“At last Gandalf pushed away his plate and jug–
he had eaten two whole loaves (with masses of butter
and honey and clotted cream) and
drunk at least a quart of mead – and he took out his pipe”
While the naughty Norse is world famous for having raided Europe a thousand years, the polish has been busy .. brewing mead.
These days eastern Europe can show over a thousand years of mead-history, where we Scandinavian “re-invented” it, or rather found back to our mead roots only decades ago.
(yes yes, I know there are historical references to mead brewing…)
Now .. back to polish mead – Miód Pitny….
In the polish language, mead has the melodic name Miód Pitny, meaning “drinkable honey”. It is a Polish culinary traditional beverage, refreshing the throat of Poles for over a thousand years, and alluded to as the “drink of the gods”. Alcoholic aging of wort i.e. a honey and water mixture makes up this Polish “drink of the gods”. It often has a trademark fresh honey fragrance much akin ( for us meadists) a Louis Vuitton perfume. Addition of fruit juices, herbs or spices also enhances this pleasing honey smell.
Fruit mead is called miód owocowy in Polish, herbal mead (miód ziołowy) and spiced mead (miód korzenny). These additives give a refreshing fruity, herbal or spiced smell to the mead and help improves not just its taste.
Its market value also depends on how pleasing the smell is. The color of the mead depends mainly on the kind of honey used for production. Thus, its color ranges from bright golden to dull golden color.
Now, contrary to much incorrectness, mead is most generally served at room temperature.Traditionally served in a stoneware container or in present day times in a glass cup. During winter,
some Poles enjoy mulled mead blend with ginger, cloves, vanilla, cinnamon, orange slice or dark pepper. However, on a bright sunny day when we have been sun-kissed and need to cool our throat
with a premium quality brewed blend of honey and water, it might be likewise drunk chilled to around 12°C and may be served with a lemon slice or mint.
For many years, Miód Pitny was touted as the “drink of the gods” likely on the grounds that it was conceivably one of the first beverages made by man – and must have appeared divine when they finally figured it all out.
Let’s look back in time.
It’s the dark ages, and Poland is primarily an agrarian society. Vast, lush landscapes, and forests ripe with flora and fauna. A perfect habitat for bees. The 12th-century writer, Gallus Anonymus describe Poland as a realm flowing with honey”. While the climate which was not suited for the growing of grapes, it had a plenitude of honey implying that mead was more famous than wine.
The fifteenth-century Venetian ambassador to Poland, Ambrogio Contarini, notices that in spite of the fact that having no wine, the Poles made a certain drink out of honey. This astonishing drink was incredibly sweet and apparently intoxicates individuals far more than wine.
As mead went in, and wisdom went out, it was no wonder the poles felt as touched by the gods ( haven’t we all been there when mead takes over, and our shyness disappears, and we are all king of the hill ? ).
I assume the idea went something like this: “the gods placed honey here, they sent us the magic of fermentation. This stuff tastes AMAZING !! .. definitely the drink of the gods … GET MORE MEAD !!!”
As time goes by, Poland moves out of the dark ages, and into the more recent ages, this – as in many other countries – cause mead to take a step back, as trade and imports give room for wine to become the prevalent “better” alcoholic beverage.
With Poland’scentral placement in Europe, commerce brought wine in such quantities, from so many locations, that it quickly became far cheaper to consume, than that of mead. Over the next few centuries, mead became a specialty drink more than a folk-drink. Revered in literature, crafted by the few but proud, the art of Miód Pitny is alive, but nowhere the celebrity it was in its heydays. We find artful mentions of it in literature and poems, such as the Pan Tadeusz, a Polish national poem by Adam Mickiewicz.
2008 was a great year for polish mead. This is the year when it got its official recognition and as such its classifications. It is now legally classified into four grades.
The grades are named czwórniak, trójniak, dwójniak, and półtorak. These classifications show the proportion of honey and water used in production.
These classifications were enlisted by the European Union as a traditional specialty, thus guaranteeing Miód Pitny as a national treasure for Poland. Furthermore, this increases the production of mead which then multiplies in less than five years. As a direct consequence, Poland has now been acknowledged as the world’s biggest traditional producer of mead.
Let’s look at the classifications; the names of the grades originate from the proportion of honey and water. The total number of units is gotten with one unit being honey and the other water; for instance, czwórniak is produced using one unit honey and three units water, making a sum of four units. Trójniak is produced using one unit honey and two units water, making up a sum of three units. Dwójniak is produced using one unit honey and one unit water, making up two units. Lastly, Półtorak is produced using one unit honey and half unit water, making up one and a half units.
Natural flavors included or raw materials utilized helps distinguish the traditional varieties. The method of aging employed during production also helps differentiate the varieties. AS with mead in the English language, subcategories referring to flavors are employed to further signify the meads.
For example, jabłczak is an apple juice flavored mead, jeżyniak is a blackberry juice mead, and miód gronowy is a grape juice mead.
Defining the world of mead in polish is like watching the milky way on a dark night with clear skies. Each flavor, its star – almost too many to count.
Where Eskimos have an uncountable number of names for snow – the polish do the same with mead. Their love for this wonderful beverage knows no limits.
If you find yourself in the olden day and wanted to have a flagon of ale, or even better, a glass of mead, how shall you find your local watering hole – preferably a meady one?
Simple – you will ask around and find your way to…..the miodosytnie! The miodosytnie is marked with a trademark red cross above the door. This distinguishes it from wine shops and beerhouses.
Wine shops were marked with a characteristic wreath over the door whereas a characteristic straw wisp over the door was the mark for beerhouses.
Back to the miodosytnie ( and imagine you’re someplace in the dark ages );
The barkeep and his family are often be the meadmakers themselves. The “house mead” would be their proud moments, where crafts and business come together in – literally – sweet symphony. If the barkeep and family do not have beehives themselves, their local suppliers are right around the corner. Short-travelled food is definitively the word here.
Today local miodosytnie have the benefit of modern logistics. Poland being the largest mead-producer in the world enjoy a multitude of meaderies, small and large. Any barkeep wanting great mead does not have to look far. With a quick phone call, an email or a website order, next-day delivery of great mead is easy. This being said- the very fact that Poland holds so many meaderies, give anyone interested in polish delights, the opportunity to discover the hidden secrets, small micro-breweries who primarily brew for a selected audience, with small batches and exclusive quality. Who are they? That’s up to you…the secret spots are there.. they are just not easily found…
With the official classifications gained in 2008 and the ensuing global recognition of mead quality, the commercial production is steadily rising. Statistics from the years 2008-1013, show an increase from 760,000 Liter to a whopping 1,
This is rightfully earning Poland the reputation of being the world’s largest producer of mead made with traditional methods.
Incidentally- while production is going up, the national consumption of mead only consists of a few percents of total volumes made. Nationally consumed mead is said to often be for special occasions and the festivals where mead are a natural hero. Poland is rightfully proud of their heritage, and as such we find mead suppliers, small and large, on many historical festivals around the country.
Nevertheless- the consumption nationally is not the main market for most polish mead producers.
Polish mead producers are focusing instead on exports The largest and most important markets are the United States, Western Europe, Australia, Mexico, Japan, and China.
So good are the polish meads, that exports are growing on international markets at an average rate of 20% per year (2013 statistics).
However, domestic demand is only growing at a rate less than ten percent per year. There has also being a major concern in the bee production with the beehives collapsing. This might pose a threat in the future production of mead if it is not properly addressed in time.
So when next you find yourself in beautiful Poland, with cheerful people around you, and you fancy something to drink. Request a premium quality brewed Polish mead. Perhaps one produced with fragrant autumn honey and a touch of spring honey. Scented with herbs, spices and juices and; experience sunshine and flowers in a glass of mead.
Have a drink with the gods today; make it a Polish mead.