Before beer, before wine, before event the advent of recorded history: there was mead.
This ancient drink was likely the first alcoholic beverage, and is enjoying a resurgence in popularity after a long and storied history.
The Development of Mead
It is very likely that the first “mead” was discovered entirely by accident, when honey was allowed to ferment by mistake, or even found fermented in the wild. Early civilizations seem to have enjoyed mead’s delicious flavor and intoxicating qualities. Signs of ancient meadmaking can be found around the world, and the oldest evidence - pottery shards found in China - is from as far back as 7000 BC.
It’s easy to associate mead with Vikings, but the drink was actually enjoyed by people across the world as a delicious and accessible drink, especially since it predates both wine and beer.
The ubiquity of mead still echoes through history in surprising ways. The word “honeymoon” comes from the tradition of pagan bridges and grooms drinking mead for the first month of their marriage.
Types of Mead
With its honey base, mead is a versatile drink. It can be made sweet or dry, still or sparkling, and other ingredients can imbue delicious flavor.
Melomel is a mead that contains any sort of fruit. Many of Bootleg Hil’s meads are melomels, with delicious flavors like blackberry, cherry, blueberry, and our award-winning Orange Sunshine. Mead made with grapes is known as pyment.
Cyser meads contain apple juice as well as honey, for a flavor akin to a cider.
Infusing mead with spices and herbs creates a metheglin. Here at Bootleg Hill, we’re particular fans of adding ginger to our meads, as with our Orange Ginger variety.
The Mead Revival
While mead was beloved for much of human history, its popularity declined for a variety of reasons. Urbanization and the increased use of other sweeteners, like sugarcane, reduced beekeeping and the honey supply as a result. In many areas, taxation and regulation of alcohol production impacted mead production. There is likely no single factor that explains the declining popularity of mead - until recently, that is.
Lately mead has received renewed attention, especially among American drinkers. Many liken the rise of mead to the rise of craft and microbreweries across the country. Some give credit to period-based TV shows like Vikings and Game of Thrones. Certainly, much of the credit is owed to the meadmakers who kept the drink alive through its time of relative obscurity. Much like the fall of mead, its rise cannot be attributed to any one movement, show, or meadery.
Here at Bootleg Hill, we’re proud to bring mead to the Quad Cities and beyond, and introduce our customers to this delicious, ancient drink.