This is not an easy question. It is akin to asking what is beer? The technical answer of course is simple and by now relatively profuse on the web or defined in many well written books. Mix unadulterated honey with good water, add some yeast if so desired and let the concoction ferment to whatever end state you prefer to consume it at.
Answering what is mead is not so straight forward however. Mead is after all a very broad and diverse alcoholic beverage which was once at the top of the alcohol food chain but fell to obscurity and lost for quite some time. With only a few cultural examples remaining it lends itself to a blank canvas. And herein lies the attraction for most meadmakers, with few styles to define it, the meadmakers culinary side can be unleashed.
As a drinker of mead this can be incredibly frustrating. The drinker will find styles that may be like a red, white, fruit or sparkling wine. The drinker may also encounter meads that remind of beer or cider. Meads exist that are similar to distilled spirits and mixed into any manner of cocktails. We prefer a mead that is sipped like a fine liquor after a slow winter meal of lamb from the farm.
Yet even if the style is approximated for known categories of alcohol, the meadmaker has at disposal any number of fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs, grains and flowers to draw out flavour combinations that can pair in perfect harmony with the most magnificent meals, nachos and wings with the Superbowl, or just a thirst quenching relaxant after mowing the lawn.
And so what is the drinker to do? Explore of course. The market will define for the commercial meadmaker what mead is. For homebrewers we hope there will never be a definition because that reflects the diversity of such a powerful drink which was never meant to be confined to styles, regions of the world or specific cultures.
Wherever the honey bee roams so to should mead.
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