Mead. In our world, beer and wine are more popular by far. However, if you consider the preferences of every human being who ever enjoyed a drink, mead might come out at the top. Mead is probably the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage. It was a staple in ancient cultures all over the world, and continued to be popular through medieval times. Today, mead is making a comeback after centuries of neglect. Want to know where you can try some? Check out a one of Front Royal’s recently opened meaderies!
What is Mead?
If you’ve read any ancient or medieval literature, you’ve probably come across at least a passing reference to mead. The word might conjure up images of fearsome warriors, or ancient banquet halls lit by candles and giant roaring fires. But what exactly were our ancestors drinking? A simple way to explain mead is to say that it’s “honey wine.” To make any kind of alcoholic beverage, you need some type of sugar to feed the yeast and produce alcohol. In wine, this sugar comes from grapes. In mead, it comes from honey.
The simplest form of mead is honey dissolved in water and fermented. In fact, mead is so simple, that it is believed to have originated by accident. According to Chinese tradition, mead was first discovered when rainwater fell into a pot of honey, allowing the fermentation process to begin. A lot has changed since these simple beginnings. Today, mead is available in a variety of styles and flavors. Like wine, it comes in dry, sweet, and even carbonated forms. Many meaderies also offer mead that has been flavored with herbs, spices, or fruit.
Mead’s two primary ingredients, honey and water, were widely available in the ancient and medieval world. This ease of access contributed to mead’s wild popularity. Wherever there was honey, there was mead. Ancient Chinese, Indians, Greeks, and Romans all drank mead. Celts and Saxons enjoyed it. The consumption of mead was deeply embedded in Viking culture, fortifying these fierce tribesmen for their warlike existence. And in medieval times, kings and commoners alike enjoyed the drink. It’s even mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
Mead’s popularity decreased in the 17th century. As sugar from the West Indies arrived on the scene, the pursuit of beekeeping saw a decline. Meanwhile, as agriculture improved, the ingredients for beer and wine became more readily available. Mead gradually dropped out of common use. Before its recent surge in popularity, the drink was most commonly found at Renaissance festivals. Now, this favorite drink of the ancients is returning to modern menus.
Mead as a Health Drink
The jury of modern science is still out on the health benefits of mead. But our ancient ancestors certainly believed that mead had healing properties. The ancient Greeks even referred to mead as the “drink of the gods,” because they associated it so strongly with immortality. The origin of the term “honeymoon” comes from mead, too. In many cultures, a newly-married couple received a month’s (one “moon’s”) supply of mead to begin their married life. It was believed that drinking the mead would increase fertility.
The idea the mead might be healthy isn’t just a superstitious tradition. Raw honey has antibacterial properties and other health benefits. The process of fermenting mead can add probiotic properties as well. When the ancients made medicinal mead, they also added healing herbs, which increased the benefits of the drink even further. Of course, depending on the methods used, modern, commercially brewed mead may not retain all these health benefits. But it’s still delicious.
Meaderies in Front Royal
If you’re coming to the Front Royal area, and you’re curious to find out if you like mead as much as your ancestors did, there’s good news. Mead’s return has already reached Front Royal. Since 2018, three meaderies have opened up in the Front Royal area. And as of July 2020, two of those meaderies have brand new tasting rooms right in the town of Front Royal.
Honey and Hops Brew Works opened for tasting in 2020. It’s a small business, co-owned by three brothers who hail from Alaska.
SAGA Meadery began brewing meads in 2015, but also opened its first tasting room in Front Royal in July 2020. The business was inspired by the owner’s love of reading. As Kevin Poplaski read, he became curious to discover the drink that his favorite characters enjoyed. The result: SAGA Meadery.
It’s Time to Give Mead Another Chance
In recent years, mead drinking in the United States has seen incredible growth. More and more people are discovering a new love for an ancient drink. Want to see what’s behind all the buzz about this honey-based beverage? Now’s a great time at least to give mead a chance! Plan a tasting at one of Front Royal’s meaderies. You might discover a new taste that you share in common with your ancient ancestors!
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