If you’re stuck for that unique wedding gift as the nuptials season approaches, why not consider the fertility drink orignally behind the term “honeymoon” — mead.
Historically, in merry old England, a newly married couple was given enough mead for one moon cycle so as to ensure a healthy, happy marriage and to help get the ball rolling — if you know what I mean — for plenty of sons. Although the concept may be a bit dated in today’s society, the romance of mead continues, nonetheless.
With roots dating back well before the time of Aristotle, Mead, sometimes called honey wine, is the oldest of all alcoholic beverages. It was the drink of the brave Danish warriors in Beowulf and the Celts sung about the beverage and its ability to transform ways of thinking.
The earliest archeological evidence of the production of mead dates back to 7000 B.C. in northern China. Pottery fragments were found with a mixture of mead, rice and fruits along with organic compounds of fermentation.
Similar to wine in that it is a simple beverage, Mead consists of honey, water and yeast. All of these ingredients existed where ancient humans first roamed — it was only a matter of time before they put it all together and discovered the resulting intoxicating effects.
From sparkling to still, from dry to sweet, with flavourings ranging from straight honey to fruit and hop infused, mead is much more than honey water. (Though the source of bee pollen adds nuances to the beverage’s key ingredient — having tasted mesquite and orange blossom mead in my travels, I can attest to the difference the type of honey makes.)
We have two local meaderies in Southern Alberta, and it is interesting to view their different approaches to marketing — some meaderies play off of the wine side of the beverage and some off of the beer side — mead being dynamic enough to sit on either side of the fence.
Alberta’s first meadery, Chinook Arch Meadery (Okotoks), which opened in May, 2008, markets their beverages as being more akin to wine — they have eight varieties, ranging from dry meads to fruit-infused meads to sweet dessert meads.
Fallentimber Meadery (Water Valley) opened in October of 2011 and is a family-run business made up of three generations of beekeepers. They have 250 hives and each has between 50,000 and 80,000 bees. They presently make five styles of mead with more in the works. Coming from a homebrewing background, Fallentimber is in the midst of financing a commercial brewhouse to start brewing a honey-based malt beverage — called braggot — that will be 30 per cent beer.
Interestingly, while many American meaderies purchase honey and only ferment their meads on site, Alberta cottage wine regulations decree that meaderies here produce their own honey or fruit as well. Both Fallentimber and Chinook Arch can be found at better liquor stores and farmer’s markets around town. For those who want to take a country drive to see what the buzz is about, both meaderies have tour hours posted on their websites — chinookhoney.com and fallentimbermeadery.ca.