They say that knowledge is power. But in the case of Kvasir, wisest man in the world, his knowledge was mead. Or rather, his knowledge (and his very life force) would go on to become mead through some unfortunate circumstances, according to Norse mythology.
You see, Kvasir was the wisest man in the world. He was born when the two godly factions (the Æsir, which included the likes of Odin, and the Vanir, made up of Freyja and her ilk) sealed a truce by spitting together into a cauldron. That spit became Kvasir. Which is a pretty gnarly way to be born, generally speaking.
One thing that’s pretty important to understand here: in Norse mythology and Scandinavian culture at the time, the wisest people weren’t the nerds who majored in Biology or Mechanical Engineering at Yggdrasil University– they were the poets. The bards, the singers, the storytellers. These were the true rockstars in the days of yore–and perhaps that’s why we still worship our actors, singers, and artists in such a revered way today. But back then, they had to have a positively epic amount of knowledge in order to memorize their epics. And Kvasir was the best of them all.
Like many of us when we have had a few drinks, Kvasir was said to know the answer of any question posed to him. And so, being the decent guy that he was, he went around answering questions to any who posed them to him. He was a pretty nice guy. And he probably didn’t deserve what happened to him.
You see, he wasn’t wise enough to avoid the dwarves, Fjalar and Galar.
The problem was that Fjalar and Galar were kind of into murder. As told in the Prose Edda (also known as the Younger Edda) by Snorri Sturluson (who is not a dwarf from The Hobbit but an ancient Norse poet), they liked killing folks. Especially important folks.
Now, maybe they didn’t originally intend to kill Kvasir, but it does seem a little pre-meditated. You see, they had already prepped two vats (called Son and Boon) and a pot (called Oorerir) to take his blood by the time that Kvasir came over to answer their questions.
But after their brutal act, these dwarvish brothers mixed his blood with honey and it became the Mead of Poetry, or the Mead of Suttungr, a booze so potent, it could turn any drinker into a scholar (also called a skald). When asked how Kvasir died, the dwarves told the gods that he simply suffocated from his own intelligence since neither they nor their kin were smart enough to ask him any questions. Poor Kvasir. This just goes to show that even the wisest man still has to suffer fools.
The Mead of Poetry went on to have its own starring role in some of the other tales of Snorri’s edda, including being stolen by Odin in one of his bigger moments of dickery. But that’s a story for another time.
You can still find remnants of Kvasir in culture even today: kvass, a fermented berry drink favored in Slavic countries, shares a root with his name.
And Dogfish Head Brewery out of Delaware makes a specialty ale called Kvasir formulated by a biomolecular archaeologist, who took the recipe from what was left in the birch bark drinking vessel of a Norse priestess. The recipe, like kvass, includes lingonberries. And like Kvasir’s blood, it has a honey taste. No telling if it will turn you into a poet though. That’s probably up to how many you drink if you can get your hands on this rare beer.