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What Is Mead? A Guide to the World’s Oldest Alcoholic Beverage

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When Austin Corrigan was in a severe car accident seven years ago, he started making alcohol.

“I had a lot of downtime and started experimenting with fermentation,” he says. Corrigan went on to start High Seas Mead in 2020 in Santa Barbara, California.

Although mead may seem like a newcomer to the alcohol scene, it has ancient roots and even predates wine. In ancient times, it was said to provide immortality. Sure, these days we know that drinking mead won’t help you live forever, but the longevity of the beverage’s popularity is undeniable.

A Short History of Mead

Mead is the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man and has been around as long as honeybees have been making honey,” says Jeri Carter, owner of Queen’s Reward Meadery in Tupelo, Mississippi.

Carter suggests that mead was making itself before people got involved: In nature, it doesn’t need humans to ferment. When bees abandon a hive, the sun’s heat slowly melts the wax, sealing the ingredients inside. Rainwater and yeast complete the necessary trifecta to produce mead.

“Scientists have found traces of mead in archeological digs on every inhabited continent on the globe,” adds Carter.

The oldest known evidence of mead was discovered in the Henan Province of Northern China and is estimated to be around 9000 years old. Mead also appears in Norse mythology, and was a staple in Scandinavia during the Viking Age (775 A.D.E.–1050). Referred to as the “nectar of the gods” by the ancient Greeks, it also gained popularity during the Middle Ages (476 A.D.E.–1300) when it was abundantly produced throughout Europe.