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The History of Mead

The History of Mead

The History of Mead - with Tom Gosnell

Where does mead come from?



So, I’m by no means an expert but I have read almost everything there is to read out there on mead and the history of mead. The best source for this is Ken Schramm’s - The Complete Mead Maker, there is a good chapter in there about the history of mead, and it goes into quite a lot of detail.

Mead has a very rich history, if you take honey from a hive, particularly early in the season when there is quite a lot of water in the honey, the honey won’t be preserved, so it will just start fermenting, wild yeasts will get in there and will start fermenting the honey into alcohol.

There is quite a lot of evidence that goes back 10,000-12,000 years, in a couple of places in Africa, and also in China where they found bits of pottery with grains and pollen, this suggests people have been fermenting honey for thousands of years.

Everyone always argues about what the worlds oldest booze is, and everyone argues it’s either beer, wine or mead, but it’s likely a mix of everything, they were less dogmatic about what they were fermenting back then, as long as it fermented and got you drunk!

So then, moving forward through history a bit, it crops up again all over the world in many cultures and forms, you find tablets in Mesopotamia, where they were using honey based alcohol there. Again looking a bit further forward in time with the Greeks and the Romans, they were using honey to sweeten up there wine, potentially just to increase the flavour and to cover up some of roughness, but there’s evidence that they made pretty reasonable wine but they may have used honey to sweeten and spice up perhaps the cheaper wines. There is also a lot of evidence to prove that the domestication of bees began specifically for the production of honey to sweeten up wines.

What about the UK, and the history of mead there?

Again, there is a really rich history of mead in the UK. So if you look back into Celtic culture and then moving forwards a bit into Anglo Saxon culture, mead crops up quite a lot. The classic text is Beowulf, which is set in a mead hall where they are all sitting around in the evening, drinking plenty of mead and waiting for the monster to arrive. Mead has a real place in that culture, and it kind of continues up until broadly the Norman conquest of 1066.

Why did mead lose popularity?



The crux point was when the Normans in 1066 came in, conquered us, and replaced our aristocracy with their own. They brought in their own alcohol traditions which was mainly, cider and perry, fruit wines and grape wines. So when the rich people in society are drinking something quite different, that then filters down through society and it marginalises mead as sort of a lower end, more rural country thing as opposed to an urban elite drink.

Alongside this, you’ve got the advent of other booze, so up until about the 14th Century, hops weren’t used in beer, so before that beer only had a shelf life of perhaps 2 to 3 days before it started to go bad. After the introduction of hops which were primarily introduced as a preservative rather than a flavour, (whereas we know, today, that a hoppy IPA is there for the flavour.) Hops are a massive preservative and have a massive antibacterial effect which means the beer lasts a lot longer, more like 6 or 7 days. That then means that the product is a lot more economically viable and cheaper to produce.

Alongside this, trade starts to get going a lot more, they were brining in wines from places like Spain and France and the technology is there to keep them for longer. Then finally then you’ve got the advent of spirits, so that’s when distillation started happening and you start getting the first evidence of Scotch Whiskey and that sort of stuff. So ultimately it’s a cumulative effect of different things displacing mead, as the other things are cheaper and I guess, easier to make.

What’s happening today with mead, what’s actually brought it back to popularity?

It’s an interesting question, people always ask me if it’s because of Game of Thrones and I highly doubt it. Mead has been having a bit of a renaissance over the last 10-20 years and it all started in the USA, where there are over 500 meaderies across the county. There is much more of a scene there, then potentially there is in Europe or the UK. Why that is, is probably open for speculation, certainly the advent of craft beer and better beer has meant that people are looking for new products and well crafted with a real sense of provenence and mead fits all those bills. You can really get a sense of terroir and craftsmanship out of a really good mead. Just like you would do a beer or a wine and that’s quite exciting for a significant proportion of people who are looking for something new and exciting to drink. So the mead industry is certainly growing it was declared the fastest growing category in the US in 2017 and I would expect the same for recent years and it’s a really exciting time.

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Why Choose Gosnells at your Local Shop?

Why Choose Gosnells at your Local Shop?

5 Reasons to Choose Gosnells:

1 - Gluten Free
All our meads are naturally gluten free and taste amazing!

2 - Natural
Our meads are only made using natural ingredients for example, Spanish Orange Blossom honey, hibiscus flowers, tarragon and even hops!

3 - Unique Flavours
Most of our meads are brewed purely with honey for flavour, this means that the taste is purely derived from the specific flowers the honey bees were foraging on at the time. That’s pretty neat!

4 - Terroir

Mead has a broad and exciting terroir, the honey can come from a single type of flower (monofloral) such as Lavender Honey or from a certain area known as single origin, such as Finsbury Park Honey where only specific types of flowers are available for the bees to forage. These factors can have a very strong impact on the flavour profiles.

5 - History
Mead has been around as long, if not longer than wine, beer and cider and has no reason to be taking a back seat in the drinks industry. We are London’s first meadery in over 500 years and we’re making a delicious, sparkling modern mead. Why not give it a try?

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Introduction to The Mead Podcast

Introduction to The Mead Podcast

The Mead Podcast with Gosnells

Introducing, The Mead Podcast with Gosnells! We're so happy to finally be releasing the first episode of our brand new podcast which we have been working hard on over the past few weeks. Our first episode is titled, 'Why Mead?', why not go and have a listen and let us know what you think? This podcast will focus on mead, honey, yeast, fermentation and the drinks industry.

In the first episode, we go in depth with meaderies around the world on what sparked them to start brewing mead and why? Featuring industry giants such as Superstition Meadery, All-Wise Meadery, Charm City Meadworks and more! Listen here: The Mead Podcast


Over the next few weeks we will be speaking with some of the biggest meaderies, beekeepers, mead fans and honey aficionados from around the world about a whole host of mead related topics, from how they got started, what honey they use and what they think about the future of the industry. We will be going into detail about honey and how it can create such incredible flavours and why.

For any enquiries or if you would like to be featured on the show, contact podcast@gosnells.co.uk.

We really hope you enjoy the first series!

Cheers,

Ted & Tom

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Our first ever sour mead release.

Our first ever sour mead release.

When I first tasted the original Gosnells I knew that the balance between the sweetness of honey and a complex acidity profile of mixed fermentation was a direction I wanted to explore.

Given just the starting simple sugar profile of honey brewing a complex acid profile with enough body structure has been a hurdle.

Developing this sour has certainly not been easy but after many trails )some successful and many much less successful) we've finally created a product that marries the sweetness with the sour and is reminiscent of a traditional spontaneous fermentation flavour profile.

We've achieved this balance by developing a blending program, much like lambic styles, to get the exact balance of acidity dialled in.

For our first release, we've blended a combination of mixed, single strain and open top fermentation. This allows not only a funky fun flavour profile but also allows for better consistency.

Using Spanish Orange Blossom Honey as a base for all the ferments was an easy decision. Its light and citrus profile allows for another string to the acidity bow with the honey itself being around 3.9 ph.

With the movement being towards kettle souring in the beer industry, we decided to create a more complex acidity profile as LAB produce a fruity but thin mono-tonal acidity profile. Using acetobacter as well as 2 LAB strains and a few other tricks, created our first ever sour mead, which has complex layers of flavour, a puckering sourness, and our signature honey flavour!

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Our first vintage!

Our first vintage!

Introducing our first vintage, made with 100%, local raw London honey.

I had always dreamt of making a mead with local London honey, in fact, the dream has always been to keep bees on the roof and make mead from the honey downstairs, so whilst we’re not there yet this is a step towards it.

What’s amazing about honey is that the flavour is so different depending on what the bees have been foraging. Bees generally collect from plants and flowers within a 3-mile radius of the hive. For our main Gosnells of London, we use a Spanish Orange blossom honey – this means that the beehives are in the middle of the orange groves when the blossom is in bloom, so the bees predominantly forage on this, giving it it’s signature flavour. 

The situation with local, and especially London honey is really different – there’s such a variety of plants and flowers that the flavour of the honey (and the mead) is really different from year to year and even month to month.

It’s taken quite some time for us to be able to source enough honey for us to be able to make a mead made with 100% London honey – this year we’ve used almost half a tonne!

We decided to brew something stronger than our normal Gosnells to celebrate this amazing honey, so we’ve used our standard house yeast, along with a more robust wine yeast to help drive the fermentation to a celebratory 12%.

It’s really exciting to be able to create a drink which completely encompasses the flowers and blossom of the city. Our 2018 vintage is incredibly complex and deep, with notes of blackcurrant, sloe and a hint of spice on the finish.

Our Vintage 2018 will launch on Friday 30th November – pre-order online now and we’ll deliver on the Friday or you can pick up directly from the meadery in Peckham!

 
 
Our first (very sticky) all London honey brew day
The finished results! 

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Brewing up a braggot with Brewdog

Brewing up a braggot with Brewdog

First off some jargon: 

Braggot 

NOUN

A form of mead or beer made with half honey, and half malted barley

So there we have it, a braggot is a half beer, half mead hybrid. We’d always thought about making one, after all with so many friends at craft breweries in London it was only natural.

So, when Josh at Brewdog Tower Hill, London got in touch to talk about an oak aged collaboration, we knew it had to be a braggot.

We were very excited to go and brew with their shiny new kit in the bar at Tower Hill – it’s bigger than some of the breweries we’ve been in, and certainly shinier! 

We had an awesome day talking to Josh about the brew, and certainly learnt a lot more about beer brewing than we knew before.

After a lot of discussions, we decided to go for a lightly hopped base beer, primarily comprised of pilsner malt, with some flaked oats and wheat for structure. After this was complete we made a batch of mead, made with our orange blossom honey. 

We then mixed the two together in a foeder (a "foo-der" is a long, large barrel, in this case, 2000 litres) and pitch the Brewdog house yeast. The braggot was left to ferment out in the foeder, and remained in contact with the wood for 108 days!

It’s been really interesting (and fun!) to pop into BD TH and taste the beer as it’s evolved over the past 3 months – tasting the oaked notes coming out and the sweetness drop has been fascinating.

We're launching this at the meadery on 23rd November - see here for more details! 

 

Our first braggot in tank

So many shiny fermenters!

The mash tun

Discussing malt

Our braggot in the foeder

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