Word of the Week (228): HYDROMEL (probability 24803), by David Sutton

HYDROMEL is a variety of mead, a mixture of honey, water, herbs and spices.

Since sugar as we know it did not become commercially available to the common people till the 18th century, with the establishment of sugar plantations in the West Indies and Americas, up till that time honey was used to sweeten food and drinks, and mead was a drink of paramount importance: the early Welsh and Norse sagas and heroic poems are full of heroes relaxing after a hard day's fighting and looting by swigging hornfuls of the stuff. Of course, these heroes were expected to earn this generous provision of booze by serving their lord as occasion demanded: the early Welsh poem 'Y Gododdin' has a terse epitaph on one dead retainer: 'he earned his mead'.

The word HYDROMEL comes from the Greek hydro, water + meli, honey. Another variety is OXYMEL, which blends honey with wine vinegar. This comes from the Greek oxys, sour + meli, honey. We also have OENOMEL or OINOMEL, an Ancient Greek beverage of wine mixed with honey, from Gk. oinos, wine, + meli, honey.

METHEGLIN is mead with herbs and/or spices added. The name here derives from the Welsh meddyg, healing + llyn, liquor, reflecting the fact that many metheglins were employed as folk medicines. The belief in the medicinal virtues of honey is also attested in its use in an ELECTUARY, a paste of various powders mixed with honey and syrup to hide the bitterness, and in a THERIAC (or THERIACA), an antidote to venomous bites compounded of honey and viper flesh.

MORAT is a another drink made with honey, this time flavoured with mulberries. It takes its name from the Latin moratum, mulberry.

MULSE is not a true mead but is unfermented honey blended with a high-alcohol wine. The name derives from Latin mulsus, mixed (with honey).

PIMENT blends honey and red or white grapes: piment made with white grapes is sometimes called white mead. The word derives ultimately from the Latin pigmentum, paint.


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