cheers at a table with cider, mead, and beer

Cider versus mead, what strikes your fancy?

From ancient times to today’s modern era, two beverages have endured and continue to captivate our taste buds: cider and mead. Although not as familiar as beer or wine, these two beverages have their unique appeal and are gaining popularity in the craft beverage industry. But what sets them apart? What makes each one special? Here we dive into the world of cider and mead, comparing and contrasting these two fascinating brews.

The Basics: Understanding Cider and Mead

What is Cider?

Cider is an alcoholic beverage created by fermenting apple juice. The resulting drink is a delightful blend of sweet and tart, embodying the essence of apples in every sip. Cider ranges from sweet to dry, with alcohol content typically falling between 1.2 to 8.5 percent.

What is Mead?

Mead is an alcoholic concoction produced by fermenting honey with water. Known as “honey wine” in some circles, mead showcases the rich and sweet flavors of honey. The alcohol content of mead can vary greatly but typically lies between 8 to 20 percent.

Historical Overview: Tracing the Roots of Cider and Mead

Both cider and mead boast ancient origins and have played significant roles in human history.

The history of cider is somewhat uncertain. Some historians suggest that cider may have been present in the Old Testament under a different name. Others trace cider back to the English, who have been consuming it for at least a millennium. English settlers brought their cider traditions to America, where the beverage was often preferred over water, which was frequently unsafe to drink.

Mead is considered one of the oldest fermented beverages. Archaeological evidence suggests that mead production dates back to 7000 BC in northern China. Other sources propose that mead originated in Africa over 20,000 years ago when nomadic people unintentionally fermented honey and rainwater. Regardless of its precise origin, mead has a rich and enduring legacy.

Flavor Profiles: The Taste of Cider and Mead

The flavors of cider and mead are distinct, heavily influenced by their primary ingredients: apple for cider and honey for mead.

Cider’s Flavor: Cider offers a bright, fruit-forward flavor profile dominated by the taste of apples. From tart to sweet, cider captures the essence of apples in a refreshing, effervescent drink.

Mead’s Flavor: Mead, on the other hand, features the rich, sweet flavors of honey. Depending on the type and fermentation process, mead can range from dry and wine-like to thick and honeyed. Many mead-makers today are adding additional flavors on top of the honey to make things extra interesting.

cider tasting flight at a local cider house

Carbonation: The Bubbliness of Cider and Mead

When it comes to carbonation, cider and mead take different routes.

Carbonation in Cider

Cider generally contains a lively carbonation. Cider is carbonated in a variety of different ways depending on the maker’s preferences. Force carbonation (pushing CO2 into the liquid at cold temperatures) is probably the most common method, particularly for the large brands – the same way that most large-scale beer brands are carbonated.

You can also find bottle-conditioned ciders, though you may need to find a specialty bottle-shop to find them. Bottle conditioning can take two different approaches, 1) when sugar is added to start secondary fermentation in the bottle, and 2) pét-nat (pétillant naturel), where the cider is bottled before primary fermentation is complete. In both cases, the carbonation is produced via fermentation in the bottle, and requires a couple of weeks after bottling before it’s ready to drink.

Carbonation in Mead

Unlike cider, mead is oftentimes served still, though not always the case of course. You may have seen or tried tej at your favorite Ethiopian restaurant, still and sweet, served chilled or at room temp. Still meads are often higher alcohol content, and vary in terms of sweetness, though most are back-sweetened with more honey.

Sparkling mead is growing in popularity – not too surprising from our vantage – it’s delicious! Carbonation in mead is produced in all the same ways that it is for cider and for beer, bottle-conditioned, pét-nat, and force-carbonation are all implemented to make delicious, bubbly, sparkling mead.

Alcohol Content: Comparing Cider and Mead

While both cider and mead can achieve a wide range of alcohol levels, there is a noticeable difference between the two.

Alcohol Content in Cider: Cider generally has a lower alcohol content compared to mead. Most ciders lie within the range of 4-8% alcohol by volume (ABV), though some stronger ciders can reach up to 12% ABV.

Alcohol Content in Mead: Mead typically has a higher alcohol content due to the abundant fermentable sugars in honey. Standard meads often reach 8-12% ABV, with some specialty meads exceeding 15-20% ABV.

Production Process: Cider vs Mead

Cider production begins with milling and pressing apples into fresh juice. The juice is then fermented using cider yeasts over 1-6 weeks, transforming it into hard cider. From there, it may be aged for some time, before finally bottling and being ready for consumption.

Mead production at it’s core is adding honey to water and then pitching yeast. However, different mead’s involving fruit flavors involve processing fruit in a similar way to pressing apples for cider.

Once fermentation is complete, cider-making and mead-making is largely the same depending on the maker’s preferences.

cider-house signage

Rising Popularity: Cider and Mead’s Standing in the Beverage Market

While cider and mead are not as well-known or widely consumed as beer or wine, both are gaining traction in the craft beverage industry.

Cider’s Market Position

Cider has carved out a significant niche in the modern craft beverage scene. As of January 2018, there were 820 cider makers in the United States, indicating a thriving market.

Mead’s Market Growth

Mead, while not as established as cider, is catching up. As of 2020, there were 450 meaderies in the US, a number that has likely increased since then. The renewed interest in this ancient beverage signals a promising trend.

Discovering Your Preferred Beverage

Cider and mead, each with their unique appeal and characteristics, offer distinct drinking experiences. Whether you prefer the honeyed warmth of mead or the bright tartness of cider, either choice promises a delightful sipping experience. So, why not try both and discover your preference? After all, the beauty of the beverage world lies in its diversity and the joy of exploration. Cheers to discovering your perfect drink!

FAQs

Are cider and mead gluten-free?

Yes, traditional cider and mead are both gluten-free as they do not include grain additions, making them suitable for those with gluten restrictions.

What flavors can I expect in cider and mead?

Cider generally boasts a bright, fruit-forward flavor dominated by apples. Mead, on the other hand, features the rich, sweet flavors of honey, and anything else added in. Depending on the type and fermentation process, mead can range from dry and sparkling much like champagne, to thick and still, more like a port or dessert wine.

How does the alcohol content of cider compare to mead?

Cider generally has a lower alcohol content compared to mead, with most ciders lying within the range of 4-8% alcohol by volume (ABV). Mead, on the other hand, typically has a higher alcohol content, with standard meads often reaching 8-12% ABV, and some specialty meads exceeding 15-20% ABV.


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