Mead in Britain: an ancient drink back in fashion

Brewers and chefs are reviving the honeyed ancestor of fermented drinks

It might sound like a throwback to Tudor times, but thanks to a burgeoning brewing movement that mirrors the resurgence in craft beer, mead is making a comeback.

Tom Gosnell, who started brewing his Gosnells London Mead at the end of last year, is leading the charge. He is building on decades of groundwork done by the Newlyn-based Cornish Mead Company, which was set up in 1960, and Lurgashall Winery, which also makes mead, in West Sussex.

The honey-based drink has a long heritage in the UK, dating back to pagan times when it was drunk at  weddings and by the bride and groom for the following month, hence the term “honeymoon”. Mead made an appearance in Beowulf and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Some monasteries kept up the traditions of mead-making as a by-product of beekeeping. It began to disappear after Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in the 16th century.

Mead-makers have hailed the influence of René Redzepi (pictured, right), co-owner of the Noma restaurant in Denmark, who has done so much to revive interest in ingredients with a northern European ancestry. He is one of a growing number of chefs who use mead in sauces. Simon Rogan, one of the UK’s top chefs, is among mead’s growing fans.

Gosnells, which is brewed in Peckham, south London, but served as far north as Edinburgh’s Timberyard restaurant, as well as London’s popular Dabbous, differs from its forebears in being far less alcoholic. The alcohol content of mead is typically around 16 or 17 per cent, but Mr Gosnell prefers a lighter, dryer version at 5.8 per cent ABV.

Tom Gosnell brews mead for the 21st century Tom Gosnell brews mead for the 21st century “I wanted a modern twist; something that was easier to drink and more accessible,” he said. He makes around 2,500 bottles a month, but has capacity for double that amount. He uses Spanish orange blossom honey because British honey is “too expensive to make a drink out of and varies too much between season and batches”.

Sarah Thompson, director of Lurgashall, said mead was an “underground drink, popular with  medieval re-enactment groups, pagans, and students” when she took over the West Sussex meadery four years ago. “But we’ve seen a big difference in attitude in the past six months. It’s one of the last drinks to have its comeback, after cider and gin. But it’s coming.”

Sophie Fenton, who runs Cornish Mead with her brother, Matthew Leiworthy, sells around 50,000 litres a year to local supermarkets and restaurants. “We’re trying to start a new trend for using mead to make cocktails. It’s finding a new, younger market,” she said.

Chet Sharma, head of research and development at Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume restaurant and test kitchen in Cartmel, Cumbria, says his most recent mead is based on elderflower, but adds that you can add anything you like to flavour it. L’Enclume and Rogan’s Fera at Claridge’s plan to stock Gosnells.

“The only difference between mead and beer is they use malt as their sugar source instead of honey. Why can’t there be as much diversity in mead as there is in craft beer?” Mr Sharma said.

Despite mead’s renaissance, the UK has some way to go to catch up with the US, where interest has grown in the past decade. There are now at least 250 meaderies across the US.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    Day In a Page

    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
    Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy