Viking Mead: Unraveling the Secrets of the Ancient Norse Drink

Viking mead, a traditional Nordic beverage, is an ancient libation of honey mixed with water and fermented to create alcohol, which dates back to the Viking era and is also commonly known simply as mead. Its recent resurgence in popularity can be partly credited to the influence of television shows like Game of Thrones, which feature mead as a prominent beverage in their fantasy worlds.

To make Viking mead, raw, unfiltered honey is combined with spring water and natural yeast from organic fresh or dried berries, grapes, or plums. Additional flavor options can include different herbs, fruits, grains, or spices according to individual preferences. The process is quite simple, as water mixed with honey will naturally ferment, given clean, non-chlorinated water and raw honey. Meadmaking allows for a variety of flavors, so feel free to experiment with different ingredients.

Despite its ancient origins, Viking mead is still celebrated today. For example, the Viking Alchemist Meadery in Georgia has won the title of “Best Mead in Georgia” multiple times. Across the globe, there are meaderies and events dedicated to this historic drink, allowing you to immerse yourself in the taste, culture, and story of Viking mead. So, as you venture into the realm of meadmaking, remember to enjoy the journey and raise a glass to the Vikings who once savored this iconic beverage.

History of Viking Mead

The Vikings, also known as Norse people, resided mainly in Scandinavia and Denmark during the Middle Ages. Mead played an essential role in their mythology, rituals, and daily life.

Originating from water and honey, mead is the oldest alcoholic beverage in the world.  Viking mead, in particular, has remained an intriguing beverage, as it links to a time in history that continues to captivate our imaginations.

In Norse mythology, the most famous mead is the Mead of Poetry. This divine honey wine is said to grant complete mastery of the spoken word to anyone who drinks it. The nectar that formed the basis of this mead came into being at the end of the war between the Aesir and Vanir gods.

Honey, a key ingredient in mead, was highly sought after in Viking trade. Byzantine peace treaties and Arab geographers often mention honey from the northern forests in their reports, making it a valuable commodity. However, these sources seldom mention the trade in mead, which may be attributed to the preference for wine among Byzantines and Franks.

The social and ceremonial centers in Viking culture, Mead Halls were prominent venues where mead was consumed. In these halls, Vikings would gather to drink, feast, and form alliances. Mead served as a unifying drink, a symbol of community and camaraderie among the Norse people.

Mead in Viking Culture

Rituals and Special Occasions

Mead played a significant role in Viking culture, often used during rituals and special occasions. In Norse mythology, mead was considered a divine drink, and even the gods like Odin were known to partake in it. Mead was frequently consumed in mead halls, where Vikings gathered to share stories, celebrate victories, and honor their gods.

During special occasions, mead was often served in cups made of wood, gold, or other valuable materials. The role of mead in rituals and ceremonies underscores its importance in Viking society.

Trading and Storage

Trade was an essential aspect of Viking life, and mead was a valuable commodity. Viking traders traded various goods, including mead, which was stored and transported in wooden casks or bottles. These containers helped preserve the quality of the mead and made it easier to share among different groups.

In addition to trading mead, Vikings were also known for their trading of goods, such as textiles, metalworks, and even slaves. The exchange of mead and other valuable items allowed Vikings to maintain a thriving economy and ensured that their mead-making traditions spread to other regions.

Viking Mead Ingredients

When preparing your Viking mead, the primary ingredients you will require are: honey, water, and yeast. Each component plays a crucial role in your mead’s final taste, consistency, and quality.


Honey is the foundation of mead, and reaching for the raw honey will provide the best results. In Viking times, beekeeping was a common practice, and gathering combs from the beehive was a frequent task. The honey variety you choose can significantly impact the mead’s flavor—experiment with different types to find one that suits your taste. Rich, natural flavors can be obtained by incorporating honey derived from wildflowers or heather.


The water used in Viking mead should be as pure and fresh as possible. Spring water is ideal, as it has a high mineral content that enhances the mead’s fermentation process. Avoid using tap or chemically treated water, as this can interfere with the development of flavors and reduce the overall quality of your mead.


Traditionally mead-making relied on wild yeast to ferment the honey and water mixture, transforming it into an alcoholic beverage. However,  now you have options, and deciding which is the best yeast for mead is a matter of preference.

In the Viking era, wild yeast from fruits like grapes, plums, or berries was used for fermentation.

Nowadays, you can use cultivated mead yeast, which offers a faster fermentation process and more consistent results. However, incorporating wild yeast from local flora can create a unique, authentic flavor profile if you prefer a traditional approach.

Remember to be patient during the fermentation process, whether relying on wild or cultivated yeast. It may take weeks or even months for your mead to reach a taste and alcohol content that pleases you. Continue experimenting with different varieties of honey, water, and yeast to discover your ideal Viking mead recipe.

Fermentation Process

Fermenting Techniques

The fermentation process is essential when making Viking mead. To begin, combine honey, water, and yeast in a sanitized container, usually an open-mouthed vessel like glass jars, ceramic crocks, or carboys. Fermentation starts when the yeast consumes the sugars in this mixture, creating alcohol.

It’s important to keep a consistent temperature during fermentation, as fluctuations can affect the yeast’s performance and, consequently, the taste of your mead. Maintain a temperature between 60-75°F (15-24°C) to ensure an ideal environment for fermentation.

Use an airlock to prevent unwanted oxygen and contaminants from entering your fermenting mead. However, if an airlock isn’t available, you can cover the container with a cheesecloth or a clean t-shirt secured with a rubber band.

During the initial stages of fermentation, yeast produces a significant amount of foam. Use a wooden stir stick to mix it back into the liquid. This also helps release any trapped CO2.

Depending on the yeast strain and environmental conditions, Mead fermentation usually takes 2-4 weeks. Be patient and monitor the process to ensure a successful outcome.

Examples of fermenting containers:

– Glass jars
– Ceramic crocks
– Carboys

Storing and Aging

Once fermentation is complete, it’s time to store and age your mead. A common practice in Viking times was to use specialized equipment like glass vessels or gallon jugs to store the mead and let it age.

Transfer the mead from the fermentation container to a clean, airtight storage container, preferably made of glass or stainless steel. Ensure your storage container is sanitized to minimize the risk of contamination. Leave some headspace in the container to allow for the release of any residual CO2.

Aging mead can take anywhere from a few months to a year or more, depending on your preferred flavor profile and clarity. As it ages, the mead will develop more complex flavors and become clearer as particulates settle at the bottom of the container. Remember that patience is key in this process, as time will enhance your mead’s quality.

Storing and aging tips:

– Use sanitized containers
– Leave headspace for CO2 release
– Be patient and allow time for flavors to develop

Viking Mead Recipe

To create your authentic Viking mead, you will need the three main ingredients: honey, water, and yeast. Wild yeast, found in organic fresh or dried berries, can be used like the Vikings did, or you can use a store-bought yeast for more consistent results.

Step 1: Gather your ingredients and equipment

You will need:

– ½ cup raw, unfiltered honey
– 2 cups spring water
– Natural yeast of your choice (fresh or dried berries, grapes, or plums)
– Optional: wild, unsprayed botanicals like wildflower petals

As for equipment, you will need a 5-litre (1-gallon) jug or carboy, a small funnel, an airlock and stopper, a thermometer, no-rinse sanitizer, a siphon or auto-siphon, and 12 swing-top glass bottles.

Step 2: Sanitize your equipment
It’s essential to sanitize all your equipment using no-rinse sanitizer to prevent any unwanted bacteria from affecting your mead.

Step 3: Make the mead mixture
Dissolve the honey in the spring water, either by gently heating the water or by mixing it well. Once the honey is dissolved, let the mixture cool to room temperature.

Step 4: Add the yeast
Introduce your choice of yeast to the mixture, either by adding the berries or a store-bought yeast. Stir well to combine.

Step 5: Proceed with fermentation
Pour the mead mixture into the jug or carboy, using the funnel. Now, fill the airlock with water and insert it into the stopper. Place the stopper on the jug or carboy to seal the container. Store the container in a cool, dark place, ideally between 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The fermentation process can take up to several months.

Remember to occasionally check your mead’s fermentation progress. When you notice the bubbles in the airlock have slowed, it’s a sign that fermentation is nearing its end.

Step 6: Bottle and age
Once fermentation is complete, siphon the mead into the sanitized bottles while avoiding the sediment at the bottom of the jug or carboy. Seal the bottles with the swing-top closure and store in a cool, dark place. You can age your Viking mead for several months before enjoying it.

Feel free to explore and experiment with additional flavors like adding hibiscus or wildflower petals to personalize your Viking mead recipe. Remember, patience is key, as a well-aged mead will truly capture the bold flavors of the Viking era.

Styles and Flavors of Viking Mead

Dry and Sweet Meads

Although there are many different types of mead, Viking mead can be categorized into two general styles: dry and sweet. The primary difference between them lies in the residual sugar content resulting from the fermentation process. In dry mead, most of the sugars from honey are converted into alcohol, giving it a less sweet taste. On the other hand, sweet mead has more residual sugar, resulting in a sweeter and sometimes richer flavor. The specific amount of honey used in a recipe will greatly influence whether a mead is dry or sweet.

Fruits and Spices

Vikings enjoyed an array of flavors in their mead by adding various fruits and spices. Here are some of the common ingredients they used:

– Fruits: Raspberries, elderberries, cherries, hawthorn berries, crabapples, rowan berries, and rose hips were popular choices to enhance the taste and add complexity to the mead. These fruits would be mixed into the honey and water, imparting their flavors and colors to the final product.

– Spices: Vikings often incorporated spices such as cumin, pepper, and cardamom to achieve unique flavor profiles. These spices would be added during brewing to infuse their distinctive flavors into the mead.

Experimenting with different combinations of fruits and spices can help you create a diverse range of mead flavors. Feel free to try different recipes and make adjustments according to your taste preferences. Remember that the key to a successful Viking mead is balance – finding the right mix of sweet and dry elements, complemented by the perfect blend of fruits and spices to suit your palate.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the best Viking mead recipes?

There are several Viking mead recipes you can try out. Some popular variants include traditional honey mead, wild yeast mead, and fruit-flavored mead. Each recipe has its unique characteristics and flavor profile. Experiment with different honey varieties, fruits, and fermentation times to find the best Viking mead recipe for your taste.

Where can I buy authentic Viking mead?

You can purchase authentic Viking mead from specialized meaderies and alcohol retailers. One such meadery is Drekar Meadery, which provides award-winning honey wine at a reasonable price and offers a Viking-Themed Tasting Hall. You can also find Viking mead online from dedicated mead vendors with a vast selection of flavors and styles.

What did Vikings drink in ceremonies and battles?

Vikings would consume large quantities of beer and mead during feasts, weddings, and other celebrations. These events could last anywhere from 2 to 12 days and involved plenty of drinking, feasting, and merriment. Mead was a popular choice for its sweet, fermented taste, and it often played a prominent role in Viking celebrations.

How was Viking mead traditionally brewed?

Viking mead was made from honey, water, and wild yeast. Since packaged yeast wasn’t available during the Viking era, they relied on wild yeast present in the environment for fermentation. Vikings would mix honey and water, allowing wild yeast to ferment the mixture over time naturally. While modern methods may have improved, some traditional mead brewers still opt for wild yeast to create unique Viking-inspired flavors.

What were the main ingredients in Viking mead?

The primary ingredients in Viking mead were honey, water, and yeast. Honey provided natural sugars for fermentation, while water diluted the mixture to create the desired consistency and flavor. Wild yeast facilitated the fermentation process, converting sugars into alcohol. Depending on the recipe, additional ingredients like fruits or herbs might have been added for extra flavor.

Was the mead drunk by Vikings sweet or dry?

The taste of Viking mead could range from sweet to dry, depending on the honey-to-water ratio and the fermentation process. A higher honey concentration and shorter fermentation period would yield a sweeter mead, while a lower honey concentration and longer fermentation would result in a drier, less sweet drink. By experimenting with these variables, Vikings could create various mead flavors to suit their preferences.

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