2017-01-08 13:24:00 CETA lot has been written on Gotlandsdricka, but the writers generally call it "an ancient beer" or "indigenous beer" and variations on that theme. Nobody seems to have realized that it is of course a farmhouse ale. Farmhouse ale was made all over Sweden until it was replaced by modern commercial beer. Except on Gotland, where the farmers never stopped brewing it. Eventually it came to be seen as something unique to Gotland and part of the Gotland identity, but that's a recent development.
2017-01-01 14:02:00 CETWhile on holiday on Gotland I saw a note on a poster about an open farm and something about malt being made. There was a phone number, so I decided to call. Yes, the voice at the other end said, he made malts, but not the traditional way. His neighbour did, however. Sure, I could come visit, and if his neighbour was home we could see his malt house.
2016-12-27 13:09:00 CETLast summer, the family holiday included a visit to Gotland. I, of course, immediately started plotting to meet a farmhouse brewer. I began by emailing every single source that might lead me to one. This was a slow and uncertain business, but eventually I had a number of leads, all of them pointing to a single person: Anders Mattsson in Hablingbo, on the southern part of the island.
2016-12-18 12:47:00 CETIt's only the last few centuries that metal kettles have become something that most people could afford to own. So how did people brew beer without a metal container to heat water in? One well-known solution was to heat stones in a fire, and then throw them in the liquid to be heated. I've written before about the archaeology of brewing stones, but archaeology can't tell us how people used the stones. So how did people actually brew with hot stones?
2016-12-11 20:01:00 CETI've collected enough evidence now that I'm beginning to get a picture of farmhouse brewing as it was practiced in Norway in the past. However, to understand how people brewed we have to start with the geography, because that determined everything else. The brewing was a tradition descending in unbroken line from the Stone Age to the present. There were lots of changes on the way, and these were transmitted from village to village. When you look at the resulting patterns on a map it's obvious that the geography was tremendously important for what influences went where.
2016-09-28 14:54:00 CETOn the morning of the second day of the Lithuanian brewery tour 2015 we stopped by a small and little-known brewery called A. Grigonio. It's literally just a few hundred meters from Jovaru Alus. As far as I know, it's a farmhouse brewery in the same vein, but I never got to see it. Vidmantas said the owners were not at home, and so a tour wasn't possible.
2016-09-17 12:03:00 CETYesterday I finally got a copy of my new book on Norwegian farmhouse ale. I've written books before, but this one is different. So many emotions, such hopes and dreams, now suddenly materialized as a lump of pulped wood and glue. It's been my baby for a long time, and now it's suddenly going to be flung out to the public.
2016-09-11 13:41:00 CETEventually we ran out of breweries to visit in Pakruojis, and started discussing where to go next. I told Vidmantas I've always wanted to visit Kupiškio, but he didn't want to go there. I explained that the very first Lithuanian beer I had was from them, and it really blew me away. It's what really kicked off my interest in Lithuanian beer. Vidmantas looked at me queerly, then said, "well, let's try," and started the car, heading east. (This is part 7 of the Lithuanian brewery tour 2015.)
2016-09-06 16:30:00 CETThe Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim started doing research and courses on brewer's yeast a little over a year ago. I figured this was good timing, and asked them if they wanted to do research on kveik (Norwegian farmhouse yeast). The answer from professor Per Bruheim was immediate. Yes! They would love to have some Norwegian yeast to work on. So I've been sending them all the yeast I could get my hands on.
2016-08-28 14:12:00 CETAbout a kilometer from Jovaru Alus, in Pakruojis itself, lies another brewery, called Davra. The moment we pull into the brewery yard I see that this is something else entirely. We're looking at a modern brewery building, not a barn, and clearly much larger than the farmhouse breweries we've been visiting. We're met by two men, probably father and son, in modern business suits. These are the owners, ready to take us on a tour of the brewery. (This is part 6 of the Lithuanian brewery tour 2015.)
2016-08-21 14:14:00 CETAs a favour to me Vidmantas had left the most interesting brewery as the last of the day, so that we could spend more time there. We stopped the car in the yard between the brewery/barn and the house, and got out, to be greeted by angry barking from a tiny little dog tied to a doghouse made from a wooden beer keg. Another dog, looking exactly like it, came to peer at us curiously, but didn't bark. Then the brewer herself, Aldona Udriene, came out of the house to greet us. She immediately explained about the dogs. The one chained up was the "angry dog". He doesn't like visitors, but the other dog was the "good dog," which is never rough with anyone. (This is part 5 of the Lithuanian brewery tour 2015.)
2016-07-31 12:01:00 CETFrom Panevežys we drove to Biržai to visit a completely different type of brewery. This was Širvėnos bravoras, one of the two breweries producing the Dundulis brand beers. We got out of the car and poked around, trying to find someone to talk to. Eventually we entered the brewery and found the brewer, Simonas Gutautas, busy measuring out juniper berries for a beer they were brewing. It turned out to be the festival beer for the Mėnuo Juodaragis culture festival. (This is part 4 of the Lithuanian brewery tour 2015.)
2016-06-19 13:21:00 CETThe breweries are pretty close together here in Panevežys. Ten minutes after leaving Piniavos we arrive at the next brewery, Su Puta. And let me at once add that in Lithuanian the name means "with foam." I ask Vidmantas whether he knows what it means in Spanish, and he answers with a sigh that "Yes, I know. Everyone keeps telling me." So I shut up and follow him through the gate. (This is part 3 of the Lithuanian brewery tour 2015.)
2016-06-09 15:11:00 CETVidmantas stops the car outside a nondescript gate bearing a small faded sign with the single word "Alutis." It means beer, but with an affectionate diminutive ending. "Alutis," echoes Vidmantas with a satisfied sigh. I assume he's thinking of his online moniker, "Vidma Alutis." Beyond the gate a fierce growling and barking breaks out. Vidma tells me all Lithuanian farmers kept dogs, to guard against strangers and intruders. (This is part 2 of the Lithuanian brewery tour 2015. Yeah, I'm a year behind. Sorry.)
2016-05-01 18:11:00 CETUntil recently, the city of Kaunas in Lithuania was home to three breweries all named Apynys. The name means "hops," which is probably why it's so common. Now, however, there are only two breweries named Apynys left, a few kilometers apart on the outskirts of the city. I visited them on a guided tour with BeerTourism.lt, in an attempt to learn more about Lithuanian beer so I can improve my guidebook.
2016-03-13 12:03:00 CETThe small town of Aizpute, in western Latvia, is home to SERDE, which calls itself an "interdisciplinary art group." Their focus seems to be mostly art, but they also study traditional culture, including traditional brewing. They've travelled around Latvia finding and interviewing traditional brewers, and then brew recreations of these traditional beers now and then in the summer. So I invited myself along to see what I could learn.
2016-02-14 12:45:00 CETIn older times there were a whole host of detailed social customs around the drinking of beer, but the only one I'm aware of that has survived into the present day is oppskåka. Oppskåke is a party for friends and neighbours held after primary fermentation, when the beer is transferred from the fermenter to the cask. When Terje invited me to brew with him, he also invited me to stay until oppskåka, since that was only 48 hours after the brewing.
2016-01-03 14:15:00 CETTerje learned to brew from his uncle when he was 16, while helping him on the farm during the summer. While we were waiting for the beer to finish fermenting, we drove off to Hornindal to meet him. His uncle lives in the tiny valley you see in the photo above. It's essentially a small notch in the sheer cliffs along the north side of the lake (Hornindalsvatnet). The only inhabitants there now are Terje's uncle, Rasmus, and another family.
2015-12-26 11:35:00 CETI tried a Hornindal raw ale at a tasting with friends, and was blown away, for two reasons. The first was that the flavour was nearly indescribable. The second was that it was so good! The consensus was that it felt like a step up from the Cantillon we had before it, and the top-notch Belgian we had after it felt like a step back down. So this really was a world class beer, fit to compete with just about anything.
2015-12-01 16:35:00 CETDriving through the pass after Notodden, I could see the landscape changing. The hills had given way to real mountains with snow on their caps. It was the last day of May, and the fresh snow was almost blindingly white in the sunshine. I was leaving flat, prosperous eastern Norway for the mountainous region of Upper Telemark, a part of the country that used to be quite remote.