Tuesday, 4 December 2012



Mead, a drink produced from fermented honey-water, is one of the oldest alcoholic drinks, possibly even pre-dating farming. It was a favourite beverage in Northern Europe where the climate is not suitable for viniculture. Mead had ritual and spiritual significance for the Anglo-Saxon and Vikings, and deserves discussion.

Many ancient legends recall the pleasures of mead: the Norse Eddas tell how the god Óðinn seduced a giantess to gain the mead of poetry; and the joys of the meadhall are a common motif in Anglo-Saxon verse. The term ‘honeymoon’ may derive from the Anglo-Saxon custom of supplying newly married couples with a month’s supply of mead.


The Old English medu / meodu derives from Proto Germanic *meduz (cf. Old Norse mjöðr).This comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *medhu- "honey, sweet drink" (cf. Sanskrit. madhu)

There are more than a few compound words containing the root medu. These include;
  • Meduærn and meduheall - both meaning ‘Mead-Hall’. 
  • Meduwong - field where the mead-hall stood. 
  • Medustíg - path to the mead-hall. 
  • Medubenc - Bench in a mead-hall. 
  • Medusetl - mead-seat.
  • Medudréam - mead-joy. 
  • Medugál - mead-excited / drunk
  •  Meduwérig - mead-weary / drunk.
  • Meduscerwen - deprival of mead (also glossed as distress / mortal panic)
  • Meduscenc - mead-cup.
  • Meduwyrt - meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)- herb used to flavour mead.
Making Mead

 Mead is actually simpler to brew than beer or wine, though it usually takes longer to ferment and mature. Honey is added to boiled and cooled water, then yeast is added. The Anglo-Saxons and Norsemen would have used active yeast sediment from ale brewing - a good idea, because honey provides little in the way of nutrients for the yeast to feed on. In only a few days the yeast will have turned some of the sugar to alcohol but the taste will be harsh and unpleasant, so the mead needs to mature for some time before it is drinkable. It is very important to use good quality honey : bland honey will make bland mead. Fragrant, intensely flavoured, single-flower honey makes a real difference to the final product. Mead can vary from sweet to near dry, depending on how much honey was added in the beginning. All yeasts are killed by alcohol concentrations over 20% (and most at much lower concentrations), so fermentation can only go so far.
Mead can be flavoured with various herbs including Meadowsweet.
Mead can also be flavoured with summer fruit such as raspberry, blackberry or strawberry.

Mead in ‘Beowulf’
(495) “... þegn nytte behéold
sé þe on handa bær hroden ealo-wæge
scencte scír wered
“... a thane performed his office,
he who in his hands bore an ornate ale-cup,
poured out pure sweet mead
Here the word ‘werod’ is used for mead, deriving from an Old English word for ‘sweet’. The mead is described as scír ; meaning shining, clear and pure.

No comments: