Before people picked grapes to make wine, or brewed barley to make beer, they extracted honey from beehives and fermented it with water and yeast to create mead. Also known as honey wine, it has been enjoyed across the globe for millennia, and was known as the “nectar of the gods.”

Although many cultures claim credit for inventing mead, including the Scandinavians and English, the oldest version of honey wine has been traced to China more than 8,000 years ago.

“We believe it’s the oldest alcohol on the planet,” says Electra Logan, co-owner of Meadow Vista Honey Wines in Kelowna, B.C. At this five-and-a-half-acre meadery, Logan and her sister, Emily Vanderschee, keep 50 hives housing up to 60,000 honeybees each—plus another 50 to 100 hives their beekeeper moves between local orchards.

“Bliss” wine, photograph courtesy of Meadow Vista Honey Wines.

This award-winning, small-batch meadery produces 20,000 litres annually, and the duo struggle to keep up with demand. Especially popular are its Bliss line of meads, which are sparkling honey wines. Bliss Sparkling Apple is a cyser, a style of mead where apples are added to the honey wine—in this case, fresh-pressed Okanagan apples that lend a crisp taste to the fizzy sip. Equally popular is its Bliss Sparkling Cherry, a style of mead called a melomel that adds in other fruit.

Other common styles include traditional mead made with just honey; metheglin, where spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves are used to create a drink not unlike mulled wine; and pyment, a type of mead where grapes are added in addition to honey, water and yeast.

The biggest surprise about mead is that it’s not always sweet. Fermentation converts the sugar into alcohol; how sweet or dry it tastes depends on when you stop fermentation.

Mead is lovely sipped on its own—a sparkling mead makes a wonderful stand-in for bubbly at New Years—but also pairs well with food. Try traditional mead with salad or seafood, serve a blackberry melomel with grilled meats or heavier pastas, and a spiced metheglin with your turkey dinner over the holidays.

Similar to a grape wine, it makes for easy sipping, so drink in moderation or you’ll really find out what the buzz is all about.

3 Meads to Try

Fallentimber Meadery

Water Valley, Alberta

Photograph courtesy of Fallentimber Meadery.

Head northwest of Calgary to sip a taste of the tropics with the Meadjito. It blends water, locally produced Ryan’s Honey, lime and mint to create a sessionable mead.

The Meadery

San Francisco, California

Photograph courtesy of The Meadery.

Drink Bourbon Apple Pie mead neat—and preferably by a roaring fire. The team here ages this cyser in ex-bourbon barrels for a year to create a rich honey wine that tastes of caramelized apple.

Enlightenment Wines Meadery

Brooklyn, New York

Photograph courtesy of Enlightenment Wines Meadery.

Nought is a wildflower honey wine fermented with wild yeast and aged in red wine barrels. This dry and complex mead pairs well with vegetarian dishes, chicken and pork

This story appears in the December 2019 edition of WestJet Magazine.