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19. Mead

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Amongst the many traditional Christmas tipples there is one that is becoming increasingly trendy: Mead. According to The Telegraph, this historic drink has ‘gone hipster’, partly due to the influence of the TV fantasy series Game of Thrones. This deliciously sweet and often deceptively strong drink has appeared in legend from Chaucer to Harry Potter, but where does it actually come from?

Mead is probably the oldest alcoholic beverage known to mankind, although its exact origins are a matter of speculation. Evidence of a fermented substance containing honey have been found in pottery vessels from Northern China dating back to 6500-7000 BC, but some there is some speculation that it was being produced in Africa some 20,000 years ago. Mead was undoubtedly commonly drunk in Ancient Greece, and was referred to by Aristotle in his Meteorology. Believed to encourage health, virility, wit, and poetry, it mead is also responsible for the term ‘honeymoon’ with newly-wed couples drinking the beverage for the first moon-cycle of their marriage. The cheaper and more reliable alternative drink of wine eventually overtook mead in popularity, particularly in Southern Europe, but there are some locations where mead is still brewed today, including the Holy Island of Lindisfarne in Northumberland.

Given its long pedigree, sampling mead is surely essential Christmas work for any historian. For visitors to Cambridge, I can heartily recommend the mulled mead found at The Mill. Have a very Merry Christmas!

By Carys Brown

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