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.

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Kellie Bright as Linda Carter and Danny Dyer as Mick Carter

EastEnders Christmas specials are known for their shouty, over-the-top soap drama but tonight the show has done itself proud thanks to Danny Dyer.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy
tvCall the Midwife Christmas Special
Sport
Laura Trott and Jason Kenny are preparing for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth with Tess Daly in the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special
tvLouis Smith wins with 'Jingle Bells' quickstep on Strictly Come Dancing's Christmas Special
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tv
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: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there