I just had to use that tired phrase. The arrival of winter is an important turning point for me every year. Once I have picked and preserved all the berries, apples and mushrooms, stocked the firewood and prepared the garden for winter, I’m happy to retreat to indoors. By that time I have turned apples into cider, and replaced the summer homebrews with more robust ales. When the first snow falls, it is time heat the fireplace, put a mushroom lasagne into oven, and fetch a glass of liquid hygge from cellar.
Indoor activity of course means also more brewing and writing. A few weeks ago I published an article Traditional Farmhouse Malting in Stjørdal, about unique Norwegian traditions that produce extremely smoky and tasty malt and ale. This is a rather thorough article, but still many good photos and stories were left out. Clearly I need to write a sequel, concentrating on commercial maltsters and brewers. However, before that story I will write one or two articles about modern craft malting and farming craft brewers. I’m curious about what smaller scale of farming and malting can do to beer.
On 27th and 28th of October I’m at an excellent beer festival, OlutExpo in Helsinki. Come over and say Hello if you happen to be there!
In late July I was brewing for the National Sahti Competition. I had bought a packet of Finnish baker’s yeast, but when it was time to pitch yeast I began to hesitate. I had brewed a Norwegian farmhouse ale four days earlier, and a thick mat of kveik was still floating on the top of the brew. Why not just skim that yeast and ferment sahti with it, instead the same old baker’s yeast everybody else is using.
So I cropped the kveik from the maltøl and dumped it into sahti. Two days later I went to cellar to check if sahti had already fermented, and I instantly smelled vinegar and nail polish remover (ethyl acetate). It did not taste bad, but it had an obvious sour tang unacceptable for a traditional sahti or maltøl. I withdrew it from the competition.
I knew that this kveik I got from Hornindal includes souring bacteria, but I also knew that if used strictly according to the farmhouse brewing folklore, it will produce exquisite sweet ale which is not sour at all. What I could not believe is that this yeast could be distracted so easily from the path which it has been on for decades or even centuries.
Thus I learned the hard way that farmhouse yeasts are really delicate creatures. If one deviates from the traditional practices, things might take unexpected routes. That’s why farmhouse brewers are often reluctant to make any changes to the process.
Sometimes the hard way is the only way to learn. This accident gave valuable clues how kveik works, and I now have a pretty good idea what I should do differently next time. My long term plan is to learn using and maintaining kveik in a true farmhouse fashion, without any lab work. I will report this failure and the working practices eventually.
In the meantime, luckily I have lab purified yeast which produces premium beer. I just brewed a malty juniper ale from the branches shown in the header image. I hope that it will be a perfect autumn beer to drink while doing wobbly brewing experiments. In general juniper is an underrated beer ingredient in today’s home and craft brewing – not just berries but also the needles and wood.
During summer many Finns spend some time at cottages close to nature. I too spent ten days by a lake, and it proved to be a very productive time. There in the summer cottage I finished the story Brewing Norwegian Farmhouse Ale in Hornindal from my road trip to Norwegian farmhouse breweries in June 2017.
From the summer cottage I drove to a very interesting new craft brewery Takatalo & Tompuri in south-east Finland. The founders Mikko Suur-Uski and Juha Kokkala grow their own barley and brew fine lagers from it. The barley is malted in 50 ton batches at the Viking Malt in Lahti, 150 km from the brewery. The brewmaster Mikko also smokes some of the malt at the farm, and I got plenty of excellent New Nordic Beer material which I will publish later.
Another interesting side track happened on a fishing trip by the lake. I found an island full of bog myrtle, the popular spice of ale before hops in the Middle Ages. This wasn’t just a coincidence, as I have been gathering data about pre-hop medieval ales and scanning areas of Finland where bog myrtle grows. In August, I will begin the test brews of historical gruit ale with bog myrtle and yarrow.
In July, I compared fresh Finnish and Norwegian baker’s yeast for brewing sahti. Suomen Hiiva’s fresh yeast is what most sahti brewers use and Idun blå is popular among farmhouse brewers of Norway. Both made a genuine sahti, but there were several remarkable differences. This was a highly interesting test which I will document later at Brewing Nordic.
At the moment I’m preparing for the National Sahti Competition held 5th of August in Janakkala. I’m representing my hometown Jyväskylä, and this year I’m competing with extremely fresh eight days old sahti. The competition is also a good opportunity to tell sahti folks about Norwegian farmhouse ale and serve them Stjørdalsøl, which I brewed from the malts from Stjørdal and kveik from Hornindal.
I have been neglegting the News section of Brewing Nordic, but now I realize that the good old newsletter can be a third very noteworthy channel of information, besides the site itself, and its Facebook and Twitter pages. It seems that many of the interesting beery things I do neither end up in the Brewing Nordic articles nor in social media.
Therefore, I am now committed to write this kind of short news once a month. You can sign up at Brewing Nordic site to receive the news to your inbox, or read them from the News section of this site. I will announce the news also on Facebook and Twitter.
In the last four months I have published very little, but I have collected a lot of fine data, which will show up later at this site. In June I toured farmhouse malthouses and breweries of Norway, where I saw five farmhouse maltings in Størdal near Trondheim and I participated a brewing session in Hornindal. The header image of this post is from the tour, making of juniper infusion in Hornindal. Articles about malting in Størdal and a brewing in Hornindal are in the making, but it might take few months to get them published. You see, long Nordic summer days are good for collecting stories, and the inspiration to write about them comes with shorter and colder days of autumn. In the meantime, check this cool video from the Hornindal’s brewing session.
I have been asked for true farmhouse sahti recipes. Well, I have few, but the recipes are reserved for a publication elsewhere. Nevertheless I’m scanning for opportunities to document sahti brewing sessions. I’m for example trying to make a deal with a 90-year old lady who still brews sahti three times a year. She already turned down an offer from the national Finnish television, but hopefully I have better luck. In the meantime, check the article Sahti Recipe and Farmhouse Brewing Tips, a practical gateway for brewing Nordic farmhouse ale.
At the moment the people in Finland are preparing for the midsummer Festival. People are stocking up with food and beer, and prepare to go by the lake and have sauna. This summer solstice is the second most important season for sahti, after winter solstice (Christmas) of course. Most traditional brewers make sahti for the midsummer.
I have a good stock of sahti, but this year I’m not going to spend the solstice by the lake. Instead, we just got a new puppy, and I will start to train her to be a new brewdog of the house.
During Yule I had time to pause and think. I took a glass of sahti and tried to look at Brewing Nordic as an outsider, or a google search engine. I noticed how badly the site was structured and that my core article on farmhouse ales was terribly long. Thus I rethought and restructured the whole site.
The internal page and link structure changed quite a bit, and because of this some old links have been broken. If you have been linking to this site before 10th of January 2017, please update your links. Since the site in the beginning and the readership have been quite small so far, I thought it is best to do fundamental changes now. From now on I try to avoid any broken links.
In the past people used to drink a lot low alcohol beers. These small beers were consumed by pints as part of the daily diet. Fermentation was just a preservation method with hardly any intoxicating effects.
Very little is written about these small beers, perhaps because of their ordinary humdrum nature. However, from the perspective of beer history small beers are extremely interesting. In some areas, such as eastern Finland, domestic small beers have been brewed relatively recently in a very archaic manner, resembling surprisingly the beers of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.
Finnish small beers are no longer made in the most traditional way, but luckily the ethnographers documented fairly well the old brewing methods. My latest story Small Beer Called Kalja is an overview to what I have found from ethnographical texts so far. This is just a first scratch on a very complex surface.
The header photo is taken from my first attempt to brew ancient kalja. I will return to this topic when I have more brewing experiments under my belt.
Last May in Copenhagen in the New Nordic Beer seminar I met Claus Christensen from Munkebo Mikrobryg who had isolated his house yeast from bees. He poured me an ale fermented with the bee yeast and told me how the yeast ended up from a bee to the beer. You can read this cool story here: Beer Yeast from Bees.
This story opens a whole new Modern Brews section in this site, where I will be exploring the present and future of Nordic beer.
The Introduction to the Nordic and Baltic Farmhouse Ales is now complete. The new sections deal with history, what to expect when tasting these ales, where these ales can be sampled, and how they should be stored. The history turned out longer than would be needed for an introduction, but since many readers seem to be interested in archaeology and history, I thought to put my theories to the test.
The next story will concentrate on modern Nordic brews, but later this year I will write about how to brew these farmhouse ales.
The first part of the Introduction to the Nordic and Baltic Farmhouse Ales is now ready. It contains some basic concepts along with geography, ingredients and brewing practices. Within two weeks I will add a second part containing history and some commentary about the taste and availability of these ales. I plan to keep this introduction as simple and short as possible, but this is a really multifaceted topic, spanning a lot in time and space. The introduction is in its own page, and comments directly related to the content would be best placed on that page.
The cover photo of this post shows the folks of Lapin Voima putting up a brewing show at the Turku Medieval Market 2016. The photo was kindly provided by Sami Brodkin.
The Brewing Nordic site in now up and running. The actual brewing content is still absent, but let me introduce the structure of this site.
My background and philosophy of the site is explained in the About section. This News section is just for informing about new content, which will appear in the pages of Farmhouse Ales and Modern Brews (yet to be done) sections.
Since northern European farmhouse ales will be the core content, I will write next an introduction to these ales. I may not make it this week, as I need to gear up for the Finnish National Sahti Competition on Saturday 6th of August. This year the competition is held in Sastamala, Finland about 200 km from my hometown Jyväskylä. I’m traveling there, not only with the sahti I’m entering to the competion, but also with some test batches of farmhouse ales for the fellow brewers and audience to taste. In the meantime, you can watch an amusing video from the last years competition.