Food history | the difference between mead and beer | Norway

Mead and beer are both alcoholic drinks known from Norwegian history. The Norwegians call them «mjød» and «øl». But do you know the difference between the two?
LA Dahlmann | talk NORWAY
Beer - and ingredients. | Photo: Nitr - adobe stock - copyright.
Beer - and ingredients. | Photo: Nitr - adobe stock - copyright.

Pronunciation

Mjød – øl

Divine qualities

The making of beer and mead stretches several thousand years back. The preparation process is similar, so the main difference lies in the ingredients. In historical times, the Norwegians thought the two drinks had divine qualities and were linked to the old Norse gods. Throughout the Middle Ages and well into modern times, people made beer at mid-summer and at Christmas – and in connection with weddings and other festive occasions. Brewing the Christmas beer was almost a sacred process. It started a few weeks before, on a rising moon and at high tide; otherwise, people were certain the beer would go sour.

Mead – mjød

To most modern-day Norwegians, mead is but a distant acquaintance, mainly associated with the Vikings and their sagas. The core ingredients are honey, water, hop and yeast. People sometimes also added a variety of herbs and spices, depending on local tradition. Hop acts as a preservative. Mixed with the honey, it also gives the mead a bittersweet flavour. Some argue that mead is closer to wine than beer.

Beer – øl

Beer retained its significant place in Norwegian food culture – throughout history and into the modern era. The core ingredients are malt made from barley, water, hop and yeast. Depending on availability and local tradition, people also used other types of grain. Malt is the result of the following process:

  1. Take fully ripened barley and put it into water for a day or more.
  2. Remove the water and spread the barley out onto a surface in a warm location. Leave it to sprout for a few days.
  3. Then immediately dry the sprouted barley in a hot environment – again for a day or two. Be careful, however, not to roast it.

You now have malt, a product you can store, before grinding it into a course substance and using it when making beer.

The below YouTube video made by «Kvinesdal.no», takes you through the process of making beer the old Norwegian way – from planting the grain – to drinking the finished product. Sadly, the audio is in Norwegian only, with no subtitles, but it gives a fascinating insight.

Wooden container - stettekolle - used for making beer. From 1777. | Photo: Haakon Michael Harriss norsk folkemuseum - digitaltmuseum.no NFL.15952 - cc by-sa.
Wooden container – stettekolle – used for making beer. From 1777. | Photo: Haakon Michael Harriss – Norsk folkemuseum cc by-sa.

Main source: «Norsk mat» – Norsk Bondekvinnelag and J.W. Cappelens Forlag 1965.

Advertisement

End of advertisement

Our most recent posts

Advertisement

End of advertisement

My Norwegian heritage

In this video-collection of historical photos, we reminisce about the dairy cow on the old Norwegian farm. We recommend that you watch with the sound on. Enjoy!
One of the oldest Norwegian instruments is the birch trumpet. But is it really an instrument at all - or did it originally have a completely different purpose?
With the Bronze age came a new and important phase in human history and development: mankind learned how to make tools and other objects from a metal they called bronze.
On 9 April 1940, German forces attacked Norway in the early hours of the morning. The Norwegian armed forces attempted to stave off the attack, but they were in no way prepared for this monumental task.
Do you have trouble sleeping? Here are some examples of how the old Norwegians used Mother Nature’s very own remedies to cure their ailments.
At Easter in 1906, renowned Norwegian photographer Anders Beer Wilse took this series of photos on a trip with a group of friends.
When there were no makeshift or permanent dwellings nearby, the Sami hunters and herders sometimes slept under the open sky.
For more than a thousand years, Norwegian farmers sent their livestock to feed in the forests and the mountains. Today, this way of life has almost disappeared.
With the birth of the new Norwegian national state in 1814, came big ideas. And one of them was to establish better transportation systems.
The spinning wheel was a lifelong companion for most women in the old Norwegian farming society. Enjoy this video-collection of wonderful vintage photographs.
The Norwegians rarely allow alien species into their fauna. With one notable exception, the muskox - first welcomed in from Greenland in 1924.
In the olden days, people dressed up warmly and got out onto the fjord or lake to catch their Sunday dinner. Enjoy!
The Norwegian farm horse was a reliable and powerful companion. But by the late 1960s, they were almost all gone. Enjoy this video-collection of wonderful vintage photographs.
The wild ocean world of Værøy in Lofoten, Norway, was the birthplace of Mimmi Benjaminsen – born in 1894. Here are some of her childhood memories.
In the spring, the Norwegian mountain-snow melts and turns into creeks, rivers and magnificent waterfalls.
Our foremothers were hardworking and inventive. Here you can read more about how the laundry was done on a Norwegian mountain farm in the late 1800s.
Some vintage photos - and more to come.
After the end of World War 2, the Norwegians all took part in lifting their country well and truly into the 20th century.
With the High middle ages came expansion and progress. But everything was about to change, in the most brutal way imaginable.
A kipe is a tall, woven basket, often made of twigs from the birch tree. It was carried on the back, and typically used when carrying loads in a landscape full of steep fields and paths.
For many, it may come as a surprise that the history of rose painting and its place in Norwegian folk art is not as old as one might think.

Follow us on social media

Norwegian history