Brewing Nordic Events 2019 and a Recipe for Kalja/Taari

Brewing Nordic Events 2019 and a Recipe for Kalja/Taari

Lately, I have spent a lot of time planning my upcoming events and travels. This year, I will be drinking, brewing and talking beer at these events or places:

  • May 23: SOPP Beer Festival in Tampere, Finland.
  • June 14–15: OlutSatama Beer Festival in Jyväskylä, Finland.
  • June 28–29: The Medieval Market in Turku, Finland. I will demonstrate historical brewing techniques with Olu Bryki Raum brewery. On Friday and Saturday the demonstration brews will be Karelian taari and medieval gruit ale. I will also give a talk “What the Vikings Drank in Their Feasts?”
  • July 16–August 2: Viking Age Brew book tour in the Pacific Northwest USA. I will arrange several events in bars, bookstores and museums with beer writer Jereme Zimmerman, the author or Make Mead Like a Viking and Brew Beer Like a Yeti. The preliminary route goes through Seattle, Bend, Portland, and Vancouver. We will also do a commercial farmhouse collaboration brew.
  • October 11–12. Norsk Kornøl Festival in Hornindal, Norway. I will demonstrate brewing sahti give a talk about it too.
  • Late October: OlutExpo Beer and Whisky Festival in Helsinki, Finland.

I will announce the event details once the schedules have been confirmed.

Sketch of a Kalja/Taari Recipe

A few weeks ago I made a traditional farmhouse beer known as kalja or taari, by first baking a rye porridge or pudding (called mämmi) in the oven, and then fermenting it into a beer. I was asked for a recipe, and I will now report my observations so far.

I already discussed the background of these drinks in article Small Beer Called Kalja, but I’m still in the middle of research, based on my brewing experiments, Finnish ethnographic texts, and Karelian cookbooks. All the texts and cookbook recipes I have seen are very sketchy and missing important details. As far as I know, these kind of traditions in Finland died in the first half of the 20th century. Eventually, I will publish a proper recipe with plenty of photos.

A glass of taari farmhouse beer

My latest experiment with traditional Finnish farmhouse kalja/taari. It feels extremely nourishing with grainy notes of baked rye porridge. Mouthfeel is incredibly viscous from 100 % rye – certainly an acquired taste. These kind drinks were usually made for food and nourishment of farmhouse work, and this certainly does the trick.

0,7 kg unmalted rye flour (coarsely ground)
0,35 kg malted rye (coarsely ground)
Yeast of your choice

The process consists of four steps: sweetening, baking, diluting and fermenting. In the past sweetening was often done in a cauldron, and then continued by baking in clay pots or birch bark baskets. Sweetened mash have also be also baked into a shape of bread. The bake was diluted (mixed with water) and fermented in a wooden tub or cask. For convenience, I did all four steps in a 10 L stainless steel kettle. See the procedure below, and you’ll realize the realize how the brewing vessels are married with the process.

Sweetening: pour grains into a kettle, cauldron or clay pot. Mix in warm to hot water, 1.5 times the grain amount. Keep this porridge-like mash at 60–80°C until it tastes very sweet. You can keep it on a stove or put the vessel into the oven as I did. Mix and check the mash occasionally. This step should take around 3 hours.

Baking: bake the mash at 100–150°C in the oven until the mash looks dark brown. Depending on the temperature and various other things, this takes from several hours to overnight. In the past, this step was done overnight in the afterheat of a wood-fired oven.

Dilution: now the baked mash needs to be diluted with water. My sources do not reveal how diluted beer one should make, but everyday ales have generally been low in gravity and alcohol. Occasionally for celebrations, it was less diluted. I suspect that one kilogram of grains should make at least ten liters of kalja. In this experiment I added only 5 liters of water, that makes more like a high-end celebration drink. Whatever water-to-grain ratio you use, pour warm water over mämmi and stir heavily.

Fermentation: you are going to ferment the diluted mash, and the grain solids will be sieved out after the fermentation. Usually, the beverage was fermented, stored and served from the same wooden vessel that facilitates the sieving. The most common vessel was a kind of lauter tun: a tub with a tap and straws for filter on the bottom. The second option is a wooden cask with a tap high above the bottom so that grain solids fell to the bottom and the liquid is drawn above the dregs. Since I had neither of these vessels, I just scooped mostly liquid from the top of the fermenter and poured it through a kitchen sieve.

Whatever vessel you use, pour the diluted mash into the vessel, let cool to fermentation temperature and add yeast. I added one flake of dried kveik (Norwegian farmhouse yeast). Ferment for one to two days at room temperature and then move the vessel to cold. The fermentation need not be complete at this point. For everyday beverage, the main purpose of fermentation was preservation.

In the past, as the kalja or taari was drained, the vessel was topped up with water, for getting more out of the grain sediment. The resulting weaker beverage was drunk, and the cycle of topping up and drinking was repeated several times, until it was unpalatable. The disgust with several-cycle-old kalja or taari has been immortalized in many sayings, such as “like the seventh water over the top of kalja” for describing something worthless.

2 thoughts on “Brewing Nordic Events 2019 and a Recipe for Kalja/Taari

  • May 4, 2019 at 3:58 pm

    Very interesting! Guess you know that in swedish we have the word rappakalja? We understand it as a loanword from finnish.

    • May 4, 2019 at 5:45 pm

      I know the Finnish word rappakalja or rapakalja, but I didn’t know that the same word has been used in Swedish. One meaning for Finnish word “rapa” is spent mash. Therefore, rapakalja or rappakalja can mean a second lower alcohol beer made from the spent mash. On the other hand, a local historian here in Jyväskylä told me that in the early 20th century yeasty remains of proper beer was sold as rappakalja. It was sold cheaply from the brewery backdoor to alcholics.


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