For most of us, the word mead is new and unknown, but it’s time we know a little bit about this age old beverage. Almost all the world cultures knew about, made and enjoyed mead drinking at some point in time; and I thought I will dedicate the next 3 posts to talk about importance of mead in these cultures
While you go through them, please remember, mead is such an awesome beverage that almost everyone wants to claim that theirs was the first culture to have ever discovered it or mastered the art of making it. Ergo, in this blog, there will be some statements contradicting each other, but we only have limited archeological evidence and ancient texts as our proofs; hence the disclaimer: We are not here to quarrel. Mead is the best, it’s for everyone. World peace. Ommm…….
Let’s start with Europe!
A lot of fun anecdotes about mead are strewn all over Europe from Norse warriors Vikings, to Romans, to Greeks, and also Welsh. And a lot has been already written about mead in all these cultures.. so instead of reinventing the wheel I am giving links of the most interesting blogs here with a short summary for each of them.
Mead in the Nordic folklore:
Our favourite Norse god Thor, when went to get his famed hammer Mjöllnir back from Þrymr dressed as a pretty maid Frejya, he drank in total of 3 casks of mead in one single meal. Yeah.. that’s how they did it then.
Kvasir, the famous wise man and the son of Nordic pantheons Æsir and Vanir was murdered by two dwarves. They mixed his blood with honey to make the mead of poetry. The drinker of this mead was said to be imbibed with Kvasir’s wisdom, and become a poet. It is believed that poetry was born from the spread of this mead and hence the name. Sounds bloody awesome! One more interesting thing about Kvasir is that he was an expert peacemaker of his time who would brew up exciting meads for the two fighting parties to drink while making truce. So in a way mead was responsible for global peace then and could be even now!
Vikings are known to celebrate their victories in mead halls and drink mead for every celebratory occasion. Even today, the Viking ornate drinking horn remains one of the coveted items to have in possession.
Mead in ancient Rome:
In this very well written post, the author Quintus Curtius takes us right back to the time of Lucius Collumella in 60 AD when he wrote a detailed recipe for making mead.
From this post it seems like mead was often made with grape must thus making it an ancient pyment recipe.. see if you can reproduce it at home sometime..
Mead in Greek civilizations:
Interestingly a bunch of names for different types of mead find etymological connection to Greek language. Hydromel which means a low alcohol mead, comes directly from ὑδρόμελι hydromeli, which literally means water honey. Melomel which means a mead made with fruits in it, comes from μηλόμελι melomeli, which translates to apple-honey or treefruit-honey.
Greeks, according to me, had the most fun with their drinks. Their strongest alcoholic beverages were meads owing to the highest sugar content that honey has as compared to the grain mashes and fruit juices. I came across a very old but a very good article about archeological studies carried out in Bronze Age Greece and their tipples. Here’s the link that takes you back and kinda makes you want to wish for a time machine:
Mead in ancient Wales:
In my previous post you must have seen that all the names for the meads have the word mel or miel or something to do with honey in them. Except for metheglin. It kind of stands out as odd; doesn’t it? I thought so too… but a little search online led me to this amazing fact about the origin of the word. And it is all thanks to the Welsh folks and the way they made their meads in ancient Wales. They made their meads from herbs and spices, and called them meddyglyn which basically means healing (meddyg) liquor (llyn). That is where the word metheglin is supposed to have come… and that is also the source of the word medicine today! There’s that connection between our Indian Asavas and Arishtas that also have alcohol from honey in them to better dissolve all the healing goodness from the plants!
This versatile and amazing beverage has such a rich history all over the world and I have covered only Europe in this post. The next post is dedicated to the rest of the world. Read on next week to know about mysterious Egypt, vinrant Africa, frozen Russia, ancient China and a lot more fun mead gyaan!
We thank Anand Budhkar for digitising the sketches in this post.