Mead, sometimes referred to as honey-wine, has existed as long as, if not longer than grape-based wine.
What we generally refer to as “wine” is a fermented beverage where the natural sugar in grape juice is converted to alcohol. Mead is also a fermented beverage, but unlike grape-based wine, the main source of sugar comes from honey. Various fruits, spices, herbs and/or botanicals may be added for flavor. In addition, the type of honey used will affect the resulting flavor of the mead.
Like grape-based wine, meads come in many different styles including sweet, dry, sparkling, barrel-fermented and stainless-steel fermented. Meads that include herbs and spices are referred to as "metheglin," while versions with fruit juice blended in are called "melomel." One style of melomel, made specifically with grape juice, is called "pyment."
Mead has been enjoying a resurgence in popularity over the last few years, and there are currently at least eight meaderies in Virginia. Some grape-based wineries are also starting to produce meads. Williamsburg Winery recently released a pyment style, made from honey and the juice of Traminette grapes.
There is evidence that both mead and grape-based wines were being made in China as far back as 7000 B.C. Throughout history and literature, there have been references to mead as the beverage of heroes (Beowulf), knights (Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales) and royalty (Queen of Sheba, King Solomon, Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria), which may be why it is popular at renaissance fairs. The next time you want to party like it’s 1099, try mead!