundreds in the US. A fairly up to date list of Canadian meaderies can be found here. The fun thing is how diverse the final products can be; take for example BC based Humblebee Meadery who produce flavours like Saffron Orange and Green Tea and Kaffir Lime. Or if cocktails are more your style, Alberta’s Fallen Timber Meadery has a Meadjito made of honey, citrus and mint.
Expect to see more mead pop up in bars and restaurants across the country as we rediscover this ancient beverage.