View Full Version : So a guy walks up to me in the liquor store and says....

09-21-2008, 01:51 AM
"I have some trivia for you, since you're in the liquor business (I work in the liquor store). Let's see if you know the answer to this one. What is the oldest type of liquor?"

Now I was thinking of what I had heard of the muslims being the first to distill liquor and was trying to figure out which one. Then I thought that he might not really know the actual meaning of "liquor" and might just mean alcoholic beverage instead, so I said, "Liquor, as in...?"

He replied "Whiskey, vodka, wine, beer..."

I just looked at him and said, "That's easy. Mead."

He had a puzzled look on his face and said, "What's mead?"

I replied, "An alcoholic beverage that is made from honey. It predates beer and wine."

It turns out he was playing some trivia game a few days ago and had heard the question and their answer was, incorrectly, "Beer."

I mentioned how while beer required people to settle down and it was arguably the foundation of civilization, mead could theoretically have been made before people actually settled down.

I didn't even get into the whole "Dating meadmaking through etymological roots of proto-indoeuropean languages." ;)

The woman behind him, after he left, said, "Oh yeah. Most people don't know about mead. Have you ever tried it?"

I replied, "Actually, I make it."

09-21-2008, 03:57 AM
See this (http://www.gotmead.com/smf/index.php?topic=410.msg934#msg934) thread for some good information on the "oldest" fermented beverage. There's really no evidence that points to mead as being the first.



Dan McFeeley
09-21-2008, 11:20 AM
Thanks for pulling up that thread Oskaar -- that was a good discussion we had, really enjoyed it.

For CBiebel -- take a good look at that thread and you'll find some good info on this debate. For now, briefly, I just want to point out the basic error in thinking on "firsts." When we talk about something like mead being "the first" we have just moved into the language of myth and legend. Sure, there are firsts that really are first, more or less. In modern times we can look at different inventions and say that was a first, although, on the other hand many times when we look into the history of various technologies, it's not unusual to find independent discoveries of the same idea -- it was a matter of who got the credit first.

But -- when you're talking about something that was "first" in ancient times, even prehistoric times, you're using the language of myth and legend. Nothing wrong with that, but you have to make it clear that this is what you're doing.

Although there's no direct evidence of this, and there never will be, it is much more likely that the making of alcoholic beverages was something discovered independently, by many different peoples and cultures, and at different times. Making good booze is as easy as falling off the rain filled log. Everyone was doing it.

They also would have made their beverages using whatever materials they had at hand. Take a look at beverages made in more remote areas, South America, or even the beverages made in ancient Mexico. They use some of everything, agricultural products from their local area, a bit of this and a bit of that. I've even found an old fermented honey beverage that was made using a toad. Yes, I'm serious about this!

I don't want to take a purely negative, myth buster's approach to this. After all, when people are talking about mead being the first of all alcoholic beverages, what they're expressing is a romantiziced ambience about mead, which is something we shouldn't give up.

Something I've talked about for a long time on Internet groups and elsewhere is that, rather than talk about mead, we should be talking about honey. Do that, and do it in a way that is in keeping with historical and archaeological findings, and we've got it back again.

Like I was saying above, various cultures and peoples have made alcoholic beverages far far back into prehistory, using what ever materials they had on hand. Honey is very widespread, and it is very reasonable to assume that it was used as such -- not necessarily for what we would recognize today as a mead, sort of a mix and match of honey and other stuff. The earliest artifacts show this -- the 9,000 year old Jiahu beverage was neither wine, beer, nor mead, but it used honey.

So, what we can more realistically and more accurately say, and keep the romantized ambience about mead, is that honey has been used in the making of various fermented beverages since the dawn of time, and today's meadmakers stand proudly in that tradition.

It's more than a change in words, going from mead to honey as the focus -- talk about mead in this way, making honey the focus, and it amounts to a paradigm shift, the kind Thomas Kuhn talked about.

It's an important shift, and I think one needed as the commercial meadmaking industry makes progress. For now, mead is not quite mainstream and as a result hasn't come under strong scrutiny. We can sort of get away with saying a lot of things that may not have much basis to it -- do a search for the earlier discussion on the Ink Pen comic strip and you'll see the cartoonist making this point. He was absolutely on target about this.

Image sells, but if we want to promote mead in this way, it's really important that our images on mead are consistent.

And there's a huge amount to draw from -- I've had some conversations in the past with Garth Cambray on the ubiquity of mead in African culture and history -- really fascinating stuff and worlds removed from the drunken Viking stories we see so often. Same thing with the Celtic culture of Brittany France. Mead is all over. Eastern Europe, Russia, Poland, etc? Same thing. Wales -- meadmaking was regulated under Hywel Dda's "The Law." Tara, the ancient seat of high kings ireland -- another name for Tara is the "mead circling hall." St. Brigit of Ireand once turned water into mead.

See what I mean? We make a genuine paradigm shift from mead being the first of all fermented beverages, to honey being used at the dawn of time in the making of fermented beverages by many peoples, look at the historical and cultural expressions and instances of meadmaking, and you have a long and fascinating story to tell. And something really wonderful to sell a good commercial mead to the public.