At first sight, Hornindal in Norway is an unlikely beer destination. It is a small municipality tucked away between mountains and fjords in the countryside of Norway. But it is a farmhouse brewing hub with plenty of traditional brewers who have their heirloom house yeast, kveik. It is also home to the Norsk Kornølfestival, the only beer festival dedicated to Nordic farmhouse beer. This is my report from the festival in October 2019.
These days the Norwegian farmhouse brewing scene is very vibrant, and there’s plenty of reasons to experience it on the spot. Norway has distinct regional styles of farmhouse ales, and Norsk Kornølfestival is the best place to taste this variety. Norwegian farmhouse brewers have dozens of kveiks and many of them are surprisingly distinct. At the festival, you can sample beers made with different kveiks, and get a dried kveik flakes for yourself. You can also meet brewers who make their traditional malt.
Norsk Kornølfestival has been organized in each October since 2016, and this festival gathers both domestic farmhouse brewers and commercial brewers throughout Norway. You can taste both homemade and commercial farmhouse ales, as well as beers that use traditional ingredients or techniques as an inspiration for creating something new.
I have written plenty about Norwegian farmhouse ales before, and a good overview can be found for example from my book Viking Age Brew. I have also documented Brewing Norwegian Farmhouse Ale in Hornindal and Traditional Farmhouse Malting in Stjørdal. Of course, your should check Lars Marius Garshol’s Larsblog if already haven’t. See also festival reports from British beer writer Martyn Cornell (2017) and American brewer Paul Arney (2018).
Reaching Hornindal requires some effort, but I can hardly think of a more beautiful and special place to have a beer festival. Most international visitors fly to Ålesund from where a festival bus takes them to Hornindal. I was invited to demonstrate how sahti is brewed, and therefore I arrived by car with my brewing gear. I allied with a Finnish carpenter Risto Telkkä who was going to sell his traditional wooden drinking vessels at the festival.
We hit the road with Risto’s RV, by taking first a ferry from Finland to Sweden (Turku-Stockholm) and then driving across Sweden to Lillehammer and from there to Hornindal. It took two days to get from my home in central Finland to Hornindal, but the mountainous sceneries of Norway made it worthwhile.
The concept of the festival is very clever, and the organizers know what people want to see. In addition to sampling ales, the two-day festival has presentations and brewing demonstrations.
Four presentations were in Norwegian and three in English. I talked about Finnish sahti, and Lars Marius Garshol and Jochen Förster presented their findings on kveik.
On the second festival day, from midday to 6 PM, I brewed sahti at the festival hall to demonstrate how it is traditionally brewed in Finland. I mashed Finnish barley and rye malts by adding water and juniper infusion in several steps. Then I brought the mash to a simmering boil and scooped the mash into a kuurna (see photo below) for lautering. Sahti brew day typically lasts around 12 hours, but I condensed all this into six hours by shortening the mash rests.
I cooled the wort flowing out from the kuurna and added yeast with a loud Finnish yeast spell. I didn’t bring the classic sahti yeast, Suomen Hiiva’s baker’s yeast, because I felt that bringing yeast to Norway would be like carrying sand to the Sahara. Instead, I pitched local Otterdal kveik and gave the fermenter into the custody of a local farmhouse brewer. Three days later I got a message from Hornindal that the sahti tastes good and strong.
One is highlights of the festival was a brewing session with local farmhouse brewers, showing how they brew traditional kornøl from malts, juniper branches, hops, and kveik. This was a side event held in a nice turf-roofed farmhouse brewery a few kilometers from the festival hall. The brewing session was similar to my earlier visit to Hornindal in 2017, see Brewing Norwegian Farmhouse Ale in Hornindal.
Norsk Kornølfestival Beers
Both festival days started by sampling farmhouse homebrews. Flavors varied a lot from very fruity to tart to malt-forward. It was fascinating to taste this variety side-by-side, meet the brewers, and get kveik samples from them. Brewers had also more experimental stuff, such as modern beers or sake fermented with kveik.
Then, halfway the festival day, homebrews were swapped with commercial brews. The festival had 12 commercial Norwegian breweries, each brewery pouring several beers: Bjørnafjorden Bryggeri, Bygland Bryggeri, Brulandselva, Eik & Tid, Geiranger Bryggeri, Klostergården Bryggeri, Nøgne Ø, Ringnes Brygghus, Rodebak, Skifjorden Bryggeri, Tonga Gardsbryggeri, and Voss Bryggeri. Some beers were designed for larger-scale production while some brews were special small batches.
Brewers had carefully crafted traditional farmhouse ales in their line-up. For example, Voss Bryggeri had their Vossaøl, an authentic Voss style farmhouse ale. Klostergården poured Såinn, smoky Stjørdal style farmhouse ale made from their own traditional malt (see Commercial Farmhouse Maltsters and Brewers Around Stjørdal). Geiranger Bryggeri had a spissøl, a low alcohol farmhouse ale made from the second runnings. Bygland Bryggeri had a range of beers that aim to replicate some of the well-known farmhouse homebrews.
Breweries had also excellent innovative beers stemming from the tradition. The elements of the tradition were carefully woven into many of the commercial beers. I mean, it wasn’t just the basic approach of beerstyle X fermented kveik. For example, Eik & Tid poured tart ales made from unboiled wort and all-Norwegian ingredients.
The festival boasted 58 homebrews and perhaps around the same number of commercial beers. I hardly managed to taste half of them. I returned home with four kveiks and 2 kg of traditional Stjørdal’s malt. Later on, I received two more kveiks by mail from a brewer who I met at the after-party. I’d love to visit this festival again.