Lindisfarne mead, an alcoholic honey-flavoured drink, is something of a paradox: mead or something akin to mead is perhaps the most ancient alcoholic drink known to man; yet Lindisfarne mead is a relatively recent product, albeit with spiritual links to the monks who came to Holy Island in the 7th century.
At its most basic mead is honey and water mixed together and left to be fermented by wild yeasts. Rather more sophisticated versions were developed in medieval times, but it lost its place to wine – more socially prestigious – and ale – easier to brew in volume, and had more or less died out in the middle ages if not earlier, other than with a few beekeeping brewers.
The mead made on Lindisfarne is a herby concoction, the honey sweetening and giving body to a grape based drink. The Lindisfarne winery opened in 1962, and brings valuable business to the island, playing on the Celtic links of the drink, though rather perversely it was perhaps even more popular with the Norsemen who ravaged Holy Island in 793. In the 1970s the drink enjoyed something of a resurgence when it was often served at the then popular ‘medieval banquets’, but since that time it has become again an acquired taste.
Chaucer may have lauded mead, the ancient Greeks may have sworn by it, but it is very sweet and unlikely to overtake beer consumption anytime soon. One major victory for the drink did come in 2006 though, when after decades of wrangling the producers were finally allowed to export to heritage-hungry America, though the spelling had to be changed to mede – the grape-based honey-sweetened drink did not accord with American definitions of mead.