Mead vs. Ale: The Differences Between Ale and Mead

by Dane Wilson | Last Updated: March 16, 2021
The Differences Between Ale and Mead _Sound Brewery

After taking a sip of mead, you might sit back, slightly confused and brows furrowed. Wait, you think, isn’t mead supposed to be like ale? Well, not really. Mead and ale are not the same. While there are similarities between both alcoholic beverages, the differences are much more noticeable.

We’ve got the details about mead vs ale you didn’t know you needed.

Defining Ale and Mead

The definition of ale is “an intoxicating liquor made from an infusion of malt by fermentation and the addition of a bitter, usually hops.” Ale is commonly used in the UK and US as a designation between heavier fermented alcohol and lighter beers.

Mead is defined as “an alcoholic drink fermented from honey and water.” There are many types of mead in existence, each made distinct by the ingredients used. Less traditional mead typically includes fruits called melomels, such as apples, pineapples, and berries. One thing we want to clarify is that mead and honey wine are not the same thing—sometimes. Mead will always include a yeast, while honey wine does not use neither grains nor yeast.

How is Ale Made?

Since the simplest form of ale doesn’t use hops, you only need grains and malt. The grains are steeped as the water heats to make a base. After you remove the grains, you put malt or sugar into the water and let it boil. This creates wort.

After boiling, the wort is swiftly cooled then moved to a fermenter, where yeast eats on sugars and turns the wort into beer.

How is Mead Made?

Honey, water, and yeast—that’s what you need to make mead. Honey is first thinned with water so that the yeast can break down the sugar more easily. This diluted honey is called “must.”

Once dilution has ended, the brewers toss in a combination of juices, fruits, and vegetables. After that, fermentation begins. Then fermentation ends and the mead is stored away for a few months to  several years before getting sold. So, both mead and ale are made through the process of fermenting sugars. That is more or less where the similarities end.

Mead vs. Ale: History

Figuring out the differences between mead and ale is easier when you know where both came from. Mead is one of the three oldest alcoholic beverages humans have ever made, apart from wine. In fact, it has been referenced in Egyptian, Norse, Greek, and English history. Mead has been popular among pharaohs and even monks in 822 AD. Today, there are over 20 known types of mead.

When we are talking about the age of the recipe, ale might just be the grandfather of all beers. Prior to lagers being introduced in the 16th century, ales were you sole choice in beer. Although there is less known about the origins of ale, there is extensive proof that ale was consumed in vast quantities during the Medieval and Dark ages. It was counted as a grain and was even safer to drink than the water.

Mead vs Ale: Flavor Profile

The Differences Between Ale and Mead _Sound Brewery

You can’t expect mead and ale to taste the same when they are made from different ingredients, even when they are fermented similarly. For mead, you get a spectrum of flavor that is mainly fruits, wine, and cider. The honey you use to ferment the mead will also influence the flavor, just as the type of nectar or pollen can affect the honey.

You can also make mead dry or sweet or mild. If you plan on homebrewing mead, you can swap in fruits, spices and herbs to alter the flavors.

Opposite to mead is beer. Regardless of the kind—ale or lager—there is always going to be that characteristic malt. The flavor of ale is then refined by the brewing process and hops used. For example, an Indian Pale Ale is going to be different than a Brown Ale in terms of bitterness.

Alcohol by Volume

Another difference between mead vs ale is the alcohol content.

Mead has a broad ABV range. Some mead will go as low as 3 percent to as high as 20 percent ABV per serving. A sack mead will be between 14-20 percent. A session mead runs around 3-7 percent. And traditionally made mead? That’s around 7-14 percent ABV.

Conclusion

Mead and ale are both unique drinks with their own brand of deliciousness. You can select from dozens of flavors between ale and mead, so you can satisfy your cravings for sweet or tangy or bitter. Why not try them both? You might find that you love mead or prefer ale. One thing is certain: you have plenty of choices between mead and ale.