Traditional Mead UK

History of mead in the UK

Around 550 CE, the early Brythonic (Welsh) poet Taliesin wrote a poem about mead called Kanu y med or “Song of Mead” (translated into English):

WILL adore the Ruler, chief of every place, 
Him, that supports the heaven: Lord of everything.
Him, that made the water for every one good,
Him, that made every gift, and prospers it.
May Maelgwn of Mona be affected with mead, and affect us,
From the foaming mead-horns, with the choicest pure liquor,
Which the bees collect, and do not enjoy.
Mead distilled sparkling, its praise is everywhere.
The multitude of creatures which the earth nourishes,
God made for man to enrich him.
Some fierce, some mute, he enjoys them.
Some wild, some tame, the Lord makes them.
Their coverings become clothing.
For food, for drink, till doom they will continue.
I will implore the Ruler, sovereign of the country of peace,
To liberate Elphin from banishment.
The man who gave me wine and ale and mead.
And the great princely steeds, beautiful their appearance,
May he yet give me bounty to the end.
By the will of God, he will give in honour,
Five five-hundred festivals in the way of peace.
Elphinian knight of mead, late be thy time of rest.

Another, mediæval Welsh poem, Y Gododdin, contains the stanza:

Men went to Catraeth at morn
Their high spirits lessened their life-span
They drank mead, gold and sweet, ensnaring;
For a year the minstrels were merry.
Red their swords, let the blades remain
Uncleansed, white shields and four-sided spearheads,
Before Mynyddog Mwynfawr's men.

This poem tells how the ruler of the Gododdin, Mynyddog Mwynfawr, gathered warriors from several Brythonic kingdoms and for a year’s feasting and drinking mead in his halls at Din Eidyn (now Edinburgh today) shortly before attacking Catraeth (believed to be Catterick, North Yorkshire today).

There are also mentions of mead in Beowulf where Danish warriors drank mead and Mead featured as a heroic drink in both German and Celtic poetry.

Tax and regulation drove commercial mead out of popularity with beer and wine being the predominant alcoholic drinks for some time. Many monasteries continued the tradition, however, since some areas of Britain are unsuitable for grapes. Perhaps the most well-known of such monasteries is Lindisfarne, after which Lindisfarne mead is still named today.