Roar Sandodden and friends brew a stjørdalsøl as part of the Norsk Kornølfestival 2020

This is part 2 in a series covering the brewing of farmhouse ale during the Norsk Kornølfestival 2020. The YouTube video of session 1 can be accessed here.

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.

 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: 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. I was rather disappointed to find Jereme Zimmerman was bested by the demons of virtual technology and never got his sound to work. Perhaps we’ll see, and hear!, Jereme next year?

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 to fine-tune my own open-air medieval brewing demos. The videos of the live festival are by now released on YouTube and to make navigating the two 6-hour videos a little less overwhelming, 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). And second up is the stjørdalsøl by the brewing team at Stjørdal.

Brew #2: stjørdalsøl

The second brew 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. Because malting is such an important part of the brewing of stjørdalsøl, the brewers demonstrate the drying of a batch of malt in Roar’s malt kiln at the same time as the brewing. Roar concedes this is for the festival, and not what he normally would do, as both malting and brewing are large jobs better tackled without other distractions. (The malting process will be a separate blog post)

The stjørdalsøl brewed by Roar and his team is similar to the stjørdalsøl brewed by Jørund Geving, which can be found in Historical Brewing Techniques (p. 300-301). Lars Marius talks about Roar’s malting and brewing in his Larsblog post “Alstadberger” (https://www.garshol.priv.no/blog/298.html). In here, Roar mentions that since the juniper taste is secondary to the taste of the malt, he does not use it anymore when he brews for himself. Roar also boils the wort for an hour where Jørund does not; he prefers to brew a raw ale.

Smoking the malt in Roar’s “firehouse.”

6:18 – 11:57 (indicates the minutes:seconds of the video)

The Stjørdal team is the first team we meet in the live festival feed. There is a traditional kveik ring hanging indoors, setting the stage nicely. The brewing takes place in an old 1820’s log farmhouse converted into a brewhouse and party room; I am guessing the Scandinavian version of a man cave. Roar started brewing when he was 18 – his son makes an appearance later on – and he grew up in Stjørdal where the farmhouse tradition is very much alive, with many active brewers brewing in the traditional way with traditional methods. He is quick to point out that what makes this region so unique is that the brewers make their own sterile smoked malt from local grains.

For this brew Roar uses 100% smoked malt from local grains, malted and smoked by him in the building next door. The copper kettle is heated on the wood stove, and they have started mashing in. The temperature is already at 50C, and they mashed in with water, not infusion – the juniper goes into the mash tun only. The mash tun is a very large plastic bucket with a rubber mat strapped around the sides to help insulate it. The temperature of the mash will slowly be raised by draining out wort to be heated in the kettle, to then be returned back into the mash tun with a large plastic scoop – they recirculate the wort from tun to kettle to tun until they get the temperatures right both on top and at the bottom of the mash tun. When the wort is heated in the copper kettle it partially caramelizes which adds to the flavor. These are old traditions; they might not have realized that back then. This re-circulation is a combination of decoction and step mashing: for about two hours the brewers draw out from the bottom to add back to the top to help equalize the temperatures from top to bottom (decoction), as well as heating the wort from the mash tun into the copper kettle in steps before adding it back in (step-mashing).

The area still brews for parties and weddings, but not for funerals anymore although that was part of the tradition a long time ago.

Jorn measures the temperature of wort in the kettle, Jorund stirs the insulated mash tun, with the mash scoop hanging off its side.

1:01:37 – 1:25:27

The wort in the kettle reached about 78C. It is put back in with the mash and stirred well with a mash paddle. When it reaches about 65C in the mash tun, the wort is drained and put back into the kettle again. In this way, the temperatures are slowly stepped up to about 72-73C, but never higher than 73C. They keep the mash at that temperature for about 2 to 3 hours, and then they will drain off all the wort and boil it.

The wort is tasted and deemed sweet and good, and about three handfuls of hop flowers (circa 35 grams) are added straight to the mash in the mash tun. The brew is not about the hops, the brewers agree, but about the malt. Jørund (wears a black T-shirt featuring a yeast ring) only uses a thermometer to brew; the other brewer, Jørn (wearing a black T-shirt featuring “Hop-Beard”) runs a professional brewery which brews traditional inspired beers.

Jørund talks about the region, and mentions there are 500 to 600 brewers in the valley. They brew on average 50-60 liters up to 100 to 150 liters in a year. He says “it is the biggest community in the world still making their malt like the Vikings did, a thousand years ago. And that is quite fascinating to think about. That nothing else changed in all those years. The sauna is approximately the same, the method is approximately the same. They are using barley; it is quite like what the Vikings did.”

2:01:21 – 2:10:10

By now the top of the mash is at the desired temperatures of about 65-66C. The wort is drained – called lautering; Sjørdal uses a combined mash and lauter tun – and it will be boiled in the copper kettle for one hour. I did not notice that the brewers sparged the grain bed (the adding of extra hot water on top to help rinse out leftover wort) but as they are quite concerned about brewing high alcohol beer this would make sense as the sparge would dilute the main wort and thus lower the amount of sugar in solution. The brewers in this region add extra sugar to the wort during the boil to raise the alcohol by volume even more. Roar adds brown sugar and mentions that some use white sugar, some use syrup. Some add nothing, and some use more malt. The intention is to brew to a high level of alcohol as the higher the alcohol, the better the beer, and the higher standing the brewer: “it is the tradition.”

They do brew different beers for different seasons: summer beer would be light, and Christmas beer would be strong. Roar wonders if the adding of sugar might have started with oat malt brewing, as oats does not convert sugars as well as barley and the wort would thus be weaker. By adding extra sugar, the brewer could raise the level of alcohol and still brew an inebriating manly beer, plus, this technique of fortification would also work when malt was scarce.

The next generation of brewers helps to scoop the boiled wort into the fermenting vat.

4:12:04 – 4:20:20

The wort has been boiled for one hour, and is transferred with the hand scoop and a bucket to the stainless-steel fermentation vessel to cool. The transfer by hand is manual labor but doing it this way also aerates the wort. In this segment, Roar has his tween son helping out with moving the wort – teaching his brewing knowledge to the next generation of brewers. Roar adds one fistful of hops to the wort for aroma; local hops grown by the brew house wall. The juniper in the mash tun only contributed some bitterness. The hop traditions and the way brewers use juniper varies a lot in the region, some use a lot, some use nothing, and it also varies when what is added. Roar says “the soul of the beer in this area is definitely the malt, this beer is pretty much all about the malt, juniper and hops don’t play a major role in this beer.”

One of the brewers added the copper-coil wort chiller to the fermenter and started cooling down the wort. He mentions that the one-hour boil caramelizes some of the sugars in the copper kettle; that this flavor is not affected by the yeast and lasts through the fermentation process. They use Sigmund Jarnes kveik and like the combination of the fairly sweet malty beer with the fruitiness of the kveik.

They cool the wort down to 39C. The wort chiller is moved up and down the wort to help cool the wort even quicker, to get the yeast in as fast as possible. Roar recounts that some brewers let the beer ferment quite long, but as most of the sugar is gone in a couple of days, they do not see the need to do so. They let the beer sit for 1 week in the fermenter before it is bottled, kegged or barreled. They could use wooden kegs or barrels in summer, and have used plastic bottles, but now mostly use modern kegs.

Screaming at the kveik.

4:31:09 – 4:55:05

The wort is cooled down to 39C. They made the starter a couple of hours ago with some wort cooled down to 29C (this seems to have happened off-screen).

Then there is the “most important part of brewing”: the Yeast Scream! (at 4:31:40)

To quote Roar: “many dark forces wanting to destroy our beer, the people that dwells below. So, we don’t dare to… don’t do it. Ready? SCREAM!!!… and skøl!”

The stainless-steel lid goes on top of the stainless-steel fermenter and is clamped in place, and the rest is up to the kveik. Like in Hornindal, the brewers retreat to the dinner table for a well-deserved hot meal and a cold beer.

Sodd: a traditional Norwegian soup-like meal with whole potatoes, carrots and beef & mutton meat balls.

The stjørdalsøl process is quite interesting, and I can see how the beer Roar brews does so well in competition. Not only does he smoke his own amazing malt, the combined decoction and step-mashing creates opportunity for even more malty flavors. And makes much sense when having limited brewing equipment (one kettle, one tun – and the mash tun could be cleaned during the boil to be reused as the fermenter).

The consistent use of copper kettles had me look a little deeper in the benefits of using copper – with the challenges of keeping copper clean and the ease of stainless steel, why are farmhouse brewers still using copper? They switched from using wood to plastic and stainless-steel tuns and barrels, so why not stainless-steel brew pots? I found that not only does copper have superior thermal distribution, it gets hot quickly and evenly; it increases the rate of Maillard reactions, a non-enzymic browning that adds color and flavor; plus it releases trace nutrients for the yeast to digest. And that does sound worth the trouble of keeping the brew pot nice and shiny for the next batch.

To brew stjørdalsøl

Equipment:

  • Cast-iron stove fired with wood
  • Copper kettle
  • Plastic bucket mash tun, wrapped with insulation
  • Plastic hand scoop
  • Thermometer
  • Wooden mash paddle (commercial)
  • Stainless-steel fermenter
  • Wort chiller

Ingredients:

  • 100% Homemade cold-smoked barley malt
  • Brown sugar
  • Juniper, homegrown
  • Hops, homegrown

Process:

  • It is possible the Stjørdal brewers cold-soaked the mash the night before, as described in Jørund Geving recipe, described in Historical Brewing Techniques on pages 300-301. By the time the festival started, the brewers had already started mashing in.
  • If that is the case, then the mash would have to be heated up from below 10C without the aid of heating the mash water beforehand to help raise the mash temperatures that way. This cold-start would explain the combined use of decoction and step-mashing to efficiently raise mash temperatures (and it is also quite reminiscent of using hot rocks).
  • The temperature of the mash is slowly raised by draining off the wort, heating it in the copper kettle to about 78C (thereby slightly caramelizing the sugars) and adding it back to the mash. This step is repeated until the mash reaches circa 72-73C.
  • When the mash is at about 72C but never higher than 73C, three handfuls of hop flowers are added to the mash tun, and the mash is left alone for 2 to 3 hours. Some of the wort is kept separate, cooled to 29C and used to proof the kveik.
  • After the rest, the wort is drained off and boiled in the copper kettle for one hour. Depending on the sweetness, extra sugar is added, in this case brown sugar.
  • After the one-hour boil, the wort is scooped into the fermenting vat (thus aerating the wort) and quickly cooled to 39C using a wort chiller.
  • Another handful of hop flowers is added to the fermenter, this time for aroma.
  • The kveik starter is added to the fermenter, and welcomed with a loud SCREAM!
  • Which is followed by dinner, and a party.

The introduction of Brew #2: Stjørdal on the festival website:

The YouTube screen grabs are used with permission from the festival organizers.

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