Have you ever wondered which alcoholic beverage is the oldest in the world? Which beverage is considered the wine of Northern Europe that is made from water and honey? The answer is mead. This beverage appeared several thousand years ago and was forgotten some time later, but it is now returning as a unique, special, and luxurious beverage.
The beginning of the production of mead is different in each region. In Persia and India, for example, mead production started approximately 8,000 years ago, while in Archaic China and Iran, it was possible to taste the beverage in 7,000 BC. It is also possible to find some information about mead in Sumerian and Hittite writings, but the oldest account of mead was recorded in the Hindu Rigveda, the sacred scriptures.
The first historical account of the use of mead in the Baltic region can be found in Geographica by the Greek geographer and philosopher Strabo (64-24 BC), where he describes the tribes that were living at the Baltic Sea and mentions that “having honey and grain, they make a certain beverage”. In Wulfstan’s narratives in 890, the following is said about the Balts: “Kings and the nobility drink mare milk, while the poor and the slaves drink mead.” However, Polish explorers do not agree with such a statement and claim that mead was widely consumed by the peasantry, craftsmen, and noblemen alike.
In the Vilnius estate of the King Sigismund II August, 30 barrels of beer and 30 barrels of mead were consumed every week. Mead was often consumed in the estate of Sigismund II Vasa and Władysław Vasa. The Radziwiłł, the famous Lithuanian family of noblemen, even had their own mead brewer. Based on the extant inventory within the estates, one can conclude that there was no estate that did not have a beer house or a brewery and that the same equipment was used to produce beer and mead.
Mead appears frequently in the Lithuanian folklore, especially in songs. It should come as no surprise because mead was used in funeral ceremonies, in deity worship, and, of course, during feasts.
Between the 18th and 19th centuries, forests were being cut down, in turn eliminating tree bee-keeping, which can be considered the end of mead. Mead was brewed on rare occasions, but its popularity and glory have long passed. Mead has become a peculiar legend. However, attempts were made to revive it in the 20th century.
Mead production as an industry has been started in the 20th century. Aleksandras Sinkevičius was the pioneer of the industry – a prominent and unique 20th century persona within the food industry, who was in most cases ahead of the times.
A. Sinkevičius was introduced to the food industry in 1938, when he was working in the Kaunas Brewery. Later, he left to work at the Prienai Brewery, when in 1944 he was exiled. But, he came back in 1948 and continued his work in the beer industry.
The first batch of mead – 800 litres of mead called Dainava – was produced on September 8th, 1959, while in 1961, the plan was to produce 30,000 litres of this mead. Very soon, the market was introduced to more mead: Dainava, Vilnius, Bočių, Gintaras, Stakliškės, Prienų Šilai, and mead-bitter beverages Šventinė and Suktinis.
In 1969, the Invention and Discovery Committee under the Council of Ministers of the USSR granted A. Sinkevičius the discoverer’s certificate for the Method of Production of the Honey Beverage Lietuviškas Midus. A. Sinkevičius was trying to register his mead production technologies in other countries as well. On November 11th, 1972, a mead production patent was issued on behalf of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, which was in force for sixteen years and meant that “Lietuviškas Midus” could not be used without the permission of the Stakliškės factory.
A. Sinkevičius’ mead and mead beverages have received great recognition in Lithuania as well as in the Soviet Union, and they were on display and well-received in various international fairs.
Looking at the history of the Lithuanian Culinary Heritage from the perspective of the 21st century and assessing the contribution that each factor has made in the revival and development of mead, A. Sinkevičius can be in a way paralleled to the creators of the Renaissance. In the same way how these universal personalities were admiring and creatively imitating the achievements of antiquity, the creator of the Lithuanian mead was capable of doing everything – to form the idea of the old beverage, to describe it, and to make it a reality. The versatility of A. Sinkevičius’ personality is expressed within this realm. He is not only a dreamer, but also a technologist. All-in-one.