Mead is a honey-coloured drink, classified as a fortified wine. It is made by fermenting honey.
Mead was probably the first alcoholic drink ever made. This can never be known for certain as the inventors never found the time to write it down, but they certainly remembered to tell their friends, and the making of it has been passed on through the ages.
Honey was probably the first exploited source of naturally-occurring sugar1 and therefore was the first source of alcohol. By lucky chance, the right sort of yeast found its way into a gourd of honey. By the time someone noticed, the yeast had metabolised the sugars in the honey to produce ethyl alcohol and the fate of humankind changed forever.
Who Drinks It?
In the past, mead used to be a popular drink, now it is mostly drunk by people of a spiritual persuasion. Druidic meetings often seem to involve it and some monastic orders are keen on producing it. The reasons for this spiritual connection, if any, are unknown. It is possible that the consumption of mead kept out the cold during a winter evening's sacrifice at the henge*, whereas monasteries are not exactly known for their efficient central heating systems. Mead was also popular among ancient Norse newly-weds - they believed that drinking mead for the entirety of your honeymoon month led to increased fertility.
Mead is also a popular drink at the after-battle parties of historical re-enactment societies, particularly those interested in the Viking era and the Dark Ages. Or if you fancy a tankard of mead, without having to re-enact anything and would like to wash it down with some spit-roasted wild hog, pop along to one of the medieval feasts occasionally held at castles across the UK.
Who Makes It
It is estimated that there are over 20,000 amateur mead manufacturers, who brew the drink along with home-made wine, beer and cider. The most popular professionally-made mead available in the UK is Lindisfarne, brewed in Northumberland and available in the same sort of shops that sell a bewildering array of whisky. In the US, Rocky Mountain Mead is available at selected liquor stores.
As you might expect, mead can remind people of the whisky, honey and lemon mixture given to them as a child when they had a cold. Modern mead has around 15% alcohol by volume, though it smells and feels a little stronger. Besides the basic ingredients of water, honey and yeast, mead-makers have been experimenting with the drink by adding pinches of herbs, spices and plants from their back garden in the name of making their version a little more unique. For an in-depth analysis of mead manufacture, look up An Analysis of Mead, Mead Making and the Role of its Primary Constituents . Serious stuff.