Mead, that drink of Viking saga and medieval verse, is making a comeback. But this is not your ancestors’ honey wine.
“It’s not just for the Renaissance fair anymore,” says Becky Starr, co-owner of Starrlight Mead, which recently opened in an old woven label mill in this little North Carolina town.
In fact, this most ancient of alcoholic libations hasn’t been this hot since Beowulf slew Grendel’s dam and Geoffrey Chaucer fell in with the Canterbury pilgrims at the Tabard.
In the past decade, the number of “meaderies” in the US has tripled to around 150, says Vicky Rowe, owner of Gotmead.com, which describes itself as “the Internet’s premier resource for everything to do with mead.”
“I literally get new notifications of meaderies at least every couple of weeks,” says Rowe, who runs the Web site from her home in the woods north of Raleigh.
“So they’re just popping up all over and a lot of those are wineries that have decided to add mead to their mainstream product lines, which is just incredible,” she says.
Traditional mead is made with three ingredients — honey, water and yeast. The biggest hurdle has been overcoming that centuries-old misconception that something made from honey has to be sweet.
However, as Rowe is quick to point out, grapes can be pretty sweet, too.
“And just like wine, mead can be as dry as a bone or it can be so sweet it makes your fillings hurt,” she says. “And it depends on how it’s made.”
The honey, water and yeast are just the base. There are fruit-flavored meads, called melomels. There are methyglyns made with herbs and spices. And then there are what Rowe calls “weirdomels, which is mead made with lots of other things.”
Because it requires no human intervention, many believe mead is the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage. Traces of a mead-like substance were found in a 9,000-year-old Chinese burial chamber.
Until about 1500, mead was the alcoholic beverage of choice, Rowe says.
“Because cultivated grapes were only for the rich, and at that point in time the poor folks, they couldn’t get it,” says Rowe, who earned the nickname “Mead Wench” after years of wandering Renaissance fairs laden with wineskins full of her own homemade meads. “They had thin beer that they could make at home or they had mead, because honey was readily available to anybody.”
In Beowulf, the Old English epic heroic poem, the great mead-hall Heorot is the scene of most of the action. It is where King Hrothgar “with fair courtesy quaffed many a bowl of mead,” and where the “fell monster” Grendel slaughtered 30 thanes passed out “after the drinking of the mead.”
Chaucer’s 14th-century Canterbury Tales contain several references to mead or “methe.” But with the opening of the New World and its sugar plantations, Rowe says, “mead began a slow decline ... and by the 1700s was almost nonexistent.”
That began to change with the spread of Renaissance fairs and re-enactment groups like the Society for Creative Anachronism, and the growth of the craft beer industry.
Picking up where Chaucer left off, J.K. Rowling has introduced a whole new generation of readers to the honey wine. Devotees will no doubt recall how Ron Weasley was nearly done in by a poisoned bottle of Madame Rosmerta’s oak-matured mead in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Delaware markets a mead-like ale called The Midas Touch. Based on the residue from drinking vessels discovered inside the golden king’s 2,700-year-old tomb, the concoction is described as “biscuity” and “succulent,” with hints of honey, saffron, papaya and melon.
No one keeps tabs on how much mead is made or sold. The US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s wine statistical releases do not list honey wine as a separate product.
But Mike Faul, founder of Rabbit’s Foot Meadery outside San Francisco, says his production is growing about 30 percent a year.
He distributed 6,000 cases last year to customers as far away as Japan and Ireland.
During a recent wine-tasting tour, Mallory Radcliffe and her family stopped by Starrlight. The Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina woman had tried mead before, but she was surprised by the range of the Starrs’ offerings — from the almost clear semisweet to a deep-red blackberry.
A golden peach was the clear favorite.
“When they add the fruit, you have a different vibe,” she said. “Real light. Real enjoyable. Real easy to drink.”
“We’ve seen a big increase in the number of people that know actually what mead is, which is surprising to us,” says Becky Starr, who is wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Got Mead?” in ancient Norse runes.
But there are still plenty of visitors wanting to know where they grow their grapes. The Starrs are working on them.
HEAVY INVESTMENT: Moody’s affirmed the firm’s ‘Aa3’ rating with a ‘stable’ outlook due to its leading position in the industry and ability to match customer requirements Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co’s (TSMC, 台積電) revenue this year is expected to increase about 21 percent to NT$1.29 trillion (US$44.01 billion) from NT$1.07 trillion last year, driven by strong demand for advanced 5-nanometer and 7-nanometer chips mainly used in smartphones and high-performance computing devices, a Moody’s Investors Service report on Wednesday said. TSMC’s rate of revenue growth next year is to increase to 7.5 percent, the ratings agency said. The company, which supplies 5-nanometer chips for Apple Inc’s new iPad series, has introduced the advanced chips ahead of its competitors and gained a significant share of the market for the foundry industry’s
Shin Kong Financial Holding Co (新光金控) yesterday said that its insurance unit would adjust its investment portfolio after being banned from buying new stocks a day earlier by the Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC). “We will research what we can do based on the commission’s specific instructions after we receive the regulator’s formal documents,” Shin Kong Financial spokesman Sunny Hsu (徐順鋆) told the Taipei Times by telephone. The commission on Tuesday fined Shin Kong Life Insurance Co (新光人壽) NT$27.6 million (US$941,722) for reckless investment, and demanded that the insurer reduce its overseas investment ratio from 43 percent to 39 percent. The fine would affect
Taipei Times: When do you think the hospitality industry can return to how it was before the COVID-19 pandemic? How does Formosa International Hotels Group (FIH, 晶華酒店集團) fare this quarter and beyond? FIH chairman Steve Pan (潘思亮): The virus outbreak will have a serious impact on business travel, driven mainly by meetings, incentive travel, conferences and exhibitions over the past three decades. For the past six months, many businesspeople have grown used to exchanging information on the Internet, where more people can participate. The trend might sustain for three to five years until people are vaccinated and it is safe to
EQUITIES TAIEX moves sharply higher The TAIEX moved sharply higher yesterday as buying focused on Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC, 台積電) after a strong showing by its American Depositary Receipts overnight. However, the gains were capped after the benchmark index breached 13,000 points and ran into technical hurdles, prompting investors to turn cautious, dealers said. At the end of the session, the TAIEX was up 131.11 points, or 1.02 percent, at 12,976.76. Turnover was NT$206.328 billion (US$7.04 billion), with foreign institutional investors buying a net NT$18.47 billion in shares, Taiwan Stock Exchange data showed. TSMC rose 2.92 percent to close at NT$458.