1: The Vikings Invented Mead
This one has about as much truth to it as that the Vikings wore horns on their battle helmets, or many other Viking myths I could bust, but this is a mead website, not a Viking website.
Mead is much older, and more geographically widespread, than the Vikings. The earliest evidence of mead production is from about 9,000 years ago (so it’s likely much older than that), and comes from northeastern China! It was also a part of the ancient cultures of India, Nepal, Egypt, North and South Africa (the middle, I’m not so sure of), Greece, most of the rest of Europe, many islands of the Philippines, and even upper Central America — basically everywhere that there was some sort of native honeybee, productive enough that humans could harvest the honey. By contrast, the “Viking Age” is generally considered to be about 793 to 1066, not only rather brief and fairly localized, but also relative latecomers to mead.
2: All Mead is the Same
You just read above about how long ago mead was invented, and how widespread it has been. As you might expect, this led to there being many different ways to make it, with it turning out very differently. Just some examples of differences:
Different ratios of honey (pounds per gallon) will make it potentially stronger and/or sweeter. (The exact mix depends on what yeast you use.)
Different honeys will make it taste different.
Most mead is still. But it can be carbonated, either in the bottle (or can), or by forcing CO2 (or N2 or other gases) into it at serving time.
Lots of different things can be added for flavoring, or it can be left plain. Common additions (“adjuncts”) include all kinds of fruits, herbs, spices, and more modern things, such as all kinds of hard candies (e.g., peppermints, Fireballs, all the flavors of Jolly Ranchers, etc.).
3: More Specifically, Mead is Always Sweet
Think about it. Grapes are sweet, right? Is wine always sweet? No! Same deal. It all depends how much sugar is left over after the yeast have eaten their fill. Mead can be anywhere from cloyingly sweet to bone-dry.
So why is the vast majority of commercial mead from the big makers, so sweet? It’s a viscous circle. (And yes, a vicious one too.) Most people think mead is sweet, and the big commercial mead-makers are happy to cater to that misconception. Worse yet, the Renaissance Festivals (even less historically accurate than Viking helmet horns), Medieval Times, and other such tourist-traps, serve up cheap mead, which is of course the too-sweet stuff from the big commercial makers! Or even more worser-er yet, sometimes it’s “meade” or some other mispelynge — which usually isn’t really mead at all, but cheap white wine (often sweet to begin with) with honey added. “Meade” is to “mead” as “cheez” is to “cheese”.
4: Mead is Hard to Make
This website is mainly about making mead as easily as possible. But, that doesn’t mean that “the hard way” is hard! It’s a lot easier than beer — no boiling needed!
In fact, mead is so easy to make, that one of the popular guesses (nobody knows for sure) about how mead was first made doesn’t even require humans to have done anything! The most popular guess is that some hunter-gatherer topped off a water-skin with the honey from a hive he found, but my preferred guess is that rain fell into a beehive that had been built in a hollow log (or some such thing), that broke open. Either of those ways (and many more!) would have diluted the honey enough that it would have soon started fermenting, due to wild yeast already in the honey, or at the very least as soon as any wild yeast floated in. But the second one could have happened millions of times before humans even existed.
Don’t believe me? Try my Simple Recipe, the easy way to make a small batch of mead, using only things you’re practically guaranteed to find at your local grocery store.