Two old-fashioned and refreshing alcoholic beverages are becoming more popular again. Mead and cider both have long traditions. But what are they, exactly?
Mead is made by fermenting honey, and was produced throughout much of the world, dating back to ancient times. Particularly popular in Viking culture, mead is frequently mentioned in stories and movies set in that time.
Yet mead can offer a huge range of tastes and styles. Even though made with honey, it is not necessarily sweet. Just like wines, mead can range from very sweet to very dry. According to New York meadmaker Raphael Lyon, the honey in mead is more about how it is made than about how it turns out. In a 2016 article he says: “People make the mistake of thinking about mead as a wine that’s made from honey and water.” However, “If you start in the other direction, you’ll see mead is a way of taking fruits and herbs and adding honey to them and fermenting it all together.”
While similar in appearance to mead, cider is simply fermented apple juice. The juice is pressed from the apples and put into a large container to ferment. Yeast can be added, although the pressed apple juice already naturally contains some yeast. Once fermented, additional sugar might be added to added some “sparkle” (carbonation) to the finished product.
While mostly made from apples, pear ciders are also popular. Some purists claim that only apples can be used to make true cider. The traditional name for cider made from pears is “perry”.
Ciders have a range in alcohol content similar to beers, anywhere from 1.2% ABV all the way up to 12% ABV. Meads are typically more in the wine-like range of 8%-20% ABV.
And, if you really want to best of both, keep an eye out for “cyser” — a sweet cider made by fermenting apple juice and honey together.