Is mead the oldest fermented drink? Maybe, says Brian Rutzen, Cider Director, at in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood.
“The trend toward ‘craft’ food and drinks has been well underway for decades,” says Rutzen. “Organic and locally-sourced foods, beer made by your friends, artisan distilleries, inventive cocktail recipes, and now the recent rise of cider have all been a part of rediscovering lost traditions and searching for new horizons. It was only a matter of time before this new generation of thoughtful beverage makers turned their attention towards mead.”
As we witnessed with craft beer’s explosion, mead it starting to take off as more people want to experiment with new flavors and ingredients. In mead’s case, honey plays a starring role and one of the reasons mead might have come to be.
“Many fruits and vegetables were often kept in jars of honey as a way to preserve fresh foods,” explains Rutzen. “Over time and exposure to natural yeasts, the honey fermented and created the first alcoholic substance. The rest is history.”
Mead, is should be noted, is sometimes referred to as honey wine since the majority of fermentable sugar comes from honey. “It has some properties and notes similar to champagne, but usually sweeter and more viscous,” describes Rutzen, who adds that one can also blend honey with fruit juice (melomel) or spices (methaglin) to make it lighter and balance out the sweetness. The ABV usually ranges from 6 – 20%, with an average of around 11%, he adds.
Finding it on the menu isn’t always easy, although it’s certainly getting easier as more bars are starting to stock one or two brands and more meaderies open and bartenders experiment. It’s also a popular alternative to beer for those who are gluten-intolerant since mead is fermented honey and water or juice in its natural form. Note, though, that braggots marries mead and beer, meaning it might include malt, hops or yeast which will be problematic for those with a gluten intolerance.