A similar scenario around alcoholic drinks is that you find an old bottle among your supplies. This time you find an old bottle of mead.
It looks fine, but you’re still doubting if it still tastes as great. Well, it’s dubbed as “honey wine”, so maybe the older it gets, the better it tastes? Does mead age like wine?
Mead is getting more popular in America for the past decades. Since everybody is talking about this “god’s drink”, you consider getting a bottle. Among other questions that popped up in your mind now are: how long does mead last? Does mead go bad?
Either way, in this article you will find useful information on mead shelf life, storage conditions, and how to know if mead has gone bad. If you’re curious to find out, read on!
What Is Mead?
Mead is probably one of the oldest alcoholic drinks that have existed since ancient civilizations. Mead has been a part of culinary tradition across the world. It was popular among the Vikings, Greeks, Chinese, and African.
Mead (also known as honey wine) is an alcoholic drink prepared by fermenting honey and water with the help of yeast. Depending on the regions, other ingredients may be added such as fruits, spices, herbs, grains, and hops.
Mead is known to have a diverse range of alcohol content, flavor, and taste. The type of honey, type of yeast, additives, and aging period are the main determinants.
Hence, it’s easy to find regional variants with many other names. These variants include braggot (with malt and hops), melomel (with any fruits), pyment (with grape juice), rhodomel (with rose hips/ petals) trojniak (Polish), Tej (Ethiopian), and many more.
Similar to wine, mead is also aged. The aging period varies from 3 to 36 months. Longer aging period means higher alcohol content. The alcohol content of mead considerably varies from 3.5% to 20%, depending on the makers.
That’s the nitty-gritty of mead, now let’s get into the more technical parts of storage and the shelf life of mead. We will also answer some FAQs about mead at the end of this article.
How To Store Mead
Storage guidelines for mead are relatively similar to wine. Place mead bottles on their side, especially if they are going to be aged for a longer period.
Keep unopened mead in a dry, dark, cool place, away from sources of direct sunlight and heat. A wine cellar would be a perfect place, but your pantry or cupboard is great as well. Avoid spots that might give sudden shocks or vibration, such as nearby a refrigerator.
A common question for mead storage is whether it needs refrigeration after the bottle is opened. Well, it depends on the alcohol content and the producer.
Darker, heavier mead (or sack mead/ great mead) typically contains higher than 14% alcohol. Standard mead, also the most common in the market, contains 7.5% to 14%. Meanwhile, the lightest variety is called hydromel and contains 3.5% to 7.5% alcohol.
Higher alcohol content means the mead is more stable. Darker mead can stay at room temperature. If you plan to keep it a bit longer, keeping it in the refrigerator is smart to do. For the other varieties, it is best to refrigerate (unless otherwise stated on label).
Either way, always keep the bottle sealed when not in use to prevent the air from getting into the bottle and degrade the flavor.
Can You Freeze Mead?
It’s not recommended to freeze mead as the flavor can be affected.
How Long Does Mead Last?
There is no exact answer on the shelf life of mead. It considerably varies on the type of mead and alcohol content. In short, it varies between mead makers. The next thing you should do is to check the label or manufacturer’s website for this information.
Typically, an unopened darker mead can last for 5 years or even more. After opening, the flavor and taste can considerably decrease.
With good care, mead can retain its best flavor for around 3 to 6 months. Of course, like other alcoholic beverages, it can still be drinkable after these periods, but the flavor may not hit the spot.
Lighter mead (those with lower alcohol contents) are less stable. It is best to drink it within a year or two. After opening, it is recommended to drink it immediately.
This mead variety drops in quality after opening. The recommendation varies significantly among producers, from just a day to a few weeks. Hence, check the producer’s suggestion.
How Can You Tell If Mead Has Gone Bad?
Typically, commercially-made mead won’t easily spoil since it has undergone rigorous production steps and aging periods.
However, if you have an opened bottle that’s been sitting for too long in the storage, better to do a taste test before serving it for your guests. If everything looks okay and the taste is acceptable, feel free to drink the rest.
Although going bad is a rare occurrence, checking these common signs of spoilage on mead might help you in the future. Spoilage may occur more often for homemade mead.
If you’re suspicious with the mead, check if you can spot discoloration, cloudy liquid, impurities, smell a bad odor, or bitter taste, especially if you forgot to close the bottle for a while.
What about the sediment on the bottom? That’s normal to happen due to various reasons, mostly from continued fermentation or other particles from honey. If nothing else is suspicious, it should be fine to drink it. In case of doubt, better discard any leftover.
Mead is considered closer to wine than beer, hence its other alias “honey wine.” The yeast for mead fermentation is similar to the making of wine. One mead variant that is closer to beer is a braggot that is mixed with barley malt.
Yes, mead has an aging potential for several years, particularly darker mead with high alcohol content.
Mead is generally gluten-free since the basic ingredients are honey, water, and yeast. But, since an endless number of additives can be added, it is better to consult the meadery (or brewery) for exact information. For example, braggot is made with barley malt, thus, it’s not gluten-free.
Mead is commonly served in the same way as wine. You can drink it on its own, at room temperature, or slightly chilled. Certain mead can also be used as a mixer for cocktails. Feel free to experiment and see what you like best!
Sulfites are a natural byproduct of the fermentation process, including that of wine and mead. Additionally, sulfites can be added during the bottling to preserve the final product. Consult the label or manufacturer’s website if you have this concern.
In short, mead is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey and water, with various additives of fruits, spices, herbs, etc.
Due to a diverse variety of mead from its alcohol content, aging, and additives, the shelf life can considerably vary between producers. Make sure to check the label or consult the manufacturer’s website for this information.
*Photo by Afotoeu/depositphotos