Vikings were people accompanied by the image of bloodthirsty warriors who dominated Europe and beyond in the Middle Ages. However, although the Vikings did not hesitate to shed the blood of their enemies during countless wars, it was not the only thing these fearless warriors craved.
When asked if the Vikings knew about alcohol, the answer is probably known to everyone. Yes, the Vikings enjoyed drinking alcoholic drinks. If you think about it a little better, in order to survive in the cold and dark north, the Vikings HAD to consume something sweet and alcoholic that would lift their mood and warm their blood in the cold months.
So, what did the Vikings actually drink?
Did the Vikings Drink Wine and Beer?
Alcoholic drinks are an indispensable part of the picture most of us have of the Vikings nowadays.
According to archaeological findings, Norse men had various drinks at their disposal. Although beer was the most popular drink of these ancient people, numerous objects were discovered during archeological excavations, which indicates that the Scandinavians also produced wine.
It's even possible that some countries paid the Vikings in the form of wine to prevent their attacks. However, the discovery of carbonized grape seeds in Denmark led archaeologists to conclude that the Danes cultivated vines and engaged in winemaking all on their own.
However, wine production was more expensive, and it's assumed that the wine was reserved for wealthier members of society.
Most of the Vikings mostly drank a weaker alcoholic beer called "ale." Drinking ale every day was a Viking lifestyle and an integral part of Viking culture. This drink was especially important during sea voyages because sometimes, the Vikings spent several months on the high seas.
Due to the overpopulation of Europe in the early Middle Ages, sanitary conditions were extremely poor, and the water was not safe to drink. By purifying the water, turning it into ale, the Vikings got a safer drink that they could drink indefinitely and without fear of intoxication. Another advantage that ale had in relation to water was that it was a more caloric drink. And we know that calories were necessary for the Vikings to perform their heavy daily activities.
In addition to beers, Vikings also drank mead made from honey. However, as honey was expensive, this sweet drink was drunk only on special occasions. Therefore, we can conclude that beer was still the main beverage for the Viking people.
However, if you are looking for an answer to the question: "What kind of beer did the Vikings drink?" then you will be surprised by some of the answers you'll get.
What Percentage of Alcohol Did Beer Have (% abv)?
Many of the ingredients used in brewing at the time were wild, such as wild sweet berries, lichens, and various aromatic herbs. Also, based on searches of ancient Viking settlements, it was discovered that the craft of brewing beer in the Viking society was entrusted to women.
Given that women in Scandinavia had great power at the time, it is not surprising that they were also involved in brewing.
As for the types of beer that the Vikings once produced, there were probably many different types. The kind of Viking beer depended on the region in which the beer was made and the plants used in the brewing process.
What we do know, based on archaeological research, is that the Vikings used yeast to brew beer, as breweries do today. Yeast converts sugar into alcohol, carbon dioxide, and water during fermentation. This is important to understand because, depending on the amount of added ingredients, the Vikings produced two main types of beer.
One was bitter and alcoholic, and the other was a beer called ale. These drinks differed in strength. Although the exact alcohol percentage remains unknown, it is believed that the strength of the beer brewed by the Vikings was between 2% and 13% abv. It is believed that the strength of beer depended on the amount of water added during the brewing process.
For that reason, it's believed that stronger alcoholic beer was intended for certain occasions, such as weddings, funerals,etc. As for the ale, it was intended for everyday drinking, and due to the low alcohol content (about 2% abv), even children could drink it.
What Did Viking Ale Taste Like?
Just as the exact strength of the beer produced by the Vikings is unknown, we cannot say with certainty what the flavor of ale was like.
The Vikings did not keep notes of how they made this popular beer (unfortunately).
For that reason, although there are numerous ideas about how beer was brewed in Scandinavia at that time, the exact recipe and equipment for beer making in the early Middle Ages have not yet been discovered.
We know that beer was produced by kneading and fermenting grains in containers, so brewing beer at the time undoubtedly differed from the process by which brewery today, in 2021, produces beer.
It's also known that the Vikings used grain, water, yeast, and aromatic plants for beer production. Hops were most often joined for aroma, although some other herbs could also be used as a substitute for hops. The taste of beer depended on many factors that the Vikings could not influence.
So, for example, different grains contain different sugar content. The conditions in which grains and herbs grow vary from harvest to harvest, which greatly influenced the taste of the beer produced.
Beer was most often brewed from barley beans in the Viking Age. Although, in addition to barley, oats or rye grains could also be used, depending on the presence of these cereals in the area where the beer was brewed.
We must also mention the bere grain that the Vikings brought to England in the 8th century. It's believed that bere is the oldest type of grain (it is over 1300 years old), and to have been one of the most important agricultural crops to grow in northern Scotland. Bere grain was also used in brewing and is considered a Viking grain.
What is the Oldest Known Beer?
It is believed that beer was one of the first drinks made and that people produced it much earlier than we can imagine.
During the latest searches by archaeologists, traces have been found that indicate that beer was produced as far back as 13,000 years ago. They discovered traces considered to be the oldest records of alcoholic beverages created by man.
Also, scientists believe that beer-making preceded the development of agriculture and that beer could actually be the reason why ancient peoples started growing cereals.
The mentioned traces, which archaeologists claim are evidence of the oldest brewing operation, were found in the Rakefet Cave (Israel).
What Did the Vikings Drink Beer From?
Although hand-made beer mugs existed in the Viking Age, we still much prefer the depiction of a Viking consuming his drink from an animal horn. If you think alike, let's see how you can turn a horn into a beer mug or tumbler.
Instructions for making drinking horns:
- Immerse the cleaned horn in boiling water and leave it in the water for half an hour. This way, you will get rid of the foul smell of the horn and rid it of bacteria.
- Dissolve 100% pure beeswax. You can do this by putting the wax in a bowl of hot water.
- Pour the wax into the horn until you cover the inside of the horn in a thick layer.
- You can polish and edit the outside of the horn as desired.
- Allow the horn to dry for at least 24 hours.
- Make a stand on which you can place the horn while drinking your drink.
- Pour the beer into the horn and enjoy like a real Viking.
Drinking beer in Viking culture was more than just relaxing after a hard day's work or a hard fight. The Vikings believed that their spiritual condition due to drunkenness brought them into contact with their ancestors.
Therefore, it would be absolutely wrong to look at the Vikings solely as drunk and cruel savages. On the contrary, brewing beer in the conditions in which the Vikings lived is proof of the sophistication of the Viking people. If nothing else, the cultivation of domesticated cereals for brewing beer was really proof of Vikings' ingenuity and advanced social structure.
Until our next meeting,