Saturday October 10th, which happened to be my birthday weekend, 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. But as the brewing is demonstrated at actual farmhouses, and the festival location is more or less central to those, this means traveling to the Norwegian outback to be able to see first-hand what this living history tradition is all about. Then came 2020, and with it the opportunity to go virtual.
Session 1: https://youtu.be/eTDX6fds7EU
Session 2: https://youtu.be/LNIbYj_J2QI
For a whopping 12 hours anyone interested could follow the brewing of three different styles of farmhouse beer at three different farmhouse locations. Lars Marius Garshol, of Larsblog fame, and Amund Polden Arnesen, brewer at Eik & Tid, hosted the slow-TV festival. When brewing activity would be minimal, viewers were treated to several talks of which only one was in Norwegian (thank you!). Mohammed Tawfeeq, from University of Leuven, talked about Traditional beers as a source of new yeast biodiversity, Mika Laitinen demonstrated the brewing of Finnish bread/beer taari and Martin Thibault looked Beyond Kveik at 3 Unexplored Hotspots for Heirloom Brewing Yeasts (all three in session 2). I was very sad to see Jereme Zimmerman was bested by the demons of virtual technology and never got his sound to work. Perhaps we’ll see, and hear!, him next year?
During these 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!
The different brewhouses did share the use of open fire and a copper kettle, as well as the use of locally grown dried hop flowers and fresh juniper sprigs. I spent a wonderful Saturday glued to the TV watching these different brewers chat about beer, while taking copious notes to fine-tune my own open-air medieval brewing demos. Videos of the live festival are released on youtube and to make navigating the two 6-hour YouTube videos a little less confusing, I will annotate each brew, step by step, as they appear in the videos (the times listed can be plus or minus a few seconds). First up is the raw ale by the brewing team at Hornindal.
Stig Seljeset and friends demonstrate the brewing of a traditional Hornindal kornøl. This is a raw ale, meaning the wort is not boiled, and is made with juniper infusion, fairly pale malts, noble hops and kveik. They work outdoors under a large pavilion and brew, of course, in a copper kettle over open fire. Stig uses a stick of juniper as a mash paddle and a stainless-steel saucepan for a scoop. The mash tun and lauter tun are both plastic barrels. The barrels seem smaller than standard US 55-gallon barrels but otherwise look quite similar – I am guessing a volume of about 35-40 gallons. The wort is drained into steel milk cans, and fermented indoors in another plastic barrel. The process is similar to the brewing description by Terje Raftevold in Historical Brewing Techniques (p. 283), as well as the Larsblog post “Brewing raw ale in Hornindal” (https://www.garshol.priv.no/blog/342.html).
12:40 (indicates the minutes:seconds of the video)
Hornindal gets going with a general introduction of the brewhouse and the brewers. The brewers present are Stig Seljeset (owner of keik #22 Stalljen; wearing a blue pullover), Olav Sverre Gausemel (ownder of kveik #18 Gausemel), Lars Andreas Tomasgård (ownder of kveik #21 Tomasgard), Odd Steljeset, brother of Stig and owner of the brewhouse, and Arve Raftevold as well as a number of other local brewers apparently looking to replenish their diminishing store of beer. There is a kettle with a juniper infusion steaming in the background. The festival started at noon local time and the brewers have had some time to start preparations. The juniper used in the infusion is picked fresh, with or without berries, and is not really measured. Stig prefers to harvest juniper tips from the small weedy shrubs, not their nice large ornamental trees. Some of the branches go in the water for the infusion and some go on the sieve bed.
44:30 – 50:07
Half an hour later they are ready for the mashing. The brewers pour some juniper infusion from the kettle to a large, blue plastic barrel, the mash tun, then add some dry crushed malt, followed by more infusion, and more malt. The infusion and the malt are added alternatively, for better dissolving and to prevent clumping, while the whole is vigorously stirred with the mash paddle, a stick of juniper. Stig gauges how much liquid to add by how much resistance the mash gives to the mash paddle. He tests this by standing the stick in the middle and looking at how fast it falls sideways: he’s looking for a slow-motion slide. When he is satisfied, they leave the mash for an hour, at least, before they do anything more. More water is added to the kettle to replace what was used during the mashing. When the mash tun is full they put something over top, an empty bag in this case, “so no birds etcetera would do anything in it, that would be not so good” and weigh it down with some wood.
1:25:51 – 1:36:50
While waiting for the mash to convert, Stig talks about how wooden equipment is hard to store and clean. In the 70’s they started using plastic and recently they started using stainless steel. He shows an old stainless-steel hot-water boiler with a spigot, with its top cut off and three feet welded to the bottom. The top can be flipped over and is used as a slotted filter and will sit on the inside, on top of the juniper sieve.
2:19:34 – 2:42:21
It is time for lautering the mash, or draining the liquid wort from the solid grain bed. For this they use a separate plastic barrel which has a spigot at the bottom, the lauter tun. It is partially filled, then raised off the ground before it gets too heavy. Hornindal uses a wooden tool to create draining space for the spigot, a U-shaped channel riddled with holes (further explained in the larsblog post linked above). This is called the rustesko (lauter tun shoe), and is placed in front of the tap, around which the juniper is tightly packed. It is important the juniper is placed just right so there are no big gaps and the grain does not plug the tap. They use several handfuls of short branches.
The mash is carefully added to the lauter tun so the juniper filter does not slip away. This is easier to do when the barrel is still on the floor and the inside of the barrel easily visible. Before it is too heavy, the lauter tun is lifted onto a stand (another barrel with a board over the top) so the spigot is at a higher level than the wort canisters.
When all the mash is scooped into the lauter tun, they are ready for tapping. One of them uses a juniper branch to sweep the remainder mash grains out of mash tun. They already have more, fresh juniper water ready in the kettle. The first 3 to 5 liters of wort are put back in again so all of the flour that comes out at the beginning is back on the top. They run the wort until it is clear, so the fine particulates that came out of the malt go back in. Now it is time to prepare the hops (Hornindal uses about 150 grams of amarillo), as well as getting ready for the kveik.
The hops are in a bag which hangs in the milk can, right under the spigot so the wort drains out of the lauter tun, through the hops bag, and into the milk cans. They do not have hops in the lauter tun. The brewer would taste the wort and when it gets too strong remove the hop bag, and if not, leave it in the whole time. All the wort is drained very slowly out of the lauter tun into the milk cans. The hot juniper infusion from the kettle is used to sparge. At the beginning of the lautering stage the brewer started a kveik bowl by drawing out some hot wort in a kveik bowl to cool it down. He uses a big glass bowl, no more than half full, as it will be put near the fire to keep warm.
4:20:05 – 4:31:09
Stig placed the kveik bowl near the fire, guided by experience, and moves it closer or further away depending on the temperature. Hornindal shows a beautiful traditional kveik bowl with the text “you are welcome to the beer” around the rim in which the dried kveik flakes are stored. When the kveik wort reaches 29C, they usually look for between 28-32/34C, the kveik flakes are shaken into this wort. A bit cooler does not matter too much right now, but when added to the beer wort it should be 30-32C as then it would start to ferment quicker.
They are tapping into their second milk can as they can still taste the sweetness. The brewer explains: “We don’t measure the sweetness with anything else than we just taste it, that is the traditional way, and that is why we are still doing it. We don’t measure everything with modern technology, we use the way they did hundreds of years ago – so it’s traditional, all the way.” He changed the hop bag from one container to the other, and squeezed it a bit.
Hornindal does not use a standard wort chiller, a coil of copper tubing and garden hose, but something they came up with themselves: a perforated garden-hose collar around the neck of the milk can, which leaks cold water all around the sides of the metal can to cool down the wort. They might do this as a standard copper coil would not fit in the milk can as the opening is relatively small. The first can of wort was about 36-37C when poured into the fermenter (in the garage, this happened off-screen), which is a bit too warm for the kveik. He thinks it is better to start a little too warm, than too cold; the process takes a little while and otherwise it needs to be warmed back up. He opts for cooling down the second milk can a bit to make up for the difference.
About half a dozen brewers are drinking beer in the background, kveikøl from different brewers, but they were all almost empty so they have been patiently waiting for this day for a couple of weeks now!
5:23:36 – 5:36:06
Hornindal is congratulating the kveik, locally called the “mariaue,” as it has “really done a good job, it is all foamy.” The kveik starter is 32C and they are ready to put it all in the “jeel,” here the fermenter. They normally have the fermenter in the basement as it is warmer there, but they found they have no video down there so for the sake of the festival the “jeel” is set up in the garage. The fermenter needed some insulation as otherwise the kveik would not be warm enough.
And then it is time for the Yeast Scream! [5:27:30]
“We have done the brewing, now it is up to the kveik to do the rest of the job. We have to wait 40 to 48 hours and then we will know how it is.”
It is time to clean up the mess, to have dinner, and then a party!
Hornindal leaves the fermenter open while fermenting, sometimes covered with a blanket but not usually. In summer they might use a lid because of bugs, but not usually.
To brew traditional Hornindal kornøl
- open fire
- copper kettle (circa 150 liters)
- plastic barrel mash tun
- plastic barrel lauter tun
- plastic barrel fermenter
- metal milk cans to store & cool wort
- home-made wood filter block
- home-made wort chiller
- 100% lager/pilsner Norwegian malt
- homegrown juniper
- Amarillo hops
- house kveik.
- The brewers start by boiling a juniper infusion in the copper kettle.
- Then add this infusion with the malt, in small amounts, to the mash tun. The mash is stirred very well, covered, and let sit for an hour. The water in the kettle is replenished to heat and be ready for sparging.
- The lauter tun is prepared by placing the wood filter block in front of the spigot and packing it tightly with juniper branches.
- The mash from mash tun is carefully scooped around and on top of the filter block and juniper in lauter tun. Then the lauter tun is lifted onto a platform and the rest of the mash is schooped in, with a scoop, by hand. The first 3-5 liters of drawn wort is added back to the lauter tun, not until the wort runs clear is it collected in the milk cans.
- Some of the first wort is drawn off for the kveik and cooled; at the same time they make a hops bag and hang this in the opening of the milk can, under draining wort.
- When the wort reaches between 28-32C the dried kveik flakes are added. This needs to be done as soon as possible to give the kveik several hours to start proofing.
- The wort is very slowly drained through hops bag into milk can, this takes about 2 hours.
- Start sparging by adding hot juniper water on top of the mash in the lauter tun. This pushes out any remainder wort and rinses the grain bed of any remainder sugars.
- When the wort loses sweetness, they stop sparging and pour wort into an (indoor) insulated fermenter. It will likely need to be cool down, for which they used their home-made wort chiller.
- Pitch kveik – and do not forget to SCREAM!
- Clean-up, dinner & a party.
The introduction of the Brew #1: Hornindal team:
The YouTube screen grabs are used with permission from the festival organizers.