Did Vikings Drink Beer and Mead? (Quick History of Alcohol & Culture)

Vikings are often portrayed in popular culture pillaging and partying. Did Vikings really drink that much? And what were they drinking?

Before modern-day sanitation practices became common, drinking water was a dangerous proposition so Vikings consumed beer and mead as their primary forms of hydration. Low-alcohol beers were enjoyed by the whole family all day to ward off thirst. Higher alcohol beers and mead were reserved for celebrations and religious events.

You may also be wondering about the horns you sometimes see Vikings drinking out of in movies and TV. Read on to find out more about what beer and mead were like in the Viking days, and how they consumed these drinks.

Did Vikings drink mead and beer?

Mead and beer can be produced by ingredients that were commonly found in the areas where Vikings lived, which now comprises countries like Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. 

There are three primary reasons why Vikings drank mead and beer:

  • Hydration – Water supplies were often dangerous to drink due to lack of sanitation knowledge at the time. Vikings learned that the fermentation process made the water safer to drink, making it a much better option for washing down a salty Viking lunch.
  • Celebration – Vikings celebrated their victories and conquests by raising a glass. They also celebrated holidays throughout the year.
  • Religious Observation – Mead was associated with god Odin, so it was often made as an offering to him. At the winter solstice, they brewed strong beer as an offering to the gods as they celebrated “Jul,” which is comparable to the modern-day Christmas. In fact, it’s said that King Haakon the Good issued fines to any household who did not brew beer during the solstice.

What kind of mead did Vikings drink?

Mead is a high gravity beverage brewed using lots and lots of honey in place of malts or barley.

Vikings famously enjoyed mead frequently, but due to the pounds of honey required for even just a gallon of finished product, it’s thought that they would have reserved mead for celebrations.

In addition to honey and water, Vikings flavored their mead with items growing in the wild around them. This could have been flowers, juniper berries, or sometimes fruit.

What type of beer did Vikings drink?

Vikings mostly drank ales, sometimes called Norse ales. These ales were typically homebrewed by the women of the household.

Common ingredients in Viking Norse Ales include:

  • Barley – Barley was toasted over a fire for a smoky flavor.
  • Hops – It’s a matter of debate whether hops were available in the areas where Vikings lived, however, most historians agree some Vikings likely had access to them.
  • Other Grains or Herbs – Plants like meadowsweet were often used in place of hops. Other flavoring agents could have included juniper, horehound, and bog myrtle.
  • Yeast – Evidence suggests Vikings passed down yeast strains over generations, making them hearty and capable of brewing strong beer when needed.

Low-alcohol beers were brewed to drink during the day, and higher alcohol beers would have been consumed later on.

What other types of alcohol did Vikings drink?

Wine was mostly produced in other, more temperate areas of Europe, where grapes grow best.

Because of this, wine was hard for a Viking to get their hands on. They would typically have traded for or stolen any wine they would have drank.

Liquor was largely used medicinally, though it’s possible that Vikings could have encountered early forms of Polish and Russian Vodka while traveling the continent.

Did Vikings drink a lot of beer?

Beer was consumed daily in Viking culture and was the primary form of hydration.

Individual families often had their own recipes, based on what spices and malts were available in their area at a particular time of year. Beer was almost always brewed by the women of the household.

How much alcohol did Vikings drink?

Vikings often drank all day and all night, though the alcohol content of the beverages varied based on time of day.

Weaker beverages were used for quenching thirst during the day while stronger beverages were designed to accompany meals and special occasions.

Did Vikings get drunk?

Vikings no doubt got intoxicated, especially at evening feasts and other celebrations.

They reserved their strongest beer and mead for these late-night occasions. That said, getting drunk was not as much a part of their culture as enjoying the beverages was.

However, some historians think that the Vikings’ relationship with alcohol was much more complicated than that.

What did Vikings drink beer and mead out of?

Surely you’ve seen Viking drinking horns and large goblets on tv, but what did Vikings really drink their beer from?

Vikings drank out of a wide variety of vessels, namely:

  • Drinking horns – Vikings most notably drank out of cattle horns. They often saved these durable yet ornate horns for celebrations and special occasions. Because of the shape of the horn, beer and mead had to be consumed rather quickly. It’s pointed end meant you couldn’t set the horn down once it was full, and precious beer or mead slowly dripped out.
  • Wooden cups – Vikings made cups out of wood, sometimes with handles and sometimes without. Wood was in good supply due to the forests of Scandinavia.
  • Stone cups – Fresh soapstone is malleable and hardens when placed in fire, so some Vikings used it to make cups.
  • Ceramic cups – Pottery-making was limited in the Viking world, though later Vikings did begin the use of pottery wheels
  • Glassware – Glass was extremely valuable and often had to be imported, so glass beakers and cups were reserved for only the most special of occasions. 

What did Vikings say before drinking?

Most cultures have a toast that is made before sharing a drink. You’ve definitely heard “Cheers” and probably the Spanish “Salud,” but what about the Vikings? Does this near-universal tradition apply to them?

Vikings may have cried “Skol!” before consuming their beer or mead. It is likely derived from the wooded bowl (the skål) from which the alcohol was often served. It’s often used today in place of “cheers” and is said to mean “good health.”

Did Viking kids drink alcohol?

Because their water supplies were so often dangerous to drink, Vikings brewed low-alcohol beers for kids to quench their thirst.

This low-alcohol beer was what most Vikings, including the children, drank all day.