Mead is an ancient alcoholic beverage made from honey. The June or July full moon was sometimes called the Honey or Mead Moon because it was the time when hives were heavy with honey, and so a time to make mead.

A honey wine, called mead, is one of the world’s oldest fermented beverages—maybe the oldest. It dates back thousands of years, archeological findings suggest.  Mead is known from many sources of ancient history throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia, although its origins are lost in prehistory.  Claude Lévi-Strauss makes a case that the invention of mead was the marker of the passage “from nature to culture.”

Though honey is 84 to 86 percent sugar by volume (compared to 14 to 18 percent for grapes), not all mead is dessert wine. Depending on how much water is mixed with the honey before yeast is added, triggering fermentation, mead can be sweet, semi-sweet or dry. (The more water, the drier the mead.) It can vary in color from pale gold to dark ruby, in alcohol from 8 to 18 percent by volume, and in flavor from delicate to robust.

In Norse mythology, the Mead of Poetry  is a mythical beverage that whoever “drinks becomes a skald or scholar” able to recite any information and solve any question. The drink is a metaphor for poetic inspiration, often associated with Odin the god of ‘possession’ via berserker rage or poetic inspiration. Mead was discovered by Irish monks during medieval times and it figures in both Gaelic poetry and Irish folklore.

In the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf, the fearsome giant called Grendel, attacks the Danish king where he’s vulnerable, in his mead hall. In Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the miller tells his lusty tale drunk on mead.

Mead was believed to enhance virility and fertility, while also contributing supposed aphrodisiac qualities. As a result, mead quickly found its way into Irish wedding ceremonies. Some historians and etymologists say the term “honeymoon” came from the Irish tradition of newlyweds drinking honey wine every day for one full moon (a month) after their weddings. Today, some Irish weddings still include a traditional Mead toast to the newlyweds.

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