Certain words evoke images of ancient history and mead is one of them.
According to home brewer Aubrey Elbrecht of Hallstead, mead is probably the earliest form of fermentation produced by the human race.
The prime ingredient in mead is honey, which humans have been eating since prehistoric times. Honey was often stored in jars where it would occasionally ferment naturally, giving an additional pleasure to those who consumed it.
While not as traditionally popular as beer and wine in the U.S., Elbrecht said that mead has been gaining in popularity in this country over the past few years.
Elbrecht spoke to the Susquehanna Beekeepers during the group’s meeting in Montrose on March 10, giving a lecture on ‘Making Mead.’
Mead is created by mixing honey with water, Elbrecht explained, along with adding sugar, yeast, minerals and other nutrients. The yeast adds nitrogen to the mixture, which in turn helps with the fermentation process.
A certain fermentation produces a ‘still’ mead, Elbrecht said, while adding a little bit of extra sugar will cause the honey and water combination to carbonate, producing a beverage that is similar to champagne.
A home brewer for about 35 years, Elbrecht, said he made his first batch of mead 11 years ago. A neighbor had some excess honey, and he obtained the necessary materials to ferment it into mead.
Elbrecht is also a bee keeper, and spoke Friday to the Susquehanna Beekeeper’s Association.
He continues to create mead from the honey produced by his hives.
It takes about six to 12 pounds of honey to produce five gallons of mead, Elbrecht said, while a stronger mead with a higher alcoholic content can require 15 to 18 pounds of honey. A lighter mead has between 11 to 13 percent alcoholic content, while stronger mead can have up to 21 percent.
Different types of yeast are necessary in the process, because each has a different alcoholic tolerance, he explained.
Mead must also be allowed to properly age, to permit all the sugar to be converted.
Like wine, mead can range from very sweet to very dry, depending on the process.
“There are a lot of different uses for mead, just like wine,” he explained. “There’s even a process for making a brandy or honey liquor.”
Mead can also come in a variety of flavors, depending on certain items added during fermentation, Elbrecht said.
Maple syrup produces a mead known as Acer Glyn, while mead flavored with malted grains and hops is known as Braggot. Generally, any mead with fruit added is referred to as Melomel. Popular fruits used to flavor mead include grapes, apples or apple juice, blueberries and mulberries. Mead can also be flavored with spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and coriander.
“Mead was very popular in Norse folklore,” Elbrecht explained. “The ancient Greeks also made mead and consumed a lot of it. Finland also has a long history involving mead, as well as countries in Northern Africa.
The reason mead has not been as popular in this country, Elbrecht explained, is because the U.S. has always been a nation of beer drinkers. Wine did not gain its popular status here until about 50 years ago.
What prompted the increase in mead’s popularity, Elbrecht said, is the interest and research of honey bees caused by concerns over their declining populations.
Many beekeepers often have lots of surplus honey, and mead production is one of the ways to create something from the overstock.
Elbrecht said that he entered some of his meads at the Harford Fair two years ago, and won a blue ribbon.
Due to mead’s rising popularity, a lot of professional breweries are also now creating the beverage. Breweries such as Earl Estates in Seneca Lake and other across the country are now producing mead, Elbrecht said.