'Game of Thrones' brought an ancient drink back from the dead — here's what mead really is and how to drink it

GosnellsGosnells mead.
  • Mead is experiencing a resurgence.
  • The ancient alcoholic beverage is making a comeback thanks to the popularity of fantasy series like “Game of Thrones,” with which it’s associated.
  • Tom Gosnell, founder of Gosnells of London mead, told Business Insider that the drink is good enough to stand on its own merits.
  • Mead, it turns out, is actually more like sparkling wine than ale. Scroll down to see Gosnell’s recommendations for serving and pairing.
  • Visit Business Insider’s home page for more stories.

Mead is coming.

Thanks to the likes of “Game of Thrones” and the surge in popularity of other fantasy series, mead – the ancient alcoholic beverage made from honey – is making a comeback.

Mead, which is probably the world’s oldest alcoholic drink, fell out of popularity when improved medieval farming methods produced cheaper alternatives like beer, and later when West Indian sugar imports reduced the incentives to keep bees.

Mead kept a cult following, though, thanks to its association with medieval and fantasy thematics – it’s a popular choice at medieval tournaments and fayres.

Robert baratheon drinkingHBOKing Robert Baratheon drinks from a horn in ‘Game of Thrones’ season one.

However, mead is not just the sickly reserve of castle gift shops.

In recent years, mead has rebounded. Its affinity with “Thrones” fans and the rise of “craft” has jetpacked the beverage to lofty new heights both in terms of volume and taste.

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A 2017 industry report from the American Mead Makers Association found that the number of meaderies in the US has risen from just 30 in 2003 to 300 in early 2016.

According to The Drinks Business, 67% of American meaderies have been open for less than five years.

Tom Gosnell, the founder of Gosnells of London mead, told Business Insider that sales were up 60% year on year, and that the majority of his fellow mead makers or “mazers” were seeing similar gains.

Tom Gosnell Coal RoomsGosnellsTom Gosnell, founder of Gosnells mead.

Business Insider spoke to Gosnell about why mead is more than just a novelty, and how it should be enjoyed.

Good mead is made from honey

It sounds like a no-brainer but, actually, not all meads are made from honey alone. Because honey is expensive, some producers will bulk out their liquid with apple or grape juice, which provides the sweetness without the cost.

This isn’t the Gosnells way.

“We always make everything just with honey – there’s nothing else in there,” Gosnell told us.

“A castle gift shop mead is really sweet and really strong – [it] gives you a really thick hangover. Ours is really light, fresh, and crisp. It’s quite a different drink really.”

Part of the success of Gosnells mead is down to its low ABV content – 5.5%, which feeds into a larger trend as consumers look for lower alcohol options.

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“It kind of reminds me of summer a bit really,” Gosnell said. “You can taste the flora, you can taste the citrus, it’s crisp, it’s fresh, it’s light, it’s not heavy, it’s not sweet, it’s not strong.”

Gosnells brews its mead by dissolving a Spanish orange blossom honey in warm water before transferring the mixture to a fermenter, where a pilsner yeast is added, and leaving it for a week.

Gosnells mead teamGosnellsThe Gosnells mead team.

Mead makes a mean cocktail

While drinking mead from an ivory horn or a flagon might seem appealing to any fans of Middle Earth and beyond, mead is actually a great lengthener and a sweetener in cocktails, Gosnell said.

While the classic way to serve mead is chilled right down, in a glass, all on its own, Gosnell has found some cocktails that mead compliments particularly well.

“We have a nice gin one, which is a play on a French 75,” he said.

“It’s gin, lemon juice, topped off with mead.

“Another one which is nice, is a bit like a dark and stormy with ginger, dark rum, and lime muddled together and topped up with Gosnells.”

In terms of what you should eat with mead, spicy, fatty dishes are optimum, as are hard cheeses. “There’s a really good northern Thai restaurant in Soho [London] that serves our mead, and it cuts through the spiciness,” Gosnell said.

‘We’d like to create a product that can stand on its own … that’s a lot more interesting than the ‘Game of Thrones’ bit’

While Gosnell is happy that the popularity of shows like ‘Game of Thrones’ are increasing mead awareness, he said he wants his product to be able to stand on its own “without needing that kind of baggage.”

“There are a couple of entry points where people have heard about it and actually that helps people understand that it’s a thing and then we can take them on this sort of honey journey, and that’s a lot more interesting than the ‘Game of Thrones’ bit,” Gosnell said.

“So it can only help in terms of giving people even just a nugget of a reference point here and there.”

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