Senior Scene : Mead : the Oldest Wine

seniors toast of menSerene Karplus, Nederland.   The theory is that some guy thousands of years ago probably stumbled across a beehive that had fallen into the rain-soaked hollow of a tree trunk. When he sipped the resulting liquid, he discovered the intoxicating sweet fermented beverage we now know as mead. At first the story may sound a little suspicious, when we also know pure honey to be historically one of the best preservatives against spoilage, but as soon as its high sugar content is diluted with water naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria can eat honey and ferment it.

Honey bee DNA has been traced back about a million years and cave paintings show people gathering honey thousands of years ago. Although yeasts and bacteria that consume this bee food have thrived for longer than human recorded history, humans only just learned in the mid-1800’s how to identify these microbes and how they operate. The fermentation results of mead-makers prior to that time were inconsistent, which made the process mysterious and of seemingly divine origin. The ancient Greeks believed this Nectar of the Gods, or Ambrosia, descended as dew from the Heavens before bees collected it to create the magical drink that prolonged life and bestowed health, strength, virility, wit, and poetry.

Many European cultures considered bees the messengers of the gods, imbuing honey with mystic properties valued for temple rites and ceremonies. Some sources point to mead from the honey of slightly toxic plants as fueling the altered states and futuristic visions of the prophetesses of Delphi. Anglo-Saxon culture considered mead a source of immortality, poetry, and knowledge. As healing herbs were added to the beverage, it came to be known as metheglin, from the Welsh word “meddyglin” or medicine. Queen Elizabeth was known to have her own favorite recipe, including rosemary, bay leaves, sweet briar and thyme. The tradition of giving a gift of a month’s supply of mead to a newlywed couple to ensure a fruitful union is said to be the source of the term “honeymoon”, with the mead maker earning a bonus if a male first child arrived quickly.

Marco Polo’s introduction of cane sugar from the Spice Islands around 1300AD reduced the demand for honey. Monks in Europe kept bees to produce the wax needed for ceremonial candles and made mead from the water used to rinse the honey residue from the hives. Monasteries in Great Britain today claim a 400-year tradition of mead making. The centrifugal honey extractor invented in 1865 increased efficiency and reduced the amount of mead made as a by-product of the separation of wax and honey. Since that time, mead has become an artisan craft and its popularity has fluctuated, currently enjoying a resurgence.

Artisan mead makers today can produce a variety of mead beverages, ranging from dry to sweet.  With about 1/10th the acidity of grape wines, honey meads tend to run a little sweeter, but can be equally complex, with many variables influencing the taste and texture of the beverage. The chemistry of the various wildflowers, water minerals, bees, and strains of yeasts used affect the outcome, so that the results are as much art as science. Fermentation typically ranges from 6 to 18 months, another variable that, like fine wine, can improve the flavors with age. Much like wine lovers, mead aficionados savor the subtle differences in each batch.

A mead lover in 1640 toasted its superiority over wine with: “The juice of bees, not Bacchus, here behold, which British Bards were wont to quaff of old; The berries of the grape with Furies swell, but in the honey comb the Graces dwell.”

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Join us for a 30-minute tour of Redstone Meadery at 4700 Pearl in Boulder at 3:00p.m. on Tuesday, February 16. Following the tour and a brief tasting, we will visit the Liberty Puzzle Factory two blocks east for a 10-minute tour. The group will decide at that time where we will visit next, either Happy Hour small plates or an affordable social dinner in Boulder.  Rides leave Nederland at 2:15pm and we need to hear from those who may wish to give or get a ride. Please RSVP to 303-258-0799.

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Nederland Area Seniors Calendar:

Sun, 2/14 – Tea Dance at Avalon 1pm-5pm $15
Tue, 2/16 – Liberty Puzzles/Redstone Meadery/Dinner 3pm
Wed, 2/17 – Foot Care Nurse – call NAS ofc for apt
Wed, 2/17 – NAS Board Meeting after lunch
Sat, 2/20 – Molly Brown House Tour w CCO Singers & Lunch
Sat, 2/20 – Swing Dance at Avalon 7pm-11pm $15
Wed, 2/24 – Lunch Program – Audio Info Network Colorado
Fri, 2/26 – Mountain MidLife Dinner
Sun, 2/28 – Brunch Bunch Potluck 11:30am RSVP

Additional Info re Events:  303-258-0799

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gilpin seniorsGilpin Prime Timers Calendar:

02/15 Closed for Presidents Day
02/16 Grocery Shopping @ Bergen Park Wal-Mart
02/17 Free Exercise Class 11-12 Lunch @ 12:15
Blood Pressure Clinic 11:30 Social Time
02/18 PAC Luncheon @ The Ameristar Casino Fireside Restaurant
11:30 AM RSVP by 2/17
02/19 Free Exercise Class 11AM Lunch @ 12:15
Program on Social Security If you are unsure when to collect you’re Social
Security, or have other questions this program is for you!
02/22 Lunch @ 12:15 Free Bingo
02/23 Grocery Shopping @ Bergen Park King Soopers
02/24 Birthday Party! Free Exercise Class 11-12 Lunch @ 12:15
02/25 IMAX Journey to Space 3D RSVP Early to reserve your spot
02/26 Free Exercise Class 11-12 Lunch @ 12:15 Social Time
02/29 Free Exercise Class 11AM Lunch @ 12:15 Free Bingo

For Seniors 60 years of age and older, there is a $2.50 donation asked for all Senior Luncheons. For Free Transportation to any of these events or to RSVP please call Mary Ellen at 303-515-4292.

Serene Karplus

About the Author: Serene Karplus – is the Executive Director of the Nederland Area Seniors, Inc. (NAS) which assists senior citizens in enhancing their quality of life, enabling them to live a life of respect and honor.  This is accomplished through the facilitation of nutrition, transportation, education, recreation, socialization and outreach programs for all seniors living in the Greater Nederland Area. Serene is a contributor to The Mountain-Ear with her Senior Scene column.