Myths, Marauders and Mead

Week 32 in the Year of Drinking Adventurously. Mead.

A drink for a Viking, sure. But mead is not just for Vikings or Asgardians or characters out of fantasy novels. Mead is one of, if not the most ancient of the potent potables we will encounter on this adventure. The chemical remnants of mead have been detected in earthen pottery vessels discovered in Northern China, dating from 7000-6500 BC.

Mead has been referenced in a sacred book of the Vedic religion dating from 1700-1100 BC. The Ancient Greeks drank it–both Aristotle and Pliny the Elder talk about mead– and of course the Gaelic, Brythonic and Scandinavian peoples consumed it and made it ‘famous.’ Mead and mead-halls are central to the scene of Beowulf, for example. The Kanu y Med or ‘Song of Mead’ is a poem attributed to the Welsh bard Talliesin, who lived around 550 AD and Y Gododdin, a poem attributed to Aneirin, one of Talliesin’s contemporaries describes mead drinking and feasting in the mead-halls of ancient Edinburgh.

Artist’s depiction of a mead hall. Image source Anglo-Saxon Culture, World Lit. Compass
Basic mead is made from fermented honey and water. Some mead makers infuse it with herbs or other flavorings, even blending it with wines. To be truly called mead at least half of the fermentable base must be the traditional honey-water combination.

There are many styles of mead to choose from. In fact, a trade group of American meaderies –yes that’s a thing– lists 41 official styles of mead as of the 2015 publication of our guide. Not in time for this post, much to my chagrin, I discovered that there is a meadery not far from where I live. However, the upcoming weeks have some really unusual offerings so I might revisit this week during one of those. In the meantime, I have a bottle of Bunratty Mead from Ireland to imbibe. And yes, its something I keep on hand. And no you shouldn’t be surprised it’s an Irish mead. (You do read this blog, don’t you?)

As with most things Irish, there are legends associated with mead. After mead was introduced to the Four Kings of Ireland it soon became the drink of choice at court. But it was not reserved for just the nobility. Believing it to be imbued with the powers of virility and fertility, mead was to be drunk by the bride and groom for one full moon after their wedding day. Thus the term “honeymoon” was born.

Mead can be served neat, over ice or even warmed to just short of boiling on cold winter’s night. I prefer mine in a drinking horn, sitting around the trestle table sharing stories of glorious battle with my comrades. So skål! Or slainté! And lift your goblets and let us eat meat and drink mead at our Lord’s table for tomorrow we go out and conquer! (Or go to the office and answer e-mails all day… Whatever.)

Go see how that feisty wench Lula ól sí mea!

Anglo-Saxon warrior, National Geographic

39 thoughts on “Myths, Marauders and Mead

    1. Wendy and her husband are going to attempt mead making with their own honey! Isn’t that cool? Truly, mead is another one of those cold weather drinks for me. It’s very sweet and can be a little much for hot weather. But on a cold winter night? Perfect!

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      1. You’re right! And a Godzilla Gold, too! 😀 Actually the home brewing is really going well. I’ll probably fill in one of the upcoming weird booze days with an update.

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  1. I’ve never had it but now I feel I must! You might be an enabler, Meg! 😝 Interesting history too. I didn’t know that about the honeymoon.

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  2. Oh! This is a drink I actually like! In my twenties, there was a period of time when, for my small group of friends, mead was our ‘thing’.We went to this tremendously cool place to enjoy it. But perhaps my favorite place to enjoy it would be beside Thor in Asgard. Okay, not perhaps… 😀 Perhaps you can join us… maybe his brother will be there. 😛

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    1. Really? No I didn’t. Your interests are quite broad and varied! That’s really cool, I’ve only dabbled in this pool. Beowulf and The Last Kingdom. A little nonfiction and mythology. You are astounding me!

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      1. I have always had a big interest in Norse mythology… I mention Odin a couple of times here and there, the Icelandic sagas are speculatar, the largest body of prose narratives in the vernacular in the Middle Ages, proto novels. Early Iceland is fascinating as well, with no formal government only a legislative branch for almost 3 centuries it is a good example of a form of anarchism

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