Mead vs. Beer - Is There a Difference?

mead vs. beer inforgraphic

Top Things to Know About Mead vs. Beer:

  • Mead is an alcoholic beverage made from fermenting honey while beer is made fermenting hops and malt (grains)
  • Mead is made largely from honey, and beer is made from grains.
  • Mead is gluten-free, whereas beer is not gluten-free
  • Mead takes longer to ferment than beer, typically a few months to a few years versus a few weeks to a few months.
  • Mead is not mead unless at least 50% of the fermentables come from honey.
  • Beer sometimes incorporates honey, but usually just as an additional flavor (when beer is blended with honey, it’s known as a braggot).

Yes. There are key differences between mead and beer. That’s the short answer.

The longer – nay, detail-oriented – answer revolves around four things: process, ABV, variety, and taste.

Let’s dive in.

Mead vs. beer, part I: process
How is mead made?
Main ingredients: water, honey, yeast

Process: Honey is mixed with water, forming a diluted substance called must. The dilution makes it easier for yeast to break down alcohol sugars. Additional ingredients are added next (fruit, spices, etc. – if desired). Yeast comes after, and fermentation begins. How long? Months or years, depending on what kind of mead is being made.

Interested in making mead yourself? Start with our step-by-step guide, How to Brew Mead.

How is beer made?
Main ingredients: Water, barley, hops, yeast

Process: The goal in making beer is to yank the sugars from the barley, then convert these sugars into alcohol via the yeast. It begins with the malting process; that is, heating the grains (barley). Afterward, the grains are soaked in hot water – a sub-process known as mashing. This hot water, code name: wort, is then boiled and other ingredients are added (hops, spices, ect. – if desired).

The final step is when things can get dicey. Once the wort’s done boiling, it needs to be cooled. Fast. Especially when brewing at home, the longer it takes to cool, the higher the chance of contaminants getting into the liquid. How cool depends on the type of beer being made – ales tend to ferment warmer, while lagers prefer cooler temperatures. Yeast is added, and weeks later, the beer is ready for consumption.

Key takeaways on Mead vs. Beer:

  • Mead is made largely from honey, and beer is made from grains.
  • Mead takes longer to ferment than beer, typically a few months to a few years versus a few weeks to a few months.
  • Mead is not mead unless at least 50% of the fermentables come from honey.
  • Beer sometimes incorporates honey, but usually just as an additional flavor (when beer is blended with honey, it’s known as a braggot).

Mead vs. beer, part II: ABV

What is mead’s alcohol content?

The ABV (alcohol by volume) of mead is between 3.5 to 23%. Traditional meads tend to have a higher ABV than beer (and are on par with wine), but just like brewers have begun creating early-day drinkables called “session ales,” so have meadmakers (hence the 3.5% ABV).

What is beer’s alcohol content?

The ABV of beer is typically between 4 and 7%. However, we live in a world of options so there are plenty of brews that exceed 7% (heavy stouts, imperial IPAs, etc.).

Do beers ever come close to mead’s top ABV? No. Think about it like this – a “standard” drink in the United States is considered to be about 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is equatable to a 12-ounce, 5% ABV beer.

Key takeaways for mead vs. beer:

  • Low-alcohol meads are called hydromels; they typically fall between 3.5 and 7.5% ABV.
  • High-alcohol meads are known as standard meads or sack meads; they’ll sport a higher ABV.
  • A typical beer is between 4 and 7% ABV.
  • There are some beers that exceed 7%, but ABV is one of the greatest differences in mead vs. beer.  

Mead vs. beer, part III: variety

What are the different types of mead?

Here’s where things can get complicated, only because there are many different types of mead (and beer, for that matter). A few of the most common meads:

  • Traditional mead (Show mead): Honey, water, and yeast; 7.5 to 14% ABV
  • Sack mead (Great mead): Higher ABV; 14 to 18%
  • Hydromel (Session mead): More water than traditional mead; < 7.5% ABV  
  • Melomel mead (Fruit mead): Fruit added for flavor
  • Metheglin mead (Spiced mead): Spices added for flavor
  • Pyment / Clarre: Mead fermented with grapes

That’s not all, though! Mead making is an exercise in creating nuanced flavors. There are plenty of less common meads that get their classification from the diverse spread of ingredients used. A few examples:

  • Capiscumel (Spicy mead): Mead with peppers added
  • Black mead: Made with black currants
  • Coffeamel: Made with coffee
  • Viking blood: Made with cherries
  • Bochet: Made with carmelized (boiled) honey (Yum!)

What are the different types of beer?

Beer has its nuances too, but there are six common categories:

  • Pilsner: Crisp, refreshing, and lightly hopped; 4 to 5% ABV
  • Lager: light-colored and tasting; average 4.5% ABV
  • Pale ale: Hoppy and malty; 4 to 6% ABV
  • India pale ale (IPA): Emphasis on hoppiness and bitterness; 5 to 7% ABV
  • Porter: Dark and malty, often incorporating chocolate or caramel; 4 to 12% ABV
  • Stout: Close relative of the porter; rich and often incorporates cocoa, espresso, or other spices; 4 to 12% ABV

Key takeaways MEAD styles vs beer styles:

  • Both mead and beer have a wide variety of types.
  • Types of mead and types of beer are typically classified based on their ingredients and/or processes.

Mead vs. beer, part IV: taste

What does mead taste like?

Meads play like wines in that they can be sweet, semi-sweet, semi-dry, or dry. How honey is used during the mead-making process will also dictate how a mead tastes.

For example, a low-alcohol mead can still be sweet – mead makers use a process known as “back-sweetening,” where they add honey in post-fermentation. High-alcohol meads tend to have robust flavors because more honey is used during fermentation.

Regardless, expect mead to run the gamut of fruit and spice, along with a subtle cider flavor.

What does beer taste like?

A few words that stick out: crisp, malty, hoppy, bitter, rich – like mead, the taste will depend on what you choose.

There are light and heavy beers. For example, a pilsner or lager will taste crisp and light, whereas a pale ale or India pale ale will be hoppy with a tinge of bitterness. Porters and stouts tend to taste maltier because of their ingredients (cocoa, espresso, caramel, etc.).

Key takeaways of Mead taste vs. BEER taste:

  • Meads can be sweet, semi-sweet, semi-dry, or dry.
  • Mead makers often use “back-sweetening” when creating hydromels because honey quickly becomes diluted at levels needed for low-ABV meads.
  • Beers range from crisp and light to malty and heavy.
  • Beers like pilsners and lagers will taste crisp, pale ales and IPAs hoppy, porters and stouts malty and rich.

Now what about wine?

We’re glad you asked! Now that your mead vs. beer questions are answered, check out these articles all about wine:

IS MEAD MORE LIKE A BEER OR WINE?

Mead is more like wine in terms of process, but no grapes are used in the mead fermentation. Mead is typically made solely from honey, water and yeast. The beer process requires boiling of grains, honey is only warmed to make mixing easier.

IS MEAD HEALTHIER THAN BEER?

Technically all the health benefits of honey are present in mead unless the mead maker boils the honey (typically called a bouchet). Honey is known to contain antioxidants, minerals and antibacterial properties.

Fun Fact: All our meads at Batch are heated no higher than 110 degrees to maintain the integrity of the honey.

WHERE CAN YOU BUY MEAD?

You can buy mead online direct from a meadery or you can see if your local liquor store carries mead. You can buy mead online, Order Mead from Batch Mead, a small batch craft mead producer in Temecula, CA.