Image. Black and white photo of a traditional Scandinavian mead hall.

What is Mead?

A short history of the world’s oldest alcoholic drink

Mead, or honey wine, is an ancient form of winemaking, with roots throughout Europe, Africa, South America, and Asia. Brewed from honey, historians believe it is the oldest alcoholic beverage, pre-dating both beer and wine.

Considered the sacred drink of royalty, poets and gods, from Mount Olympus to Valhalla, it is said to gift those who drink it with immortality, poetry, strength, passion, and wit.

Early mead brewers used fruit, spices and hops to mask unpleasant flavors that occurred in their mead, and to stretch costly honey. As heavier and heavier doses of the adjuncts were introduced, the drink evolved. Eventually it was enhanced by grape juice and became the wine we’re familiar with today. Hops flavored mead became what we know as ale or beer.

Mead fell out of favor for much the same reason that it was favored. As a raw natural product, honey was subject to wildly varying qualities. Seasonal conditions could affect the kinds of sugars encompassed in the honey, meteorological conditions could affect the intensity of the sugar, and the raw nature of both the honey and the water left the mead subject to numerous contaminates. As the existence of yeast, and the cause of fermentation, was not understood until the time of Pasteur in the mid 1800’s, fermentation was, by matter of fact, an act of random chance.

If random chance started an off flavor of yeast in the mead first, then the resulting product would not be an enjoyable drink. Consequently, six months to two years of fermentation and aging could be an utter waste of time. Honey was generally boiled to sterilize the honey and speed the fermentation process. However, boiling also caused a caramelization of the honey. These difficulties made the more sterile nature of the grapes natural package, and the heat tolerant nature of beer a far more consistently rewarding process.

What does mead taste like today?

Our goal at Sky River Mead is to reintroduce the world to exquisite mead and honey wine. By partnering with Cornell University, we have reduced the 6-month to 2-year fermentation and aging cycle necessary for typical meads to create a consistently crisp, clean and beautiful drink. All without damaging the color and flavor of the honey brought about by heating. As a result, our meads are lighter and dryer than their ancient counterparts.

We receive the highest quality honeys thanks to our relationships with regional bee keepers. Honey is handled with great care from the bee to the bottle. This yields a mead that retains the honeyed essence of its foundation: the melon and fruit tree notes and the floral nose.

Where can you taste mead?

Come experience Sky River Mead with us. Our mead selection includes a true dry mead, Sky River Dry, to a traditional dessert sweet mead, Sky River Solas. Other meads you can enjoy include: Rose Blossom, NW Hopped, Raspberry, Blackberry, Grape, Ginger and Cherry-Vanilla.

Our meads are typically served slightly chilled. Yet in the winter, Sky River’s Sweet, Sweet Brochet, and Solas meads are luscious when served gently warmed with a touch of cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom.

Visit our Mead Shop to see over a dozen mead and honey wine selections.

Drinking horn for mead, displayed in stand with ocean in the background.

Types of mead

Native Mexican Mead
Made with honey and maple syrup
Black Mead
Mead made with black currants
Good ale mixed with honey or drink made form honey and grain – the link between mead and ale
Mead made malted grain (barley)
Brochet or Bouchet
Dehydrate honey by boiling, then dilute it (burnt-sack mead), caramelized honey
Mead made with hot or mild peppers
Clarre/Clarree (french) or Pyment/Pigment (english)
Middle Ages – red wine and honey (some spiced)
Mulsum aged rather than being served with fresh honey. May have spices as well
Cyser or Ciser
Mead made with apple juice & honey – bouquet of sherry
Polish mead made with 3 parts water, 1 part honey
Nepalese mead made with Himilayan herbs & spices
Polish mead made from equal parts honey & water
Great Mead
Any mead made with the intention of being aged over several years
Croatian variety of Mead
Similar to Clarre (sugar in place of honey), herbs added to make it medicinal
Light or Low ABV mead
Honey wine, bouquet similar to french whites – Moselles and drier Sauternes
Slovenian or Croatian mead
Eastern European mead; Serbian, Croatian, Bulgarian, Bosnian
Eastern Slavic mead
Similar to Pyment, made with fruit other than grapes
Roman – Honey & Fruit juice wine
Mead must and gruits (herbs and spices) or spiced mead
Metheglin spices
“Well burnt” ginger, lemon juice, cinnamon, cloves, mace, nutmeg, well bruised juniper berries, jamaica pepper, sweet briar, rosemary…
Polish – Mead flavored with hops
Mulberry juice and honey
Mulled Mead
Mead that is heated, frequently spices are added.
Roman dessert/aperitif of fresh honey, wine and water (4 wine to 1 honey)
Mead Made with Muscadine wine
Roman – Honey, old wine & myrtle berries
A mead made with Verjuice (the juice of unripened grapes)
Mead with wine vinegar
Mayan Mead made with Balche tree bark
Polish mead made from 2 parts water, 1 part honey
Greek/Roman – Honey added to grape wines to fortify
Raspberry Sack Mead
Polish – juice of raspberries and honey fermented together
An ancient Grecian mead flavored with roses
Full bodied strong and sweet to dry, made from a greater strength of honey, similar to Hungarian sweet wines “Imperial Tokay”
Stronger, sweeter metheglin, similar to Vermouth wines
Saragossa Wine
Pyment variant – 1qt wine w/ a sprig of rue, a handful of fennel roots and 3lbs honey
Short Mead
A quick fermenting mead. Ale like.
Show Mead
A plain or true mead
Finnish mead with lemon
Yellow plant juice, milk, barley meal, & honey (preceded mead – sacred, brought immortality)
Ethiopian mead
White Hippocras
Cinnamon, refined sugar and white wine