Books: Fred Minnick Breaks Into Mead

Review of Mead: The Libations, Legends and Lore of History’s Oldest Drink

Back in 2012, Fred Minnick told us about how women helped save whiskey. In 2017, he told us the story about the rise and fall of bourbon and taught us everything we needed to know about rum.

In short, Minnick is a writer and author who knows pretty much all there is to know about beverages, particularly of the adult variety. When I got a first look at his new book, Mead: The Libations, Legends and Lore of History’s Oldest Drink (Running Press), I could only smile and shake my head. “He’s at it again,” I thought.

The timing couldn’t be better. Mead is on the cusp of a rise back to prominence in America, and this book takes the reader through a tour of the history, the chemistry and the potability of this historic liquid. It’s sort of like three books in one.

Let me explain: The story of mead is told chapter by chapter, mostly chronologically, but by region. Along the way, the author throws in cocktail recipes one can make using mead – more than 50 of them, in fact. For the home brewer who is looking to get into mead-making, Minnick details recipes and processes that will help guide them to where they need to be.

So, it works on three levels – if you like the flavor of mead and want to do more with it, but don’t necessarily care about the history, this book works for you. If you’re into the history, but not interested in fermenting honey (that’s me), you’ll find no shortage of fascinating prose in the book.

The book starts off with the basics of how mead is made, from the bees in the hive to the basics of brewing and mixing. From there, the reader is taken on a journey through the ages, beginning with mead’s role in Ancient Greece, through the Roman Empire and, of course, into the Viking Age, where we learn, among other facts, that the Vikings did drink a lot of mead, but they didn’t drink them from the skulls of their fallen enemies. (Let’s face it, the mead would have simply drained out of the eye sockets.)

After the reader learns how to make drinks with names like Viking Quest and Fightin’ Around the World, we learn about the Ethiopian Empire’s role in mead’s history, along with Russia’s, before landing in the present day, where mead is finding its footing in America.

Minnick sprinkles in his quirky sense of humor here and there – he muses at one point that King Erik Bloodaxe has to be the best Viking name ever – but for the most part he plays the part of researcher and story-teller, a considerable skill he has honed over the course of his notable career as a writer and author (seriously, you can’t talk about bourbon literature without mentioning Minnick).

For my purposes, I was in it for the history; I’ll never make a drop of mead (although I’m not opposed to sipping more than a few drops), but it doesn’t matter – Mead is for a wide audience, an audience that is ever growing. Once again, Minnick is there to help guide us.

Mead: The Libations, Legends and Lore of History’s Oldest Drink releases June 12 and is available here and at bookstores.

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