Renaissance of Mead

Rediscover this Fast-Growing Category

If you’ve read Game of Thrones or Harry Potter or watched Robin Hood, you’ve probably heard of mead. Although it receives many references in literature and medieval entertainment, the description of what mead can be is quite vague, except for the pigeonholed view of it being suited best in antiquity. Mead certainly does have an extensive history and an impressive spread throughout many cultures in that history. Not without coincidence, between 400 and 500 years ago, mead began to fade away. As other sugar sources were developed and became more accessible, the cost of honey became unappealing as an ingredient in the production of alcohol.

Today, mead is back on the rise. The price of honey is no longer a concern when there are anything from $10 – $300 bottles of wine on retail shelves. Like in the world of craft beer and spirits, mead makers are excited to show people the wide range of possibilities within their craft.

Simply put, mead is any alcoholic beverage made primarily from the fermentation of honey. More vividly expressed by, (likely the Internet’s most dedicated resource to mead); “Mead can be as sweet as your first kiss, and as dry as an economics lecture. It can be still or sparkling, have fruit, spices, and even vegetables in it to create a beverage that has more varieties than leaves on a tree.” Like wine or beer, mead cannot be judged on a single product, as it is more diverse than those two categories put together. Mead should be explored as its own category to find which variety and/or style is best suited to each individual taste.

There is beginning to be more mead in the market to discover. A significant number of new mead-focused companies have emerged in the past 7-10 years with 496 meaderies in the US, and 39 now operating in Canada, with 5 of those in Alberta. That is up from just about 40 in all of North America in 2008. “Mead represents the fastest growing segment of the alcohol industry [in the US],” according to Michael Fairbrother, president of the American Mead Makers Association.

As climate and geography has established dominant wine regions in the world, Alberta is in a unique position when it comes to mead. Our province is one of the most honey-dense regions in the entire world, producing 50% of Canada’s honey, in a country that ranks in the top 10 honey producers in the world. The honey here is not just plentiful—it is world famous—and it seems fitting  that we follow the unique opportunities that come along with it. Alberta currently has 5 operating meaderies (with others in planning stages) and over 25 unique meads are being produced and offered in the province. These are crafted with top quality honey from all over Alberta.

Mead producers in Alberta hope to carve out their own well-defined home in retail stores in the coming years. Currently, the category of mead does not often have its own space on store shelves. This is understandable, as it can be hard to categorize such a wide spread of product styles. Trend spotting retailers have seen great success with small displays of mead in the cooler, between beer and cider, and out on the floor with mead-specific space amongst Canadian wines.

In a climate where grape production is not possible and fruit production is limited, mead can offer taste of the land and terroir like wine—as well as greatly complimenting the Albertan craft beers and spirits our liquor market is starting to strongly support and seek out.

Nathan Ryan is co-chair of Alberta Estate Winery & Meadery Association.

Photos courtesy of Fallentimber Meadery.