Mead, the Vikings’ drink, returns

Ever wanted to drink like a Viking? Then you’ll need mead.

Fortunately for you, Kentucky author Jereme Zimmerman has the book for you: Make Mead Like a Viking: Traditional Techniques for Brewing Natural, Wild-Fermented Honey-based Wines, and Beers.

An urban homesteader, Zimmerman makes mead in his home in Berea. He also conducts workshops on how to make it, which is becoming more popular thanks to Game of Thrones and The Vikings.

Zimmerman got into home-brewing beer when he lived in Seattle; his interests in Vikings led him to attempt to make mead, which is often mentioned with Norse mythology.

Mead is pretty easy to make, Zimmerman said, although it takes longer to ferment — often two to three weeks — and continues to age in the bottle.

“The core component of mead is honey,” Zimmerman said. “I’ve seen different numbers, but essentially if 75 percent or more of honey is the main fermentable sugar, then it’s mead.”

He buys local honey but plans to set up beehives in the spring.

What does mead taste like? As with wine or beer, “it can vary quite a bit,” he said. “It can go from a dry sparkling mead to a sweet dessert mead.”

The flavor changes depending on the ingredients, such as fruit.

The alcohol content also can vary widely, from as low as 5 percent to as high as about 18 percent. Standard honey-water mead averages about 12 percent alcohol, or about 24 proof, Zimmerman said.

Mead can be made with hops to make a kind of beer-mead hybrid called a braggot, he said.

“That’s one of my favorites. It’s actually a beer. You can make a honey beer, but a braggot is specifically made with a large amount of honey,” he said. “You can make mead sweet to sour.”

People often ask to buy his mead, but he can’t sell it. Instead, he shares with friends and family.

Dogfish Head and Rogue breweries have released mead beers.

“Mead is a little under the radar; sometimes wineries made them. In Kentucky, they don’t really know where to put it,” he said. “We talked with the guys at West Sixth Brewery about doing a braggot, but they would have to have a whole new permit just to do that.”

Zimmerman has focused on writing about mead and teaching others to make it, and the mead movement has taken off. There are now contests for mead makers.

The number of commercial meaderies in 2013 was about 150, according to the American Mead Makers Association. According to a New York Times profile in November of a meadery in New Jersey, there are now more than 300.

Zimmerman has been riding that wave for a while: He first wrote a piece on mead under the name RedHeadedYeti for the homesteading network,, which is run by his cousin’s husband, Dan Adams, in 2011. Adams kept pushing him to write more, because every piece would see a spike in readership.

So Zimmerman started conducting workshops for making mead at Mother Earth News sustainability festivals. Fifty to 100 people would come to learn about mead, he said. So he took the idea for his book to a publisher, who jumped on it. The book came out in November. Zimmerman conducted mead workshops in the fall in Berea and plans to do another in Somerset in January.

He’s been a bit surprised by the mead renaissance, which he compared to that of hard cider.

“It used to be a very popular beverage, then something happened and it disappeared. A lot of people are attracted to the historical aspects. I was,” he said. “It’s actually mentioned a lot in Viking mythology. And that’s another thing that’s big these days.”

The popularity of the Thor movies, Game of Thrones and the History Channel series The Vikings have driven some of that, he said. Drinking horns are big now, too.

So there is every indication that mead will continue to grow in popularity, especially with home makers because of its simplicity.

“Because honey is so ubiquitous, and so easy to ferment, lots of cultures did it. Vikings used a lot of their mead for mystical and spiritual purposes. And made shamanic versions with psychotropic ingredients,” he said. “But no matter who makes it, in what period, it in the end it’s just fermenting honey.”

If you go

Jereme Zimmerman will be at Market on Main, 3661 U.S. 27 in Somerset, at 1 p.m. Jan. 23 for a book-signing and mead workshop.