Saga Brief 22: Drinking in the Viking Age and the Sagas of Icelanders (Part I: What Were They Drinking?)

In this long overdue Saga Brief, we discuss drinking in the Viking Age and the Sagas of Icelanders. This first part looks at what they were drinking and how it was perceived culturally. In the second part, coming soon, we’ll look into the culture of drinking as we explore where and how they drank.

Here is a short bibliography of the texts and studies referred to, either directly or indirectly, in this episode:

Etting, Vivian. The Story of the Drinking Horn: Drinking Culture in Scandinavia during the Middle Ages. Publications of the National Museum of Denmark v.21, 2013.

Dineley, Graham, and Merryn Dineley. “Where Were the Viking Brew Houses?” EXARC 2013/2 (2013).

Hallgerður Gisladottir, ‘The Use of Whey in Icelandic Households’, in Milk and Milk Products from Medieval to Modern Times: Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference on Ethnological Food Research, Ireland. J992, ed. Patricia Lysaght (Canongate Academic, 1994), pp. 123-29.

Mark, Joshua J. “Norse Alcohol and the Mead of Poetry.” World History Encyclopedia. Published January 7, 2019.–the-mead-of-poetry/ .

Riseley, Charles. Ceremonial Drinking in the Viking Age. MA Thesis. University of Oslo, 2014.

Rodriguez, Jesús Fernando Guerrero. Old Norse Drinking Culture. PhD Dissertation. University of York, 2007.

Rood, Joshua. Drinking with Óðinn: Alcohol and Religion in Heathen Scandinavia. Háskoli Íslands, 2014.

Vuorisalo, Timo, et al. “High Lactose Tolerance in North Europeans: A Result of Migration, not In Situ Milk Consumption.” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 55:2 (2012), 163-174.

Winroth, Anders. The Age of the Vikings. Princeton UP, 2016.

Music Credits

Opening song – Icelandic Folk Music: Tröllaslagur

Poetry music – Midnight Tale by Kevin MacLeod

Outro – Ólafur Liljurós

2 thoughts on “Saga Brief 22: Drinking in the Viking Age and the Sagas of Icelanders (Part I: What Were They Drinking?)

  1. In praise of Mysa.

    Great episode, as always, and extremely informative. You mentioned Mysa, which is also great, and so useful. Of course it goes hand-in-hand with Skyr, you cant have one without the other, but as a thirst quencher it was considered unparalleled. That’s what my dear old dad used to say. It had a mixing ratio to water, 1:11, called “tólftarblanda” (the twelve blend) and this blend is pretty much a staple drink throughout Icelandic history, including the Viking Age, as you probably know.

    As for the taste, well, it is sour, not a nasty, eye-watering sour, but tangy and full of flavor. In recipes its often cited as a good non-alcoholic substitute for white wine, but unlike that fermented drink Mysa has a lot of health benefits and does not have to be consumed in moderation. The benefits include being rich in protein, low in fat and helps in lowering high blood pressure.

    Needless to say Icelandic dairy producers have,for decades, tried to make a palatable version for kids, with middling success, but recently versions of Mysa have found their niche as sports-drinks.

    On a personal note, back in the eighties when I was single I used to drink a glass of Mysa early in the morning, instead of coffee. That stuff really wakes you up.


  2. Sorry, forgot to mention two little things: As a preservative Mysa was a life-saver in a country where salt was scarce and hard to come by, hence our sour meats, and there is also a thickened variety, Mysingur, mixed with caramelized sugar and cream and used as a topping on bread or sandwich spread.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s