Is there a difference? Is ale different from mead? what makes beer different from mead? Which brew is the oldest?

Mead, beer, and ale are three beverages that have quenched the thirst of humanity for centuries, each with its own unique history and characteristics. Let’s sit down with a pint of Scorpion Amber at Mudshark Brewery and Public House in Lake Havasu City, Arizona and embark on a journey through time and taste to explore these delightful drinks.

Mead: The Nectar of the Gods
There is ample historic evidence to make the claim that mead is one of the oldest alcoholic beverages known to man. This honey-based drink was made by fermenting honey with water. There are ancient recipes that show added flavor came by adding fruits, spices, grains, or hops. Mead has been traced back to the Neolithic period, long before the advent of agriculture and ceramic pottery. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact origin of mead due to the possibility of multiple discoveries or knowledge transfer between early humans. In Europe, mead is first described from residual samples found in ceramics of the Bell Beaker Culture (c. 2800–1800 BCE). Mead has been associated with many cultures and mythologies, notably the Norse, where it was considered a drink that could bestow poetic skills and wisdom.

Beer: A Staple of Civilization
Beer, in its broadest sense, is a fermented beverage made from water, malt, hops, and yeast. It’s a category that encompasses a wide range of drinks, including both ales and lagers. The history of beer is as rich as its flavor, with evidence of early beer production dating back to ancient Mesopotamia. The brewing process has evolved over millennia. Various cultures have added unique touches to this staple drink.

Ale: The Warm Fermenter
Ale is a type of beer that is characterized by the use of top-fermenting yeast, which ferments at warmer temperatures. This results in a quicker fermentation process and often imparts a more complex, fruity, and robust flavor profile to the beverage. Ales have also been around since ancient times. They were the predominant type of beer until the introduction of lagers. They are known for their sweetness, complexity, and rich flavor, which come from the esters and phenols produced during fermentation.

The Key Differences
While mead is primarily made from honey, beer and ale are grain-based. The main difference between beer (specifically lager) and ale is the type of yeast used and the fermentation temperature. Lagers use bottom-fermenting yeast and ferment at cooler temperatures, leading to a cleaner, crisper taste. Ales, on the other hand, use top-fermenting yeast and ferment at warmer temperatures, which gives them their distinctive fruity and complex flavors.

Each of these beverages has its own place in history and culture, and they continue to be enjoyed by many today. Whether you prefer the sweet notes of mead, the crispness of a lager, or the rich flavors of an ale, there’s no denying the significant role these drinks have played in social and cultural events throughout human history. So next time you raise a glass, remember the journey these beverages have taken to be part of your toast! Cheers!

Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America