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The images conjured by words like “wine” and “mead” and “honey wine” are all separate. Wine makes you think of a romantic evening in Tuscany, while mead brings you to the drinking halls of the Vikings. Meanwhile, honey wine sounds like something you sip in the summer. Are any of these alcoholic beverages related? Do they taste alike? Turns out, when it’s a comparison of mead vs wine, you find that the two have much less in common than you might have originally assumed.
What is Mead?
Mead is a type of alcoholic beverage that is made from fermented honey and water. You may also hear mead called “ambrosia” or the “nectar of the gods,” depending on where you are. According to historians, mead has been around for around 8,000 years.
What About Honey Wine?
Now, what is the difference between mead and honey wine? Are there any variations between the two? Not really. Mead is honey wine. Honey wine is mead. But mead is the favored terminology, because it helps differentiate between wine, beer, and mead.
In the United States, the confusion between honey wine vs mead has a lot to do with legalities. The federal regulator of alcohol, also known as the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Even in present day, the TTB must approve of all alcohol labels, and for many years, the labeling division chose honey wine over mead. Around 2016, producers were legally required to label mead as honey wine. Now, thanks to the American Mead Makers Association, the TTB has allowed mead and honey wine to be used interchangeably.
What is Wine?
Wine is also an alcoholic beverage, but it is made from fermented grape juice. Any kind of fruit can be used to make wine, but if it simply says “wine” on the label and has no other modifier, you can be certain that wine is made from grapes. Interestingly, wine was discovered much later than mead. Comparatively, Earth has been graced by wine for only 3,700 years.
How Mead is Made
Traditional mead is very easy to prepare. All you need to do is the following:
- Boil some water with honey, lemon juice, and vitamin C.
- When the liquid has cooled, transfer it to a demijohn.
- Add in wine yeast then seal the mixture with an airlock.
- Wait 2 weeks for fermentation. Afterwards, the liquid is siphoned into another demijohn then stored somewhere dark and cool.
- Once the liquid is clear, you can pour it into a bottle and store it for a year or so before consuming.
Of course, there are different versions of mead that use more ingredients and various fermentation methods, but the overall process is simple.
How Wine is Made
Compared to mead, wine is far more complicated to produce. The grapes have to be grown in a suitable climate before getting harvested, crushed, fermented, then aged. Red wines use the whole grape, while white wines use skinned grapes. Yeast is not considered 100 percent essential to make wine, unlike mead.
Furthermore, the entire process can change the wine. When the grapes are harvested, the temperature, how long it’s aged, and the kind of barrel the wine is aged in all affect the outcome.
What are the Flavor Differences Between Mead vs Wine?
Some people wonder, “Does mead taste like beer or wine?” The flavors widely vary, so it’s difficult to say for sure. We can compare common flavor profiles, though.
Mead gains flavor from the honey and ingredients used, as well as the brewing process. Mead can have a variety of floral, fruity, and spicy notes. The sweeter the mead, the more rich the honey flavor; the longer mead ages, the more complex the taste.
Wine is usually made with grapes, but there are many ways to imbue wine with an array of flavors. Berries and stone fruits, citrus, floral and herbs, spices, peppers, smokiness, chocolate, vanilla, and even minerals stand out in wine.
How is Wine vs Mead Classified?
You can learn a lot about the differences between mead, honey wine, and wine just by looking at the way they are classified.
Wine is often classified and named according to the region in which the grapes were grown. There are also subcategories, such as rose, red, white, sparkling, and so on. Wine can also be classified according to flavor, such as dry wines, sweet wines, dessert wines, and acidity.
Mead and honey wine are classified by production and whether some ingredients were included or excluded. For example, a traditional mead is going to solely contain water, honey, and yeast. A sack mead will use far more honey, resulting in a thick, sweet beverage. Then there are cyser and melomels, which utilize fruit juices, to make a unique mead.
How Long Does Mead vs Wine Last?
Storing wine is always an affair. Once wine has been opened and exposed to oxygen, the countdown begins. Wine must always be laid horizontal and in a dark location before being opened so that cork is moist. Once a bottle of wine has been opened, keeping it cool is important.
When not stored in a cooler, an opened bottle of wine is only good for a couple of days.
Mead, on the other hand, will last for up to a month after being opened. This is because of the high levels of sugar. Also, storing mead is less complicated than wine.
Bottom Line of Honey Wine vs Mead vs Wine
So, what are the differences between wine, mead, and honey wine? Well, honey wine is just another term for mead. The separation between mead and wine is a bit more well defined. Mead and wine both use wine yeast, but the base ingredients—honey versus grapes—are different. Because of that, you get two alcoholic beverages that have similar bodies and alcohol by volume but completely dissimilar flavors.
FAQs About Honey Wine vs Mead vs Wine
Yes and no. When you tell someone that mead is the same as honey wine, you aren’t differentiating between one small detail. Honey wine is usually made with fruit instead of yeast. Mead will always contain yeast. Even meads that are flavored with fruit are not considered wine because of the yeast.
Sometimes. Mead is usually made with wine yeast and will have a wine-like amount of alcohol, so usually around 8 to 20 percent ABV. Mead with 12-16 percent ABV is very common. That said, there are fortified wines that have between 16-24 percent ABV; and many unfortified wines have a very high alcohol concentration around 16 percent.
There are a couple of differences between the two, but it often comes down to this: Mead will always contain yeast and honey, whereas wine contains fruit, primarily grapes.
Mead is often considered to be healthier than wine and beer because it is made from honey, which the human body can metabolize more readily. Plus, you get nutritional benefits from the honey, including probiotics from fermentation. Of course, there is always a downside. If you drink too much, the alcohol negates all the benefits.
For starters, wine contains grapes while mead contains honey and yeast. Secondly, wine is often straightforward—grapes and sugar—whereas mead can be made with a complex mixture of honey, yeast, water, fruit, and sometimes in places around the world (outside the US) with grains. Because of this, mead is often classified by the ingredients rather than what has been fermented.
The answer to that rests with you! Some people will love the honeyed sweetness of mead while others will prefer a dry white wine. It comes down to the flavor profiles you enjoy. If you find yourself drinking more beer than wine, you might adore mead because of the yeast. Conversely, you could find mead too sweet.
On first sip, you might think mead is more like a wine, but you’ll undoubtedly pick up on the beer-like yeastiness, too. Though it ultimately depends on what is in your mead, the beverage strikes a balance between wine and beer, making it a unique experience.