Reviving a TraditionThe history of mead is rich, as it's the oldest fermented beverage!
Beer and wine experts often quarrel over which of their beverages is the older, but many historians believe that mead is, in fact, the oldest fermented beverage! Where beer and wine require human intervention to ferment, mead can be created on its own without our intervention.
For example, wild bees may nest in a tree hollow, and when a storm hits the tree, it cracks and spills honey into a pond of water. As soon as the honey and water are mixed enough to dilute the honey, all the pond requires is wild yeast to inoculate the mix before it will begin to ferment. It would have been nowhere near the quality we can produce today, but Mother Nature requires no special tools, grains, or fruits to create mead naturally!
Mead was independently discovered on every inhabited continent, and many varieties of mead were refined and produced throughout the years. The earliest surviving mention of mead is in the Rigveda, a sacred Hindu text, sometime between 1700-1100 BC. Mead is also mentioned in historical documents from Aristotle.
One recipe from AD 60 tells readers:
Take rainwater kept for several years, and mix a sextarius of this water with a pound of honey. For a weaker mead, mix a sextarius of water with nine ounces of honey. The whole is exposed to the sun for 40 days, and then left on a shelf near the fire. If you have no rain water, then boil spring water.
Columella, De re rustica
Mead shows up in Beowulf, many Celtic and Germanic poems, and more. Even Pliny, who lived from AD 23-79, was concerned about the confusion of honey-sweetened wine with mead, a problem that we are still dealing with today!
Honey was a premium product even back then, and in the 1400s, sugarcane was found to be less expensive and sugar began to replace honey as a sweetener. At the same time, more beverages were being invented and exported from various countries; in Europe, for instance, the French specialized in wines, the Scottish perfected whiskey, and hopped beers became more accepted in mainland Britain, and mead began to lose its following. Around the 1700s, mead fell out of the public eye, but was kept alive by monasteries. Since monks kept bees to create beeswax candles for their services, they also continued to make mead using honey.
In the late 1900s, mead began to resurface as a craft beverage. People began talking about mead again in 1986, when the American Mead Makers Association (AMMA) was founded by Pamela Spence. Brewers and vintners became mead makers, and a handful of devoted experts shared their knowledge freely with others.
By 2003, 70 meaderies existed in the US alone; a decade later, over 200 meaderies were listed on the American Mead Makers Association website in the US alone, with over 40 meaderies internationally (including Sunset Heights Meadery). According to a 2014 AMMA industry report, there was an explosive 130% sale increase of mead from 2012 to 2013, exceeding the growth rates of beer, wine, distilled spirits, and hard cider. With such an impressive number of meaderies, and mead’s popularity continuing to rise worldwide, the revival of mead is well underway.
We’re proud to join a long and rich tradition as the first New Brunswick meadery! While our mead tastes very different from anything you would have found in a medieval marketplace, we think it’s an improvement. The blend of modern and traditional in our industry makes mead an exciting and challenging beverage.