Vikings , Making the Brew !
The exact recipes and methods that Viking Age Scandinavians used to produce öl are unknown. However, some brewing experts think that certain surviving ale-brewing practices in rural western Norway may preserve Viking Age techniques:
In the remote rural region of Voss most of the farmers make their own beer. When a new brew is underway, the smoke and rich odours tell everyone in the neighborhood that beer is being made and the go to the farmhouse to help out and then sample the finished brew. Jackson went out with farmer Svein Rivenes to collect juniper branches. Rivenes sawed sufficient branches to fill the 700-litre [about 185 gallons] bath-shaped tank in his cabin that acts as both the hot liquor vessel and the brew kettle. He feels, just as the medieval monks recorded by Urion and Eyer felt about the hops in their bière, that the juniper branches, complete with berries, helped him achieve a better extract from his malt as well as warding off infections.
His water source - a stream tumbling down the hillside outside his cabin - has a double use. It is his brewing liquor and he also immerses sacks of barley in the stream where the grain starts to germinate. A neighbor has turned his garage into a kiln, powered by a domestic fan heater, and there barley is turned into malt. In the brewing process, when hot liquor has been added to the malt, the mash is filtered over more juniper branches to filter it. The berries give flavor to the wort - just as they do to gin and other distilled spirits - but Rivenes also adds hops when the wort is boiled. The yeast used in the Voss area has been handed down generation to generation and Rivenes thinks it may date back to Viking times. The farmer-brewers in Norseland start fermentation with a "totem stick" that carries yeast cells from one brew to the next.
The beer brewed by Svein Rivenes was, according to Michael Jackson, around nine or ten per cent alcohol and had a rich malt character, with a syrupy body, a pronounced juniper character and was clean and appetizing. Jackson brought a sample of the yeast back to Britain... The Viking yeast was classified as a traditional ale yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, but was different in several ways to a modern ale yeast. It had different taste characteristics. It was multi-strain whereas most modern ale yeasts are single or two-strain. Modern yeasts have been carefully cultured to attack different types of sugar in the wort and, where a beer is cask conditioned, to encourage a powerful secondary fermentation...
It is unlikely that a genuine Viking ale was brewed from pale malt: until the industrial revolution and commercial coal mining, malt was kilned over wood fires and was brown and often scorched and smoky in character, though the habit in Scandinavia of drying malt in saunas may have made it paler. (Protz, p. 25-26)
As well as juniper, Germans and Scandinavians were known to add a variety of herbal agents or gruits to their ales to produce bitterness or add other flavors, to disinfect and thus extend the "shelf life" of the product, and to add medicinal qualities to the drink in some cases (Protz, p. 20, La Pensée, pp.128-144). Hops was one such additive, being used in Viking Age Denmark and in tenth century Jorvik (modern York, England) and probably elsewhere in Scandinavia during the Viking Age (Hagen, pp. 210, 211; Roesdahl, p. 119). Hops, when boiled with the wort in the process of making ale, releases bitter acids, which both bitter the brew and add antibiotic properties that allow for better preservation of ale. Other herbal additives included alecost (Chrysanthemum balsamita), alehoof (also known as ground ivy, Glechoma hederacea), bog myrtle (also known as sweet gale, Myrica gale, especially used in Denmark, northern Germany and in England), horehound (Marrubium vulgare, called Berghopfen or "mountain hops" in Germany, where it was used as a hops substitute), yarrow (Achilea millefolium) and others (La Pensée, pp.128-144, Hagen, p. 212).
The drinking of ale was particularly important to several seasonal religious festivals, of which the Viking Scandinavians celebrated three: the first occurring after harvest, the second near midwinter, and the last at midsummer. These festivals continued to be celebrated after the introduction of Christianity, although under new names. Historical records show that ale consumption at these festivals, even in Christian times, was quite important: the Gulaþing Law required farmers in groups of at least three to brew ale to be consumed at obligatory ale-feasts on All Saints (November 1 - Winternights), Christmas (December 25 - Yule), and upon the feast of St. John the Baptist (June 24 - Midsummer). More ordinary festivities, celebrated even today, are so closely associated with beer that they are known as öl ("ale") and include Gravöl (a wake, or "funeral ale"), Barnöl (a christening, or "child-ale") and taklagsöl (a barn-raising, or "roofing-ale") (Nylén, p. 57).
In Hákonar saga Góða (The Saga of King Hákon the Good) in Heimskringla, it is quite evident that Hákon, who practiced his own Christianity in secret, was beginning through legislation to move the traditional holiday ale-feast as part of a campaign to eventually convert the country:
Hann setti það í lögum að hefja jólahald þann tíma sem kristnir menn og skyldi þá hver maður eiga mælis öl en gjalda fé ella og halda heilagt meðan öl ynnist.
[He had it established in the laws that the Yule celebration was to take place at the same time as is the custom with the Christians. And at that time everyone was to have ale for the celebration from a measure (Old Norse mál) of grain, or else pay fines, and had to keep the holidays while the ale lasted. (Heimskringla, Chapter 13)
Brewing was usually the work of women in medieval Iceland, and probably in the Viking Age throughout Scandinavia as well:
Requiring fire and the warmth of the kitchen, brewing was allowed even during the Christmas holiday. Traditionally, women have been associated with this work and it remained a female task throughout the medieval period. In one of the heroic sagas a king resolved the jealousy between his two wives by deciding to keep the one who presented him with the better beer on his return from war. As late as the end of the fourteenth century a laysister was superintendent of brewing in Vadstena, a Swedish monastery that accommodated men and women. Describing a brewing in honor of Bishop Páll, a vignette states specifically that the housewife was in charge. On important farms the physical work needed for large quantities may have demanded male help, as suggested from a brief glimpse of the farm at Stafaholt where the female housekeeper (húsfreyja), assisted by the male manager (ræðismaðr), replenished the stores of beer depleted by the visit of fourteen unexpected guests. Consumed at the alþingi, beer was commonly brewed on the spot, but there the quantities demanded and the scarcity of women made it a male task. Mentioned rarely in the sagas, brewing was a difficult process and occasionally required divine assistance mediated through miracles credited to Icelandic bishops (Jochens, p. 127).
Perhaps the most expensive and least available fermented beverage of the Viking Age was wine. Almost no grape wines were produced in Scandinavia, and only a very small amount of fruit wines, which by the Middle Ages was exclusively reserved for sacramental use. Birch-sap might also have been used to make limited quantities of wine (Hagen, p. 229). Instead, grape wine was exported from the Rhineland, which may have used the market towns of Hedeby and Dorestad as the export outlets for wine (Hagen, p. 220; Roesdahl, p. 120). Remains of wine amphoræ have been found at Dorestad and at Jorvik: these amphoræ varied in size from 14-24" tall and 12.5-20" in diameter (Hagen, p. 220).