Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

mead, made from honey, water, and yeast, may be mankind’s earliest crafted alcoholic drink. Honey mixed with water ferments by means of yeasts, both in the air and within the honey itself, which feed on its sugars. See honey. This process would occur naturally if rain chanced to fall into a bowl of honeycomb. Early observers likely took note of the resulting drink’s intoxicating powers and were spurred on to make more.

Many different styles of mead evolved and are still made today. The drink can be dry or sweet, with an alcohol content generally ranging from around 8 to more than 16 percent. Mead can be sparkling, distilled, or spiced. When flavored with herbs and spices, mead is called metheglin, a drink considered to have healthful properties. Cornwall and Wales were known for their mead, and the Celtic words meddyg (healing) and llyn (liquor) provide the etymological root for this drink. Fruit meads, made with honey and fruit juice, are called melomel and have many variations. Pyment is made with grape juice, cyser from apples, black mead from black currants, red mead from red currants, morat from mulberries, and myritis from bilberries.