However, there was a stark reality as to why this was the case, and it spoke of the inherent danger that early medieval Swedes faced daily.

Back to the future 

Many of us, including all the staff at The Viking Herald, have often daydreamed, at some point, about time travel. 

Given that groundbreaking scientific and technological advancements seem to be occurring almost daily, it is surely just a matter of time before we practically realize Einstein's theory on the possibility of time travel. 

Though we are completely biased, and unashamedly so, all the staff at The Viking Herald would gladly jump into a Delorean (a Tesla would be more realistic, though) and head back to the early medieval period when Vikings roamed. 

Now, imagine our collective delight when we realized that in early medieval Sweden, not only was it the time when Vikings roamed, but the daily thirst quencher was... beer! 

Surely, there would be no greater place to travel back to than early medieval Sweden, right? A paradise for Viking aficionados and beer lovers. 

Before you climb into that DeLorean with Doc Brown, here's a word of warning about the society you'd be stepping back into and exactly why beer was a preferred choice over water. 

The truth may hit you like a historical hangover! 

Although water sources were abundant in early medieval Sweden, they often posed hygiene risks due to contamination, prompting the preference for safer alternatives like beer. Photo: Distinctive Shots / Shutterstock

Parasites, impure water, and fermentation 

Access to clean and safe drinking water is a privilege that many of us, especially in the Western world, take for granted every second of the day. 

In fact, this access, even in more developed countries, is a historical exception. 

For much of humanity's story, clean and safe drinking water was neither convenient nor widely accessible. 

In early medieval Sweden, water was often accessed through drinking wells for village dwellers or, if one was fortunate, perhaps a nearby brook, stream, or river.

One couldn't just access it with a flick of the wrist or by heading to the nearest supermarket.

For the inhabitants of larger villages and towns in early medieval Sweden, the local well was their only source of water. 

However, because this water was underground and had to be hauled up, it posed the risk of contamination with bacteria or parasites. 

In fact, this was also the case for most of the water sources that early medieval Swedes had access to. 

Contaminated water is not something we at The Viking Herald would ever recommend drinking, as it causes serious harm or even death. 

However, this water was not entirely without value. Thanks to Sweden's geography and climate, which provided a surplus of barley and wheat alongside ample access to water, these elements served as crucial components for beer production. 

The fermentation process involved in beer production killed off many harmful microorganisms and bacteria, ultimately making it a safer and healthier choice than drinking water from the local well. 

This revelation would surely have freaked out local TikTok and Instagram 'healthfluencers' — had they existed in this era..."

This production involved a fermentation process that killed off many harmful microorganisms and bacteria, ultimately making it a safer and healthier choice than drinking a pail full of water from the local well. 

Had they existed in this era, this would have surely freaked out local TikTok and Instagram "healthfluencers." 

The medieval hand mill played a crucial role in early beer production by grinding grains into a fine powder, providing the essential foundation for extracting fermentable sugars needed for brewing. Photo: Alexey Medvednikov / Shutterstock

Nutritional value and food preservation 

To further irritate those pesky "healthfluencers," beer was a surprisingly nutritious part of the average early medieval Swede's daily diet

Like clean and accessible drinking water, access to healthy and nutritious food was neither common nor widespread in this era. 

Beer, rich in carbohydrates and some vitamins, provides both hydration and a source of nutrition. 

Unlike more modern beers, the alcohol percentage in most brewed beers wasn't too strong, allowing those working in the fields or the household to drink a substantial amount without getting drunk. 

Furthermore, for many early medieval Swedes, beer constituted a significant portion of their daily caloric intake. 

Beer was an important method of preserving grains for longer periods during agricultural work. 

Given that early medieval Sweden was a predominantly rural society – with only a small minority venturing off to become Vikings – food storage and preservation were limited if they existed at all! 

Thus, beer production was an important means of turning surplus grains into a beverage that could be stored and consumed over time, especially during those brutal Swedish winters, without spoiling. 

In medieval times, beer was made by adding ground barley to water heated with hot stones. This initiated the mashing process, which released fermentable sugars leading to fermentation and beer production. Photo: Monica Ferreira Ask (CC BY-SA 4.0)

A cultural, religious, and social lubricant 

Believe it or not, beer was also widely enjoyed for religious reasons. 

Throughout much of the early medieval period, people in Viking societies, including those in Sweden, practiced a belief system that modern historians have dubbed the Old Norse religion

Beer held religious significance within this belief system, as it was associated with various pagan rituals and ceremonies, including funerary practices, feasts, and weddings. 

As Sweden fell under the influence of the Christian church, beer consumption remained an important aspect of the cultural and societal fabric. 

Over the early medieval period, beer consumption became deeply ingrained in Swedish culture. 

Not only was it an activity that could be done within a household, but it was also a significant commercial enterprise. 

More and more people became involved with the production and consumption of beer, which made it a part of daily life. 

It soon became associated with festivals, customs, folklore, and communal practices, reinforcing its importance in the social fabric. 

Most importantly, however, it often helped make what could be a nasty, short, and brutish life a little more tolerable. 

In this period, before widespread painkilling medication and involving laborious and backbreaking daily labor, its mild intoxicating effects were also a physical and psychological tonic. 

Swedes still love a beer 

Whilst the modern nation of Sweden is barely recognizable from its early medieval version, many a Swedish Viking would still relish the fact that their modern counterparts still love to have a cheeky beer or two. 

In the early medieval period, many Swedes preferred beer over water for its health benefits, nutritional value, and relative hygienic safety, as well as for cultural, religious, and social reasons. 

Simply more proof that beer truly is the nectar of the (Old) gods! 

If you're interested in learning more about Swedish history during the era when Vikings roamed, look no further than STOEX. Offering small, guided daily trips from Stockholm, STOEX specializes in bringing Swedish history to life. 

All their tours start with a pickup from Stockholm before traveling through the picturesque locations in the surrounding region to visit iconic Viking landmarks firsthand. 

The STOEX Viking History Extended tour passes by Sigtuna, one of Sweden's most important centers of trade and commerce during the early medieval period, where beer was undoubtedly widely produced and consumed. 

For more information on Viking beer, visit Denmark's National Museum here.

This branded article was produced in collaboration with STOEX, a partner of The Viking Herald. You can find out more about their Viking and history tours - and book one - here.

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