Mead: a sweet ancient glow in the mouth

You can see how mead was developed. Someone swallowed a delicious spoonful of honey and thought to themselves ‘I’d like to get drunk on this stuff’. So sticky experiments were conducted there in the ancient kitchen, and although a few people may have been sacrificed to moonshine blindness, in the end the recipe was perfected. Something like this one from the Roman, Columella:

“Take rainwater kept for several years, and mix a sextarius of this water with a pound of honey. … The whole is exposed to the sun for 40 days, and then left on a shelf near the fire. If you have no rain water, then boil spring water”

From Beowulf I associate mead more with Anglo-Saxon than with Classical drunkenness, imagining a happy band of hairy warriors setting off with fermented honey coursing through their veins. But now, mead has been brought into the twenty-first century including Cornwall’s Lizard Cider Barn’s smart little range of fruit meads (technically, the additional of fruit means these are not meads but melomels. I like just saying that word; I can imagine myself after a certain number of glasses of 14.5% ABV melomel simply sitting with a soft stupid smile repeating melomelomelomelomel…).

I bought some damson mead at the Porteath Bee Centre in Cornwall, and we drank it with Cornish friends on a summer evening. At first it seemed all damson and no honey, but the aftertaste is soft, warming and distinctly honeyed. You’re left with no sharpness, just a sweet glow inside your mouth. Drinking it again today, it is the memory of good company, and perhaps a folk memory of companionable drinking going back through Tolkien, through ancient Rome and Greece and to something very very old in the appetites of the human race.

To read more on where honey can take you in place as well as time, see my Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo, published last year by Signal Books

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