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THE TIPPLING POINT | Honey, The Nectar of Gods That Could Floor a Man

In modern times, mead is produced as an alcoholic beverage by fermenting a solution of honey and water. Many experiment it with tossing a handful of grains into the soup. Depending on local traditions, the fermented drink may further be modified with spice, fruit or hops.

Manu Remakant |

Updated:April 15, 2018, 11:14 AM IST
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THE TIPPLING POINT | Honey, The Nectar of Gods That Could Floor a Man
Bottles seen at a production room at the Suzdal mead brewery. (Getty Images)
News18 Tippling PointHow much drunk is drunk? Poet Thomas Love Peacock has a measuring unit. He authoritatively says when a drunkard should call it a day.

"He is not drunk who from the floor
Can rise again and drink some more.
But he is drunk who prostrate lies
And cannot drink and cannot rise."


What kind of a drink is that? Rum, Brandy, Whiskey or Vodka? The answer — honey!

Peacock had only the plain, viscous, sticky, golden honey in mind when he wrote the poem. You may now wonder how an excess of honey can floor a man so utterly.

In Mount Olympus, it was the nectar of God. In classical Greek, to be drunk was to be overcome with honey. In Indian mythology, honey had aphrodisiacal qualities, doing wonders to both your head and something deep under. Known as the mead, the drink is, in fact, the granddad of all alcoholic drinks we now know; it goes back to that prehistoric time when man hadn’t even started cultivation.

The Spanish-Roman naturalist gives us the recipe of how the ancients coerced honey to the point where it yielded its magic:

“Take rainwater kept for several years, and mix a sextarius of this water with a pound of honey. For a weaker mead, mix a sextarius of water with nine ounces of honey. The whole is exposed to the sun for 40 days and then left on a shelf near the fire. If you have no rainwater, then boil spring water.”

So what you have now got in the bottle is mead — the wonderful drink which satiated even the rough, hooliganish Anglo Saxons.

Still doubting its muscle?

Well, realise this: even the great Julius Caesar couldn’t stomach the potency of it when he conquered England. He got sad that he forgot to bring the milder grape yards along with him, to provide him with wine, in this uncouth land where there is only “rainwater and honey sodden together.”

The Poles would be equally sad, much later in history, for want of the same drink that Caesar detested, as their prince grumbled before the Pope (justifying why they desist from the Crusades) if they were pressed to participate in the war in the holy land where there was not a trace of mead.

Did the Pope advise him about the perils of drinking after listening to the prince? No chance, because in many monasteries across the continent, priests were busy making mead right from sunup to sundown. And they had to make sure that the liquid in the vat tasted the same each hour.

Do all sorts of honey need fermentation? Can plain honey do the job? For learning that, we have to go into a forest in Congo. Let us summon Paul Selopek and ask him to guide us.

In his article in National Geographic, Selopek tells us about his expedition deep in Congo. He found that local pygmies were ecstatic about a sort of wild honey in the forest. So, he geared up to join the fellows in their next foray into the wild.

As soon as they became successful in finding honey, the pygmies exploded into a revelry stuffing themselves with the viscous gold. The men shouting and arguing, the women telling dirty jokes and roaring with laughter, and the children, with honey dribbling down their chin, rolling and roistering in the forest.

All of this piqued our writer. He too tried it. “It goes quickly to the head; its delicious perfume carries with it the suggestion of a better world. As it seeps directly from the membranes of the mouth into the bloodstream, yielding up its concentrated energy, generously radiating its stored warmth, a single word comes to mind: yes.”

In modern times, mead is produced as an alcoholic beverage by fermenting a solution of honey and water. Many experiment it with tossing a handful of grains into the soup. Depending on local traditions, the fermented drink may further be modified with spice, fruit or hops.

The alcoholic content varies between 8% and 18% ABV (Beer has only 4 – 8%).

Here’s a thick slab of honey for you as a tailpiece: If you’d lived in ancient times, your father-in-law would have put you in a house with his daughter (immediately after marriage) and provided you with enough honey, fermented and invigorated, to roll over for a month. Perhaps, he knew that the sweetness of every marriage would stay only as long as the honey lasted or rather the boy remained drunk and out of his wits.

Sober thinking.

Now don’t look elsewhere for the origin of the word, "honeymoon".

(Manu Remakant is a freelance writer who also runs a video blog - A Cup of Kavitha - introducing world poetry to Malayalees. Views expressed here are personal)

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| Edited by: Aditya Nair
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