BY JOHN MILES
Think of mead and images of loud and bearded, large, blonde Vikings drinking from horns and gnawing on chicken bones spring to mind. When you meet Bob Thornton, one of the exponents of the current mead revolution occurring across the land, your first thoughts are not so far off the mark (well, the bearded and massive bit). Bob’s the sort of a fellow you’d meet wrapped in animal skins in Beowulf or swinging an axe in a tale written by JRR Tolkien.
Mead is created by fermenting honey with water, sometimes with various fruits, spices, grains, or hops – in the past it was a simple beverage brewed with honey, water, and yeast. Many regard it as the oldest alcoholic drink known to man, it predates beer, wine and formalised agriculture. It has also gone by the names honey wine, ambrosia, or nectar. The balance of honey affects the sweetness — additives greatly alter the flavour. These additives range from hops and malt to fruit, spices, and even egg whites. Mead’s flavour can elicit comparisons ranging from beer to dessert wine.
I tried mead for the purpose of this article. And? It’s absolutely delicious and insanely versatile, especially with the inventiveness currently happening within Britain’s craft mead industry. Whether you typically drink beer, wine, or booze, it’s definitely time to dive into mead.
Bob runs More Mead working in collaboration with Sam Cooper, the head mead maker at New Quay Honey farm in Wales. Bob also imports the best quality German meads that he can get his hands on and sells a range of drinking horns and holders.
When Country Squire Magazine asked Bob why mead?, he answered:
“I‘ve had a real passion for mead for as long as I can remember. In my humble opinion it’s the best drink on this good Earth. Revered and drunk by our ancestors, it was attributed with magical, mystical and healing properties and was even drunk by the Gods themselves, in lots of cultures, if you believe the tales. Mead is the root of the name ‘Honey-moon’. The wedded couple would be plied with mead for one month after the wedding to help with fertility and conception.
I have spent a lot of time searching out and trying real meads, those brewed from Honey and water, with fruit and spices, and it’s been an exciting and interesting Journey, with hopefully a long and interesting road ahead.
Mead is massively underrated as people just haven’t tasted it. I believe there is a huge market out there and I’m converting people one by one using More Mead.”
Most of More Mead’s current sales are at markets and living history or re-enactment events. More Mead also attends LARP fairs and food and drink festivals. The Grapevine Pub in Exmouth, Devon, is leading the way by selling their meads by the glass and bottle plus there are some great books being written on mead and food pairing which will be available when published.
One big objection to drinking mead is the alcohol content. What’s the point of a pub stocking mead if punters can only drink a quarter pint before being over the limit? After all, mead, while thought of today as being beer-like, is usually 12-16 percent alcohol, though it can get up to 19 percent if fermented using modern methods.
Bob doesn’t agree with that objection:
“The average alcohol content of our meads is around 13% which is standard wine strength. How much gin and whisky gets sold in Britain’s pubs? The alcohol content of both is over 40%. I do not suggest for one minute that people drink and drive – no way. But drinking mead you’re getting the benefits of a honey-based drink as well as getting tipsy in a cost-effective way! What more could you ask for? That said, there are now some mead makers producing a beer strength mead, around 5-6%, that is ideal for quaffing, and we are looking at producing one later this year ourselves”.
Actually, Mead can also be distilled to a brandy or liqueur strength. A version called “honey jack” can be made by partly freezing a quantity of mead and straining the ice out of the liquid (a process known as freeze distillation), in the same way that applejack is made from cider.
Country Squire readers – if they have not tried mead – should get out there and give it a go. It is simply delicious and the variety is sure to suit all tastes.
Up the mead revolution!
More Mead’s meads and accessories can be acquired via their online store here.