WHY MODERN MEAD IS THE BUZZY NEW DRINK

When you think of mead, your mind’s eye probably conjures up syrupy souvenirs in National Trust gift shops, or images of bearded Vikings quaffing and carousing.

Now, this ancient drink — one of the first ways humans consumed alcohol, with roots tracing back to 7000 BC — is making an unlikely comeback as summer’s hippest refresher, thanks to new fermentation techniques, sophisticated new flavours and even an outpouring of support on TikTok.

Mead is simply and traditionally made by fermenting honey with water. Indeed, we get the word ‘honeymoon’ thanks to the ancient Greek custom of giving it as a wedding gift to aid fertility. But it can also have ingredients including spices, fruit or hops added to enhance its flavour. 

Usually flat or slightly sparkling, the more traditional styles taste like aromatic, honey-sweetened wine at a similar strength (12-14 per cent) and are drunk just as wine would be.

But there’s a new generation of lighter, modern meads that can be slightly sweet or almost completely dry and range from no alcohol, to low or mid strength, matching the ABVs of cider or beer.

They are drinks crafted to appeal to a new modern audience, since there’s now huge demand for more ‘natural’ tipples, with no sulphur, chemicals or sugars added.

Consider the soaring popularity of orange wine, which is usually made without any additives at all. And Pét Nat: a lightly sparkling wine made using ancient methods that pre-date champagne.

‘People are looking for lower intervention, natural and sustainable products,’ says Kit Newell from mead-maker Hive Mind Mead & Brew Co.

Then there are the bees to consider. Mead is made using honey, and most modern producers are doing their bit to promote the health of the bee population by planting wildflowers or donating to bee conservation charities.

Most are also committed to using sustainable, ethically produced honey too.

‘At a mere 4 per cent, our nectars have all the subtlety and refreshment of a good 12 per cent sparkling wine,’ says mead brewer Tom Gosnell from Gosnells of London.

All of which helps to explain why the new typical mead drinker isn’t a Viking warrior, but a discerning consumer who wants to enjoy a sophisticated summer livener without becoming too tipsy.

In medieval times, monks refined fermentation techniques to produce honey wine fit for European royalty. But the latest revival bega in the U.S., where more sophisticated methods mean it is now taken as seriously as wine.

Just as fine wine can showcase elements of the soil and ‘terroir’ where it was grown, mead will taste different according to where the bees have been harvesting and which kinds of plants they have visited.

‘They’re championing the liquid first, making something delicious that reflects the terroir of where the bees were foraging. Seeing it was a revelation,’ says Tom Gosnell.

So, will mead be reclaimed from the drinking halls of history? I tried the best of the modern brews to find out...

AROMATIC AND LOW IN ALCOHOL

Gosnells Hazy Nectar (4 per cent ABV), £1.49, 330ml, Lidl

Make the most of being able to find this low ABV liquid gold in Lidl for a limited time. 

It makes for a brilliant benchmark mead with its dry, honeyed aromatics and soft, slightly sweet taste – it’s made with blossom honey. 

Also try the tangy Raspberry & Hibiscus Nectar for something deliciously different. 4/5

ZINGY CITRUS

Wye Valley Traditional Mead (14.5% ABV), £30, 70cl, Hive Mind Mead & Brew Co.

This vibrant, golden nectar won the Golden Fork Award 2023 for its complex, beeswax-scented profile.

Aromatic with a moreish, yeasty note, it’s soft and honeyed with a zinging, citrus acidity. 4/5

DARK HONEYCOMB NOTES

Lyme Bay Winery Traditional Mead (14.5% ABV), £11.49 for 75cl, Waitrose

Bees and grapes often go hand in hand, and Lyme Bay ferments, blends and ages its mead on site.

A traditional version, it’s dark amber and savoury with notes of caramelised honeycomb and a waft of elderflower. 2/5

TONGUE-TINGLING TASTERS

Postcode Mead Tasting Box, £30, Gosnells.co.uk

A masterclass in a box, with four premium ‘nectars’ (lower alcohol meads) complete with pots of the honey used to make each.

These small-batch bottles show just how different the drink can taste based on where the nectar is harvested. 5/5

TANGY CHERRY

Viking Cherry Mead, (6% ABV) £14.99 for 75cl, Honey Mead Company

A bit different and incredibly moreish, this lower alcohol tipple is packed with warming honey notes, beautifully balanced by natural, tangy cherry flavours.

You can drink it warm, too. The classic Honey Mead version is also worth trying. 3/5

SWEET TREAT WITH CHEESE

Biddenden Special Mead, (12% ABV) £11.20 for 75cl Biddenden Vineyards.com

Another winery speciality and a sweeter, more aromatic version than some, Biddenden ferments fruit together with honey before subtly sweetening it.

Not as sweet as dessert wines, but enough to be a great foil for hot spices and salty cheese. 3/5

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2024-06-12T19:43:15Z dg43tfdfdgfd