hist-brewing: Norwegian juniper beers

Anders Christensen anders at geekhouse.no
Sat Apr 14 03:56:49 PDT 2007


As a fairly new member on this list, it is great to see some activity
here. There will be no other traffic than what we make ourselves. So, I
thought I'd follow up on the American spruce beers with some information
on a similar, traditional beer from Norway, using not spruce, but
juniper. 

As has been pointed out already, spruce and juniper twigs are excellent
as a filtering bottom layer in the mash-tun. There was widespread use of
juniper for this in Norway, as documented by Odd Nordland in "Brewing
and Beer Traditions in Norway" (Universitetsforlaget, Oslo 1969). He
also documented the widespread use of spruce twigs, straw, and hair for
filtering. 

I believe it must have started with filtering. Obviously, the juniper is
exposed to hot water during the mashing, and this gives aroma to the
beer. Later, I suppose people wanted to keep the juniper taste, even
after better filtering technology was available. The solution was either
to keep the juniper in the mash-tun - but not explicitly as a filter -
or more common, to first produce juniper-flavored water (called
"einerlóg" or "einelaug"), and use it for brewing. 

There are currently two commercial producers of this beer in Norway (is
it ok to list brewery and beer names on this list?). Both are small
craft brewers, and their commercial brewing operations are fairly new.
They mostly work within the traditional style of farm brewing.

Although this style has slowly been dying for the last century, there
are still parts of Norway where its brewing has been continually upheld
from the "dawn of time". But for those who would like to make a copy of
a viking-beer, I'm afraid I must disappoint you. Only in our modern age
has the lack of change become a value in itself, maybe because so many
things constantly change. To experiment and adapt is itself part of the
tradition, so the traditional brewing of today is not an exact copy of
the methods and recipes of the old times - but it _does_ give vital
clues for the reconstruction of old brewing. Nordland's book is a
treasure trove of such information.

(Another surviving traditional beer is stjørdalsøl from the valley of
Stjørdalen, stretching from the Trondheim fjord eastwards to the Swedish
border. They brew a beer heavily smoked with gray alder, which grows in
abundance along the river running through the valley. What is
particularly interesting about this area, is that they malt themselves,
to get the right smokiness. They still maintain communal malting and
smoking houses, shared by typically a half a dozen of farms. Sharing
these "såinnhus", as they are called, is not only a necessary for
optimal resource usage, but the malting itself is communal, with each
"partner farm" taking their turn (no pun intended) when the malt is
dried over the fire for days. The malt is then usually divided up, and
each farm brews for itself. It is drunk fresh, flat, and foggy. The
color is usually dark-ish to light coca cola-colored, and the foremost
feature is a strong smokiness, sometimes combined with creosote - though
it comes in different degrees of extremeness. People who do not like it
(and it by any standard an acquired taste), sometimes compare it to
"liquid railway sleepers". That is of course insulting, but in extreme
cases also understandable. It reminds me of the Rauchbier style from
Bamberg in Germany - although they use beech rather than alder. ...
sorry for straying off from the subject of beers flavored with juniper,
I'll come back to stjørdalsøl if anybody is interested.) 

Note that as far as I know, the juniper berries are _not_ commonly used
for brewing in Norway (although I know of one commercially available
Danish revived beer type that uses juniper berries for flavor). In
stead, only the green twigs of juniper is used, preferably the young
tips. 

I must admit that I haven't tasted very many different types of this
juniper beer style, but it is my general impression that the juniper
taste should not be overdone. It must be noticeable and identifiable,
but balanced. It gives a freshness to the beer, and the flavor of resin,
but not to any extreme. In the weakest of these beers, it might even go
unnoticed by a unsuspecting person already slightly inebriated by more
flavor-rich beers. 

Regards, 
-anders
-- 
Anders Christensen  <anders at geekhouse.no>
=======================================
  || Time flies like an arrow,                               +47-918-97-181
  || Fruit flies like a banana.                 http://anders.geekhouse.no/




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