Production of distilled alcohol began about 1,000 ago. Beer has been brewed almost 7,000 years, and wine is around 8,000 years old.
But to find the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage you have to go back almost 10,000 years. That is when mead — alcohol made from honey — was first produced.
While you may not have heard of it, mead is still around and it’s experiencing a renaissance.
In fact, you can try it at the Minnesota State Fair!
Kyle Peterson started as a honey guy... but now he's a wine guy.
"Winehaven is really a family business that started out actually back in the 60s with honey production.
"In the 70s and 80s my family was actually one of the largest beekeepers in Minnesota; we had over 2,000 beehives. Now we're less than 600 and most of our honey goes into our mead, actually."
The collapsing honeybee population has been a problem for agriculture nationwide.
Kyle says, these days, it's almost as hard to raise healthy bees as it is to raise healthy grapes in Minnesota.
And, of course, it's riskier to harvest honey, too. There's a beekeeping suit involved.
How do you make mead?
"You start with basically honey and you dilute it with water, and the rest of the process is very similar as with grape wines; the honey is actually a substitute for the sugar that's naturally in grape juice. And then you ferment it.
"Different grapes can make different flavors of wine; different honey can actually make different flavors of mead."
Different flowers and pollens produce different flavors in honey, but I was surprised to taste those flavors coming through the wine as well. Kyle told me that's the goal. "You want to minimally process it... keep the pollen granules and all those things that add the really wonderful flavors to the honey."
So how does it taste?
"Well mead is a little bit sweet so people think of it as a dessert wine," Kyle told me. "We actually love it with spicy food. My family actually exports this mead to Korea and Japan because it goes so well with their Asian cuisine. It's crystal clear, beautiful honey color... and the goal here is when you taste it we don't want it to be sticky... we want it to be light and crisp."
I found mead to be similar to sweeter wines like Riesling but, instead of fruit, you taste floral notes. Kyle attributes Stinger's specific flavor to Basswood. There actually is a little bit of a honey taste to finish, as well. It's very light and crisp, and would be great on a hot day... especially over ice, like an Italian vermouth.
For more information on mead, including the history of mead, start with this article from Imbibe Magazine.