Vikings ! Beer or ale ?
The staple grain cultivated during the Viking Age and medieval period in Scandinavia was barley, and it may have been the only grain grown in Iceland up through the point at which the mini-Ice Age of the 14th century made it impossible to grow grain in Iceland at all. Most of the barley was used to brew ale, which was the staple beverage of all classes. Even children drank ale daily, especially in urban areas. (Skaarup, p. 134). The Old English didactic work Ælfric's Colloquy shows just how ale was regarded in early Northern Europe: when the novice is asked what he drinks, he replies, Ealu gif ic hæbbe, oþþe wæter gif ic næbbe ealu ("Ale if I have it, water if I have no ale").
Early Northern Europeans were quite familiar with alcoholic beverages made from the fermentation of grain. In 77 A.D., the Roman encyclopaedist Gaius Plinius Secundus (Pliny the Elder) recorded in his Historia Naturalis that beer was known to the various tribes of Northern Europe under many different names.
It should be noted that while the modern words "beer" and "ale" are today almost interchangeable, there is good evidence that shows that the two drinks were very different in early Northern Europe. It is clear from Old English and Old Norse sources that ale (Old English ealu, Old Norse öl) was produced from malted grain. However, literary analysis shows that Old English beor and Old Norse björr are terms used for sweet alcoholic beverages. Until the last ten years or so, philologists thought that beor and björr were derived from the word for barley, and it is only recently that it was realized that the term almost certainly referred to cider (whether from apples or pears) during the Viking Age (Hagen pp. 205-206; Roesdahl, p. 120). English translations of the sagas will translate both öl and björr interchangeably as beer or ale, and so are not a good guide to the actual terminology being used in the original Old Norse text. To sow further confusion, in the Eddaic poem Alvíssmál verses 34 and 35, a variety of Old Norse terms related to fermented beverages appear and are implied to be synonyms: