Popular Culture Revival
Archaeological finds attest to the fact that many ancient cultures around the world once regularly indulged in the alcoholic honey beverage ‘mead’. You may recognize the name, since mead is enjoying somewhat of a resurgence, owing to its increased depiction in contemporary popular culture. You may even have witnessed first-hand characters who readily – and heartily!- imbibe tankards of mead in movies, series and even video games’ such as Harry Potter, Robin Hood, Game of Thrones, and Skyrim. These media references are reviving interest in this ancient beverage, bolstering mead’s modern popularity. But you may be surprised to learn just how far back mead’s historical origins stretch back…
Mead is acknowledged to be one of the earliest known forms of alcohol produced by ancient societies. It was commonly cited in ancient Greek, Roman and Hindu texts; and in China, ancient pottery vessels bear traces of mead dating as far back as 7000 BC!
Numerous African cultures have also developed distinctive mead-making traditions for millennia: ‘tej’ continues to be widely enjoyed in Ethiopia, ‘muratina’ lives on in the Kenyan countryside, and South Africa lays claim to the Khoe mead-style of ‘karri’ and the Xhosa ‘iqhilika.’
In Europe, mead’s ascent to popularity was slower, taking off in earnest around 2800 BC. However, once positively received, mead came to acquire quite the stellar reputation, gaining renown as an elixir with magical and even celestial properties; hence it’s characterization as the “drink of the gods.” This entrenched the belief that consuming mead substantially improved the quality of one’s life, further fuelling mead’s popularity!
Remnants of mythology associated with mead have persisted well into modern times. The term “honeymoon” for example, derives from the ancient tradition of gifting newly- wed couples with enough mead to tide them from the date of their wedding to the new moon (approximately a month’s worth of mead). The nuptial gift of mead was to be enjoyed by couples wishing to ensure virility and fertility as a hallmark of their marriage, attested by the birth of a child early in their married life.
Over time, mead lost its allure to other forms of alcohol, due to the prioritization of sugar production and advances in agricultural science: the former drove down demand for honey, incentivising beekeepers to reduce and in some cases abandon honey production entirely; while the latter availed greater quantities of beers, cane spirits and wines, making them far more affordable than the heavenly elixir that at one stage was the exclusive preserve of royal courts.
What is Mead?
Mead is a simple beverage, made from honey, water and yeast. Mead’s special alchemy
derives from the rich biodiversity responsible for the distinctive flavour profiles of honey “varietals”, which imbue a unique taste to meads originating from different parts of the world.
Mazers (mead-makers) continue to pioneer and innovate, extending mead’s ancient provenance. Modern meads, including Matawi’s, are infused with botanicals, herbs, fruits and spices; they also draw on contemporary wine-making, brewing, distilling and other techniques to elevate mead into a highly sophisticated and diverse beverage.
This has expanded the mead offerings available today – which include among others, still meads (aka honey wine), braggot (mead blended with malted grain), metheglin (flavoured meads), melomel (fruit-infused meads), pyment (mead blended with grapes/grape juice), cyser (a mead apple cider blend), short mead (made to mature rapidly) and great mead (made to be aged for years). As with wines, meads can be still, sparkling, dry, or sweet. The creative options availed by mead are truly endless – join Matawi in exploring and enjoying these tipsy honey discoveries!
Mead’s renaissance is not only heralded by increased pop culture references, but even more importantly by the establishment of new meadaries and mead brands.
Matawi is a mead stable that is proud to be contributing to the revival of South Africa’s Xhosa mead-making traditions, but with a sophisticated spin!
The common misconception about mead is that it is sickly sweet: Matawi has gone the extra mile to develop a balanced range, with some products intentionally and surprisingly tart, to afford you the chance to add your own honey to achieve your preferred level of sweetness.
Matawi is entering the market with a distilled mead / Honey Gin and a fortified mead spirit / Honey Liqueur with additional products due to launch soon. Purchase yours and write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know what you think!
For mead mixology inspiration, check out Matawi’s suggested recipes by clicking here.
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