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Honey Wine Vs Mead (Main difference & which to choose)

If you’ve ever found yourself wandering the aisles of a grocery store or scanning the menu at a fancy restaurant, you might’ve stumbled upon honey wine and mead. But what exactly are they? Are they the same thing? Let’s explore honey wine vs mead:

Honey wine and mead both originate from fermented honey, but their production processes differ. Honey wine is made by fermenting honey with water, while mead’s fermentation includes the addition of fruits, spices, grains, or hops, resulting in a more complex flavor.

These terms might sound mystical, harkening back to Medieval times and ancient societies.

Whether you’re a wine connoisseur or simply someone with a curiosity for a honey-based beverage in its own distinct category, knowing the difference between honey wine and mead can add a new dimension to your understanding of alcoholic beverages.

What Is the Difference Between Honey Wine and Mead?

While “honey wine” and “mead” are often used interchangeably, they can represent slightly different beverages.

The primary ingredient of both is honey. Mead is a fermented beverage made with honey with water. The yeast consumes the sugars in the honey, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. The process is simple, but aging it properly can take months to years.

Honey wine, on the other hand, sometimes refers to a blend of honey with grape or fruit wines, giving it a more complex flavor profile. It can also indicate a mead-like drink but with the addition of spices, fruit juices, grains, hops, or flowers, which can alter the taste considerably.

These additional ingredients distinguish various types of mead.

Melomel, for example, is a fruit mead; Metheglin includes spices and/or herbs, and Cyser is a blend of apples and honey. The alcohol content can range from about 3.5% to over 20%, depending on the amount of honey used and the duration of fermentation.

Some cultures may use “honey wine” and “mead” differently, and local laws may define these terms in specific ways for labeling and taxation.

The overarching similarity between honey wine and mead is the crucial role of honey. However, the use of the term “honey wine” can be broader, encompassing not just traditional meads, but also other beverages that include honey and are wine-like in their character and alcohol content.

Both mead and honey wine offer a wide array of different flavors, aromas, and styles, reflecting the diversity of the kinds of honey, additional ingredients, and fermentation techniques used to make them. Enjoying these beverages can take you on a journey through a millennia-old tradition of transforming honey into a delicious and intoxicating drink.

But in most cases, the color of mead or honey wine resembles that of a lighter beer (without the head) or a darker white wine.

The History of Mead and Honey Wine

When diving into the history of fermented honey beverages, it’s clear that the origins are somewhat blurred. Historically, both mead and honey wine are among the oldest alcoholic beverages, with roots reaching back several millennia.

The earliest evidence of honey fermentation dates back to around 7000 BC in Northern China, where pottery vessels containing a mix of fermented honey, rice, and fruit were found. It’s unclear whether this would be classified as mead or honey wine by today’s definitions, but it was certainly a precursor to both.

The term “mead” comes from the Old English “meodu,” from the middle ages and the drink was well-known in ancient cultures, particularly among cultures in Northern Europe. Norse mythology frequently references mead as a drink of the gods, with stories from as far back as the 1st century AD.

As for honey wine, it’s a bit trickier.

Some cultures refer to their traditional honey-based drinks as honey wine rather than mead. Ethiopian “tej,” for instance, is often referred to as honey wine. However, the distinction between honey wine and mead, as we understand it today, may not have been present in ancient times.

Honey has been used in alcoholic beverages for a long time because it was one of the few sweet substances available to ancient civilizations. Therefore, mead or honey wine, however you choose to name it, is one of the oldest known fermented drinks.

Although which came first is a bit like the chicken or the egg question, what’s important is that both have stood the test of time, offering us a sweet sip of the past.

How is Mead Made?

The making of mead may seem like alchemy, but it’s actually quite straightforward.

The process begins with three basic ingredients: honey, water, and yeast. First, honey and water are mixed together to create what is called a “must.” The ratio of honey to water can vary, but generally, a higher proportion of honey will result in a sweeter, stronger mead.

Next, the yeast is introduced to the must.

This step of the mead production, called inoculation, is crucial as the yeast will convert the sugars from the honey into alcohol. Mead makers often use wine yeast, but ale yeast can also be employed, and the choice of yeast will impact the flavor profile of the mead.

Once the must is inoculated, it’s left to ferment.

This stage can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on the desired alcohol content and the specific strain of yeast used. During fermentation, it’s important to maintain a stable temperature and to keep the fermenter sealed to prevent contamination.

After the fermentation is complete, the mead is siphoned off, leaving the spent yeast (called lees) behind. This process, known as racking, also helps clarify the mead.

Lastly, the mead is left to age.

Like wine, mead benefits from aging, and many meads are aged for months or even years before they’re deemed ready for drinking. Aging allows the flavors to meld and mellow, resulting in a smoother, more complex beverage.

While this is a basic overview of the process, making mead can be as simple or as complex as you’d like it to be. With variations in honey, yeast, aging time, and additional flavorings, there’s a world of possibilities in every batch.

How many different kinds of mead are there?

There are quite a few types of mead that vary depending on the recipe and ingredients used.

The American Mead Makers Association recognizes a multitude of mead categories in the United States, each with a unique character and flavor profile.

Dry mead is one such type, characterized by little to no residual sweetness after fermentation, offering a crisp and clean taste.

Sack mead, on the other hand, is a style known for its high alcohol content and rich, sweet flavor, due to an increased amount of honey used in its production.

Session meads are lighter in alcohol, making them perfect for casual sipping.

The type of honey used can significantly influence the flavor of the resulting fermented drink, with darker kinds of honey typically creating robust, full-bodied meads. The type of mead you choose really depends on your personal taste preference.

How is mead aged?

The process of making mead begins with primary fermentation, which has gained popularity in recent years as more people rediscover this ancient drink.

This initial stage involves combining honey, water, and yeast, then allowing the mixture to ferment. The yeast consumes the sugars, producing alcohol and, in some cases, lactic acid which contributes to the final product’s complexity.

Once primary fermentation is complete, often after several weeks, the first time many mead makers will rack the mead, moving it from the initial fermentation vessel to a secondary one, often oak barrels. These barrels contribute additional flavors to the mead, enhancing the profile of classic meads.

During this stage, which can last several months to years, the mead matures, refining its flavors and clarity.

How is Honey Wine Made?

The process of making honey wine, much like its close cousin mead, begins with three main components: honey, water, and yeast. In essence, honey wine is made when honey is diluted with water, and yeast is added to trigger the fermentation process.

The first step involves diluting the honey in water, resulting in what brewers call a “must.” The amount of honey in the mixture determines the sweetness and the potential alcohol content of the finished product. Generally, more honey will produce a sweeter, stronger honey wine.

Once the must is prepared, the yeast is added.

The yeast’s role is to eat up the sugar present in the honey, converting it into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Many honey winemakers opt for wine or champagne yeasts due to their high alcohol tolerance and the desirable flavors they impart.

Now, it’s time to wait.

Fermentation takes place over several weeks or months, depending on factors such as yeast strain, temperature, and desired alcohol content. During this stage, it’s vital to maintain a stable environment and prevent exposure to oxygen, which could spoil the brew.

Following the fermentation, the honey wine is transferred, or “racked,” to a new container, leaving behind the spent yeast and any sediment. This process aids in clarifying the honey wine and can be repeated several times over the aging process.

Finally, the honey wine is aged. Aging honey wine is a patience game, often lasting months or even years, but it’s worth the wait. As honey wine ages, its flavors meld and evolve, transforming into a deliciously complex beverage.

In essence, the art of honey winemaking is a simple alchemical process, with plenty of room for experimentation and variation, leading to a unique end product every time.

What Do Mead and Honey Wine Taste Like?

The flavor profiles of both mead and honey wine are as diverse as they are delightful, directly influenced by the honey source, brewing techniques, and the addition of other flavor-enhancing ingredients.

Mead, generally speaking, carries the distinct sweetness of honey, but it isn’t cloying.

Imagine a gentle honeyed sweetness, a touch of floral or fruity notes, and perhaps an earthy undertone, depending on the honey variety used. The taste can be surprisingly complex, with depth and layers of flavor not found in many other alcoholic beverages. From crisp and dry to richly sweet, from still to sparkling, mead can be a chameleon in your glass.

Honey wine shares many of the same characteristics, primarily that honey-derived sweetness. It’s akin to sipping a delicate nectar. The flavors tend to be more fruit-forward, often presenting notes of apricot, apple, or pear. Some honey wines may be spiced, adding a warmth and complexity that can be very appealing.

However, as with mead, the flavor profile of honey wine can vary significantly. A light, floral honey might result in a honey wine that’s crisp and subtly sweet, while a dark, rich honey-like buckwheat can produce a honey wine that’s bold and full-bodied.

Both mead and honey wine offer an exciting playground for adventurous palates. Brewers can add fruits, spices, or even hops to create unique flavor combinations. And let’s not forget about aging; a well-aged mead or honey wine can develop a complexity that rivals the finest wines.

So, whether you’re a lover of sweet or dry, still or sparkling, straightforward or complex beverages, there’s likely a mead or honey wine out there that’ll tickle your taste buds.

Are Mead and Honey Wine the Same Alcohol Content?

Mead and honey wine, despite their shared heritage of honey fermentation, can vary greatly when it comes to alcohol content. This disparity results largely from the brewing process and the addition of water or other ingredients that may affect fermentation.

Mead, on average, packs a punch with an alcohol content typically ranging from 8% to 20%.

It’s common to find meads at around the 13% to 15% mark. This is due to mead’s lengthier fermentation period, allowing more sugars to be converted to alcohol. The alcohol content can also vary depending on the amount of honey used and the introduction of other ingredients such as fruits and spices. But mead overall is fairly high in alcohol content.

Honey wine also ranges widely in terms of alcohol content, but it typically falls between 8% and 12%.

The lighter alcohol content can be attributed to the brewing process which often involves diluting honey with a larger amount of water compared to mead, resulting in a lower initial sugar content.

However, it’s essential to remember that these ranges aren’t hard and fast rules. Craft brewers, mead makers, and vintners have broad creative leeway, and many experiment with fermentation times, yeast strains, and honey types to produce beverages with alcohol content outside these ranges.

Moreover, both mead and honey wine can be fortified with distilled spirits, raising the alcohol level even further.

So, when you’re selecting a bottle of mead or honey wine, be sure to check the label for the alcohol content if that’s a factor in your decision. It’s a wide spectrum, and there’s something to suit everyone, whether you prefer a lighter touch or something more robust.

Which is Sweeter: Mead or Honey Wine?

When it comes to sweetness, both mead and honey wine derive their sweet profiles from the use of honey, but the level of sweetness can greatly vary based on the brewing process and additional ingredients.

Mead, often celebrated for its rich, complex flavor, typically has a noticeable sweetness.

The high concentration of honey used in mead-making results in a brew that retains much of the honey’s original sweetness. The level of sweetness in mead, however, can also vary widely, from cloyingly sweet to bone dry. It all depends on how long the mead is left to ferment; a longer fermentation period will consume more of the sugar, resulting in a less sweet end product.

Honey wine, on the other hand, is often considered to be lighter and more delicate in flavor and sweetness compared to mead. This is because the honey in honey wine is usually diluted with more water than in mead, reducing the concentration of sugar. That said, many honey wines still retain a delightful sweetness that reflects their honey origins.

But as with all alcoholic beverages, the sweetness of both mead and honey wine can also be influenced by the addition of other ingredients. Fruits, herbs, and spices can alter the sweetness, either enhancing it or balancing it with other flavors.

Ultimately, the sweetness level in both mead and honey wine can vary greatly depending on the specific recipe and brewing process. Some might be very sweet, others dry or semi-sweet. So, it’s always a good idea to read the labels or talk to your local wine seller to understand the sweetness profile of the bottle you are selecting.

How does the sweetness of mead compare to dessert wines?

The sweetness spectrum of mead can mirror that of dessert wines.

Some meads, like dry varieties, have a subtler sweetness comparable to a dry white wine, while others can rival the richness of a Port or Sauternes.

For instance, a dry mead might have a light sweetness similar to a Riesling, with subtle fruity undertones. On the other end, sack meads, with their higher residual sugar content, can have the syrupy sweetness akin to a Moscato wine.

The amount of residual sugar left after fermentation controls the sweetness level, much like in dessert wines. The range of sweetness levels in mead, from subtle to rich, offers a wide array of food pairing options and makes it as enjoyable as standalone sipping wine.

What Foods Do You Pair With Mead or Honey Wine?

Pairing mead or honey wine with food can be a delightful culinary adventure. As versatile beverages, they go well with a wide range of foods, enhancing and complementing the flavors on your plate.

Mead, with its rich, honeyed sweetness, can stand up to a variety of robust flavors.

Spicy foods, like Indian or Mexican cuisines, make a fantastic match as the sweetness of mead can balance out the heat. Mead also pairs beautifully with rich, flavorful meats like duck or lamb. For a cheese pairing, go for bold, aged cheeses like sharp cheddar or blue cheese, which can hold their own against mead’s complex taste.

Desserts and mead are a natural match. Imagine sipping a glass of sweet mead alongside a piece of apple pie or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The sweetness in both the dessert and the mead can complement each other, creating a satisfying end to a meal.

Honey wine, typically lighter in body and flavor compared to mead, pairs well with lighter fare. Think seafood dishes, salads, or chicken. A crisp, chilled glass of honey wine can also serve as a refreshing counterpart to spicy Asian dishes.

For cheese lovers, honey wine pairs wonderfully with creamy, mild cheeses like brie or camembert. The light, sweet notes of the honey wine highlight the rich creaminess of the cheese without overpowering it.

Like mead, honey wine also works well with desserts, particularly those with fruit elements. A peach cobbler or berry tart would pair beautifully with a glass of honey wine.

Remember, the beauty of pairing food and drinks is in the experimentation. So, feel free to mix and match mead and honey wine with different foods to discover what works best for your palate.

What is the Shelf Life and Best Storage Practices for Mead or Honey Wine?

Mead and honey wine, due to their higher sugar content and alcohol level, have a longer shelf life compared to many other alcoholic beverages. If unopened and stored properly, both can potentially last for several years, if not decades. However, once opened, they’re best consumed within a few weeks for optimal flavor, similar to regular wine.

When it comes to storage, temperature is a critical factor. The optimal temperature for storing these honey-based beverages is between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (10-21°C), with little fluctuation. Storing them in a cool, dark place like a cellar or pantry can help prevent heat and light exposure, which can spoil the alcohol over time.

Humidity control is also important. If the cork dries out due to low humidity, air can enter the bottle, leading to oxidation. So, keep the cork moist by storing the bottles on their sides.

If you’re storing opened bottles of mead or honey wine, re-corking them tightly or using a wine stopper is crucial to prevent oxidation. While they can be stored in the refrigerator, remember to take them out about 20 minutes before serving to enjoy them at their ideal serving temperature.

In terms of shelf life, each bottle can be a unique case, depending on its composition, age, and storage conditions.

Older, high-quality meads and honey wines may benefit from extended aging, developing complex flavors over time. In contrast, younger, lighter ones are generally enjoyed within a few years of production. Always check with the producer for specific advice on the longevity and storage of their product.

How Do You Make Mead or Honey Wine at Home?

Embarking on the journey to create your own mead or honey wine can be a rewarding endeavor. It gives you a chance to appreciate the artistry that goes into each sip of this ancient beverage. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you make your own batch of honey-infused goodness.

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Step 1: Gather Your Ingredients

To make mead or honey wine at home, you’ll need the following: 2.5 lbs of honey (preferably raw and local), 1 gallon of spring water, and a packet of yeast (champagne yeast is often recommended for its high alcohol tolerance).

Step 2: Sanitize Your Equipment

Proper sanitation is key to prevent the introduction of unwanted bacteria or wild yeasts. You’ll need a fermentation vessel, airlock, and funnel. Make sure all equipment is thoroughly cleaned and sanitized using a home-brew sanitizer.

Step 3: Prepare the Must

The must is the sweet mixture that will be fermented into mead. In a large pot, heat about half of the water but don’t let it boil. Remove from heat and add the honey, stirring until completely dissolved. This is your honey must.

Step 4: Cool and Transfer the Must

Allow the must to cool to room temperature. Then, transfer it into your sanitized fermentation vessel using the funnel.

Step 5: Add Remaining Water and Yeast

Top up the vessel with the remaining water, leaving some space at the top. Sprinkle the yeast into the vessel and give it a gentle stir.

Step 6: Seal and Store

Attach the airlock to the vessel, which allows carbon dioxide to escape during fermentation without letting any air in. Store the vessel in a dark, cool place with a steady temperature.

Step 7: Wait for Fermentation

The waiting game begins. Fermentation can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. You’ll know it’s done when the bubbling in the airlock stops.

Step 8: Rack the Mead

Racking is the process of transferring the mead from one vessel to another, leaving the sediment behind. This helps clear the mead and stop the fermentation process.

Step 9: Age the Mead

Now it’s time for aging. Seal the new vessel and store it in the same dark, cool place. The aging process can take anywhere from a few months to a year or more. The longer it ages, the better the flavor.

Step 10: Bottle and Enjoy

Finally, after all that waiting, it’s time to bottle your homemade mead! You can use any type of wine bottle or beer bottle. Just make sure it’s properly sealed. Then, enjoy the fruits of your labor! Homemade mead or honey wine also makes a great gift. Remember, the joy is in the journey as much as the destination.

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Final Thoughts

After immersing ourselves in the rich history and fascinating production methods of both honey wine and mead, we’ve unraveled the often muddled understanding between these two delicious beverages.

Sure, honey wine and mead share a common core ingredient—honey—but how that honey is transformed into a delightful drink can vastly differ. Whether you prefer the straightforward sweetness of honey wine or the complex flavor profiles in mead, both beverages hold a special place in the world of alcoholic drinks.

In the end, it’s not so much about defining which is better or more authentic, but about the experience, the flavors, and the stories that these ancient drinks continue to tell through every sip.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is better, mead or honey wine?

The “better” choice between mead and honey wine really boils down to personal preference.

If you’re into sweeter, fruitier profiles, honey wine might tickle your taste buds. Conversely, if you prefer a drier, more nuanced sip, traditional mead’s complex flavors could be your winner. Some love mead for its historical allure, while others favor honey wine’s versatility.

Your best bet? Sample both! Explore the wide range of mead and honey wines out there, and you might just find a new favorite.

How did mead get it’s name?

Mead’s name comes from the Old English word ‘meodu.’

The term is rooted in ancient languages, including the Sanskrit ‘madhu,’ which translates to ‘honey.’ This reference to its primary ingredient highlights mead’s longstanding place in history, where it has been celebrated as the ‘nectar of the gods’ across various cultures for millennia.

Is mead or honey wine aged like wines?

Yes, both mead and honey wine can be aged like traditional wines.

The aging process can significantly enhance their flavor profiles. As these beverages age, the harsh alcohol flavors mellow out, and the subtle notes of honey, fruits, or spices become more prominent. However, the aging process depends on the mead or honey wine’s composition and the brewer’s preference.

Some meads are perfect for consumption within a year, while others may improve with several years of aging.

Does mead or honey wine go bad as fast as opened regular wine?

Mead and honey wine generally last longer once opened compared to regular wine.

This extended shelf life is due to the high sugar content and alcohol level. These elements act as natural preservatives, slowing the oxidation process that causes wine to spoil. If stored properly, an opened bottle of mead or honey wine can remain good for several weeks to a few months.

Nevertheless, as with all wines, it’s recommended to consume mead and honey wine within a few days of opening for optimal flavor.

Is mead sometimes called honey wine?

Yes, mead is frequently referred to as honey wine.

This moniker is a direct result of the primary ingredient: honey. The honey undergoes fermentation, much like the grapes in wine, leading to the creation of this ancient beverage. Although ‘mead’ and ‘honey wine’ are often used interchangeably, some connoisseurs argue that honey wine should refer only to those versions where honey is used to supplement the flavor, not the main fermentable sugar.

Nonetheless, ‘honey wine’ remains a common nickname for mead.

Is it easy to make mead or honey wine at home?


Yes, making mead at home is quite straightforward.

At its most basic, mead requires only three ingredients: honey, water, and yeast. The process involves combining these ingredients and allowing the mixture to ferment over several weeks or even months. With some attention to cleanliness and patience during the fermentation process, even a beginner can produce a tasty batch.

However, perfecting the craft and producing truly exceptional mead can take more time, experimentation, and understanding of the fermentation process.

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Is mead more like beer or wine?

Mead typically aligns closer with grape-based wine due to its production process and alcohol content.

Although its main ingredient, honey, might suggest a beer-like profile, the fermentation process is similar to winemaking. Mead is fermented with yeast, just like grape juice in wine, which results in an alcoholic beverage with an ABV usually between 10-20%, comparable to wine with some key differences.

However, mead can be brewed with hops or grains, which could make it taste more beer-like. But fundamentally, mead’s high sugar content and fermentation process align it more with the wine category.


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Jeff Campbell