Part 4 in a series covering the brewing of farmhouse ale during the Norsk Kornølfestival 2020.
The whole day on Saturday, October 10th, the brewing world was treated to a special event: the Norsk Kornølfestival 2020. First happening in 2016, the festival quickly grew a fine reputation for the place to be for anyone interested in farmhouse brewing and the phenomenon of raw ales. In 2020, instead of canceling, the festival went virtual and for a whopping 12 hours anyone interested could follow the brewing of three different styles of farmhouse beer at three different farmhouse locations online.
During the 12 hours, three farmhouse ales were brewed using three slightly different processes. Hornindal brewed a raw ale, Stjørdal a 1-hour boil ale, and Voss brewed a 4-hour boil ale. Each group of brewers did things in a slightly different way: as they said themselves, where you have 50 brewers, you will find 50 different methods, and each brewer thinks their beer is the best! I spent a wonderful Saturday glued to the TV watching these different brewers chat about beer, while taking copious notes. The videos of the live festival are by now released on YouTube and to make navigating the two 6-hour sessions a little less overwhelming, I have annotate each process, step by step, as they appear in the videos (the times listed can be plus or minus a couple of seconds).
Part 4: cold-smoking malt by the brewing team at Stjørdal.
Brew #2 is orchestrated by Roar Sandodden, who brews a stjørdalsøl on his farm Alstadberg, Stjørdal in central Norway. He is assisted by Jørn Anderssen (brewmaster and maltster at Klostergården bryggeri), local farmhouse brewer and maltster Håvard Beitland and local farmhouse brewer and maltster and winner of the 2017 brewing championship Jørund Geving. What sets stjørdalsøl apart is that the locals make their own malt which is massively smoked with alder wood.
Link to my blog post which describes how “Roar Sandodden and friends brew a stjørdalsøl as part of the Norsk Kornølfestival 2020”
Because malting is such an important part of the brewing of stjørdalsøl, Roar Sandodden (sporting a baseball cap) and Håvard Beitland (wearing a white sweater) demonstrate the drying of a batch of malt in Roar’s malt kiln at the same time as the brewing demonstration. Roar concedes they do this for the festival: this is not what he normally would do, as both the malting and the brewing are large jobs better tackled without other distractions.
30:22 – 38:51
The malt house, called the såinnhus, is traditionally built a little way away from the rest of the houses as they would occasionally burn down. Historically, the grain would be put in bags in a creek for steeping but Roar does not have a creek close by on his farm so he uses plastic drums. He runs hoses from the drums through the malthouse wall to exchange the water easily; this allows the grain to breath during the steeping.
On the left side of the såinnhus Roar built a foldable germination frame. He can germinate about 200 kilos per batch using this. The grain will sit on the germination frame for about 5 days, depending on the temperature of the surroundings. Because germination produces a lot of heat, the grain is turned four times a day to get an even temperature throughout the germination bed resulting in even germination throughout the malt. Roar moves the grain malt from the germination bed to the malt kiln, the såinn, by hand. Below the grain, the såinn has a wooden floor punctured with many holes: “13,000 holes, actually,” Roar says, “I remember because I drilled them. Took a lot of time.”
The malt will be dried for about 20 hours, and it will be turned only once. Håvard chimes in and says that it is very important to hit the right moment of the malting process. The sprouting process should be stopped at just the right time, when there are the most sugars in the malt but the grain has not started to use the sugars for itself yet. Roar further mentions that when the kilning is finished the rootlets and “some other stuff” from the malt, which should not go in the beer, needs to be removed. For that they use another locally-made machine, which looks like a large tumbler.
Roar shares there are about 40 malthouses in his county, and that at least 38 of them are operational. He goes on to say, “As I hear, more people are planning to build new ones, actually. This tradition is in no danger of disappearing. We make some jokes about newer, modern brewers because some feel that it can be a threat to our traditional methods. I don’t think so. These methods will survive, and if people want to brew on kitchen apparatus or that is the only way they can brew, that is fine with me.”
Even though Roar’s kilnhouse is sturdily built, it is not necessary to house the kiln in a modern house: it can actually be an advantage to use an older construction as there would be more air flow. Most malthouses are not as ornamental as Roar’s either – the front pillars are carved and look amazing – or built out of logs; most are more like shacks with a kiln inside, he says.
The name of the fireplace is a woman’s name (I think meaning wife) – a very important name, for an important part of the malting kiln. By now, it is smokey and moist in the malthouse as the fire is started and smoke and moisture is being driving through and off the malt. They malt year-round, in the summer it is nice to sit outside but in winter inside is better. Sitting down, the smoke is not too bad. “Actually, this is nice work, you can sit here for twenty hours, don’t do anything, just watch the kiln” interjected with “And you have to have a beer!” “You have to have a beer, of course!” “Are we having a beer now?!” Roar, grinning, “We’ll soon have beers…”
The Stjørdal maltsters use only one type of wood for their kiln: they prefer dried grey alder wood. They do have to be careful with the open fire as the bottom of the malting kiln is also wood. If the fire is too large, escapes the fire box, it can easily burn the malthouse down.
2:10:29 – 2:19:19
There is quite a lot of moisture leaving the malt. In the first couple of hours it is mostly moisture that is being driven off by the kiln heat, not so much smoke. Roar indicates the temperature under the wooden planks of the floor is quite high, but there are still many, many hours left to go. There is a large chimney vent right above the kiln bed venting the moisture and smoke to the outside.
Lars Marius Garshol asks: “Does anyone sprout grain on the floor in Norway?” The maltsters agree that that is quite common. The use of the wooden frame for malting is not so much because it is colder in Norway; in the old days there were no dedicated buildings for malting, they’d use the same place as they stored the equipment. What they did not have were concrete floors to germinate on. If you go back far enough, the buildings had dirt floors and as Roar says, one cannot germinate on dirt floors. Wooden frames would be used instead, which also made it easier to control the heat and contain the grain bed better. Plus, floor germination only works in summer as the ground would be too cold the rest of the year.
“In Stjørdal it is common to call the fire department before we start. There have been some examples that people are drying their malts and neighbors see that, and it looks like the house is on fire. So, the fire department was having some calls regarding this, and the fire department chief made a written letter he stuck up in [posted on] the såinnhus that stated “call me if you are going to make some malt here!” [chuckle]
Lars Marius mentions an old brewing video from the seventies. (This video is also mentioned in “Brewing in Hardanger” https://www.garshol.priv.no/blog/392.html and can be found here. https://tv.nrk.no/program/FOLA00000273/-drik-venner-kjaere-mitt-oel-velunt-skal-vaere-drikk-venner-kjaere# Unfortunately, the link does not work at the moment but perhaps it will again someday in the future.)
In this video, the malt is put into sacks which are put into a stream for soaking, except when they took the sacks out of the stream, they left the malt in the sacks. Lars Marius describes how one could see how it germinated in the sacks, and that the rootlets were even coming through the sack fabric. Then they spread the sprouted grains on stones in the sauna, where it would be dried, which worked perfectly as they could control the temperature. Håvard wonders if the sprouting is done in the sacks if it would be difficult to keep an even temperature, to keep the same temperature in the middle of the sack as at the outsides. Modern maltsters know to keep the temperatures even throughout the grain bed as otherwise some malt would not have converted completely yet, and some malt would already have started to consume their own sugars.
Lars Marius notes that the modern quest for even temperature is interesting as he found that in some places the maltsters did not stir the malt during germination at all. “In fact, in Ol, the rule was that it should all stick together, and then, at the end, you should be able to lift it up, and it should all stick together, and you should be able to put it on your back, like a back pack, and carry it. Which is really weird, as it would not have an even temperature!” The maltsters muse that could be due to lack of knowledge: it was done as tradition had taught. Back then, they might not have known even malting was a good thing, or perhaps, it added something we don’t realize.” Håvard: “They had several hundreds of years of brewing tradition before them, so it must have functioned for them, in some way. I guess otherwise they would not have kept doing it.”
1:31:51 – 1:44:44
It is dark outside; dinner is finished and the brewers go to the såinnhus to check the malting process. The kiln is getting increasingly hotter and most of the moisture is gone from the malt. Roar explains that he usually does ten hours of kilning and then goes to bed. The kiln will keep drying whether or not the fire is going as the stones of the kiln structure are hot, act like a heat sink, and this heat will keep drying the malt during the night. This means he can go to bed safely, with the fire out, and when he gets back up in the morning it is time to stoke the fire, turn the bed, and get ready for another 10 hours of drying. The actual drying time depends on the weather, the humidity, and how much grain is on the frame – sometimes it is done at 17 hours and sometimes it takes up to 21 hours.
Jørund the Viking makes an appearance: “It’s fascinating to see, this is the way that we, the Vikings, have been making the malt for thousands of years. And nothing, nothing has changed during these years. Maybe the kiln changed a bit, we have new [modern] bricks, but the stone walls have been there, and the kiln is the same, and the way of producing excellent malt, smoked malt, is the same. And this is the only place I know of in the world that we are still making the malt like this, twenty thousand kilos each year, and five hundred brewers are making very, very good beer and a famous malt. So, I hope this is a tradition that will last for many, many decades and I am sure it will.” Then he cheers with his beer horn, and several of the brewers start munching the smoking malt.
After discussing the use of juniper, and if alpine juniper is any better than ordinary wild juniper, Roar steps up to the malt and explains a bit about the temperature control of the malt kiln. When he built the såinnhus he used probes to measure the temperature on different parts of the floor. He found it is pretty even, and he also learnt that it is easier to just feel by scooting his hand under the grain bed to feel the wood floor. He touches his fingers to the wooden boards that sit directly over the kiln’s fire box, and as long as he can keep his fingers there without getting burned it is OK. When it starts to get uncomfortable, he has to ease down a little on the fire. “That, combined with some experience, is enough.” Håvard shares that “after a while, when you are sitting here, you can hear some cracks; the malt is talking to you! It’s like that, it is completely quiet, so you can sit here and talk to the malt, and when the malt says ‘now you’re a bit hot’ then you have to slow down a little bit.”
Roar explains in a bit more detail how the såinn is designed: the inside basically is an empty rectangle lined with brick walls. The fire box is a steel frame, some use stones, with holes or slits along the sides. The top of the fire box has steel plates and stones, which spread out the heat and protect the wooden floor. In this way the direct heat from the fire does not go straight up to the wooden frame. It also deflects some of the heat and air to the edges of the box so the kiln is (more) evenly heated. Roar says, “The essential thing is to get air going through. Therefore, I chop the wood fairly small, so you get a nice big flame here, and you get air sucked through and up through the malt and out.” He goes on to say that this is different in other communities; some use bigger wood to create more smoke, some deliberately use wood that is not completely dry, to get the wood to simmer and produce more smoke, to get a more smokey character on the finished malt. Roar, like other maltsters from his region, prefer a lighter malt.
Håvard demonstrates most of the moisture of the malt has been driven off and that the malt is getting sticky: this is the sugars. Only a couple more hours and then it is time to turn the malt. He does not think turning it too soon or too often is effective: if the malt is turned before all the moisture is driven off it is just pushed back into the malt, and then it takes even longer to dry the malt through and through. Roar: “But we like that, don’t we?! [they all laugh] Maybe we should start turning it more often!”
5:11:31 – 5:17:36
It after midnight local time; the maltsters fired up one last time before going to bed. Roar is ready to turn the malt, but before doing so explains that there are many ways to do so: “Some maltsters turn it every second hour, some maltsters never turn it, but I turn it once during the kilning process.” He uses a coal shovel to pick up the malt, in portions, on a grid, and then turning that portion upside down to move on to the portion next to it. The turning exposes any raw malt sitting on top to the heat of the fire below, and in this way the malt should get more caramelization and more color. Jørn (brewer with hop-beard on his t-shirt) joins in: “One of the nice things, I think, of såinnhus malt is that every time gives a special flavor with only the [average] home-made malt, you get a special grist mix because you have the wooden boards with a lot of holes in them. The malt just above the holes gets caramelization, some are even roasted, and then the bulk of the malt is pretty light. You get a real nice mix of caramel malt, and light roasted malt, and that is different from såinn to såinn, so that is a nice part of the process.” The malt is still quite sticky on top, and by turning the malt the moisture goes underneath, to then dry off through the malt and create some more caramelization.
Lars Marius wonders about the color of the malt and is shown a nice close up of the different shades. He then asks if the malting is pretty consistent, brews fairly similar beer from brew to brew, and Roar agrees with that. He thinks his homemade malt makes a quite complex grist. Roar makes malt about ten times a year and he has gotten a pretty good feeling for the process. He does not measure temperature anymore and adjusts along the way. He now is experienced on how it should be; he can adjust for differences in the malt, the germinating temperatures and also the weather.
After turning the malt, Roar takes a broom and, with it upside down, sweeps the little mounts of turned malt flat again.
Roar prefers 2-row over 6-row barley, because the kernels on the 6-row tend to be very small, with less body to turn into sugar. He thinks that is why 2-row is by far the more popular grain for farmhouse brewing.
Roar shared a short video on his brewery Facebook page Alstadberg tradisjonsbryggeri (October 11 at 4:23 PM) to share how the malt turned out after the festival ended at:
“Akkurat ferdig med å rense maltet som vi meltet under https://www.norskkornolfestival.no i går.” [Just finished deculming the malt we made during yesterday’s festival.]
And if you would like to read more about Roar’s malting and brewing, check out Lars Marius Garshol Larsblog posts “Alstadberger” (https://www.garshol.priv.no/blog/298.html)
and “Stjørdalsøl — the tasting” (https://www.garshol.priv.no/blog/369.html)