Reconstructing the substance gruit: an experiment

As part of the Experimental Archaeology Conference EAC12 hosted by EXARC this spring, I ran a handful of gruit experiments. Many gruit-beer experiments concern themselves with flavor and herbal components. They do not consider how or why the gruit substance may contribute to a longer shelf life, nor the reason its reputation as an essential element in brewing persisted for centuries even after hops came into common use. The consistent occurrence of grain in the surviving medieval tax records indicates that the grain aspect of the malt could be considerably more important than previously thought.

My experiments examine how the gruit substance affects fermentation and alcohol content, and therefore shelf life, leading to greater economic possibilities. In this blog post I will show you behind the scenes, so to speak, and share with you a bit more context and explanation than I was able to squeeze into my 5-minute video poster presentation. The experiments do not discuss gruit in the modern obsession of brewing with whatever herb one can get their hands on; to capture the essence of terroir, preferably in defiance of the hops establishment. While being much fun in its own right, it is not a very historic practice. My interest is in the medieval product itself: the substance of gruit and its herbal additives, and how this relates to the increased economics of the produced beer.

Contrary to what many modern publications would like us to believe, the historical sources are quite persistent that gruit is something more than just a collection of regionally unique herbs. A closer look at the etymology of the word gruit indicates an intimate connection with malt, in the form of coarsely ground grain. Even with variable medieval spelling, the different variants of the word are consistent with each other, and mean either the substance gruit, the beer brewed with it, coarsely ground grain, and the porridge made with such. Several Latin deeds use the words frumentum and polenta to describe the substance gruit, both words indicating a grain product. (Doorman 1955, 72; Ebbing 1994, 26-27; Kieft 1964, 165; Verberg 2018, 69)

If Low Country gruit indeed consisted of a concentrated malt porridge fortified with preserving botanicals and possibly yeast-rich chaff, then this would also explain several other Latin terms associated with the gruit product. When concentrated malt is added to the wort at the time of pitching, the boost of fermentable sugars would significantly enhance yeast fermentation. This would result in visible fermentation signs, giving the impression the gruit caused the “ferment” to happen. This effect resulted in the term levarentur for gruit, which is the Latin for leaven, or rising, and is also used for leavened or risen bread. As the concentrated paste caramelizes during the cooking down, adding this concentrate could darken the color of the wort as well, as suggested with the term pigmentum. The increase in fermentable sugars would raise the alcohol by volume, which combined with the preserving herbs and postponed spoilage just long enough for local commerce to be possible.

Two of the term definitions — gruit from the Low Countries, and grout from the British Isles — are connected to brewing. In the case of Low Country gruit, its connection with herbal ingredients is undisputed, while its connection with malted grain is questioned. In the case of British grout, a partially fermented cooked malt extract used to strengthen wort, interestingly, its connection with malted grain is undisputed – it is a known yeast-malt concentrate. It is not clear whether herbs played a role in medieval production, but they are not mentioned in early-modern grout descriptions. (Dodoaeus 1644, 813; Karkeek 1877, 196-97; Verberg 2018, 52)

If the substance of gruit indeed consisted of two parts – something produced with malt and heating equipment, and a combination of preservative botanicals – then it would stand to reason the malt portion is comparable to the malt product of British grout. And while there are no medieval recipes or process descriptions for medieval gruit, we are lucky with a couple post-period instructions for a similar product with a shared background.

I had located three publications which shared recipes on how to make grout. (Know of any others? Please share!) The 17th century publication quotes the 16th century source, and all three are about British grout. This is not unexpected, as by the 16th century, although in some areas the taxation is still active, the production and sale of the gruit substance had just about died out without a trace.

The first to publish a recipe for grout is the Dutch botanist Matthias l’Obel, also known as Lobelius, in his herbal Kruydtboeck oft beschrijvinghe van allerleye ghewassen, kruyderen, hesteren ende gheboomten First published in 1551, the edition that is freely available today, and from which I quote, is from 1581.

Graut wordt aldus ghemaeckt. Neemt ses of acht ponden ghemalen Mouts / siende heet water xij. oft xv. pont / de welcke tsaemen gheroert en wel onder een ghemengt zijnde ses mael sdaeghs / en met cleedere en stroo zeer we ghedeckt zijnde soo langhe tsaemen in een schoon vat sal staen weycken tot dat soo dicke wordt als een syroop. Daer nae salt voorts metten viere opghesoden worden / alleneen zeer neerstich roerende op dat niet aen en berne / tot dat soo dicke als pap gheworden is.” Graut is made thus. Take six or eight pounds of ground malt / seething hot water 12 to 15 pounds / the which is stirred together and is well mixed six times a day / and with cloths and straw well covered, shall soak so long in a barrel until it becomes thick as syrup. After that shall it quickly be heated with fire/ only stir very well as that it does not burn / until it is as thick as porridge.

L’Obel 1581

This recipe is reiterated by another Dutch herbalist, Rembert Dodoens (latinized as Rembertus Dodonaeus) in his herbal Herbarius oft Cruydt-Boeck. The 1554 edition titled the Cruijdeboeckonly lists botanical detail, which in the 1644 edition is updated and expanded upon to include product history as well as the occasional practical recipes.

Graut of Naerbier wordt aldus ghemaeckt / seyde Lobel: Neemt sex of acht ponden gemalen Mouts / twaelf oft vijftien ponded siedende heet water: Roert dit tsamen wel onder een / zes mael daegs: Decket seer well met cleederen ende stroo: ende laetet tsamen soo lange in een schoon vat staen weycken tot dattet soo dick wort als eenen Stroop. Daer nae suldij dat voorts metten viere opsieden / alleen seer naerstich roerende / op dat niet aen een berne / to dattet soo dick als pap geworden is.” Graut or Naerbier is made thus / said Lobel: Take six or eight pounds of ground malt / twelve or fifteen pounds seething hot water: Mix this together well / six times a day: Cover it very well with cloths and straw: and let it soak together for so long in a clean barrel that is becomes as thick as a syrup. After that cook it up again with fire / only stir very well / as that it does not burn / until it becomes as thick as porridge.

Dodonaeus 1644, page 813

A much later version, associated with the infamous White Ale, is published by Samuel Gray in The Operative Chemist (1828):

“Pale ale wort 25 gall, hops 2 handfuls, yeast 3lb, grouts 6 or 8lb. When the fermentation is at its height, bottle in strong stone half pints, well corked and wired; it effervesces when opened. The grouts here mentioned are made by infusing 6 or 8lb of malt in a gallon and a half of water, covering it warm by the fire side, stirring it often: when in full fermentation it is to be boiled down to a thick paste.”

Gray 1828

The etymology of the British word grout is very similar to that for continental gruit, and points back to the shared Latin term grut. It is entirely possible British grout and Low Country gruit shared common ancestry, but evolved separately. But how likely it would be for the two products, used in a similar way, to deviate so much, so quickly, is debatable. It is more likely the two shared more than their names, their use as additive in brewing, their reputation of a potent ferment – they probably also shared their base ingredient: the grain. Dutch historian Irsigler came to a similar conclusion: “What is certain is that a porridge was prepared from the various basic ingredients, especially from bog myrtle, ground malt, laurel berries and laserwort, which was heated, and then dried again.” (Alberts 2017, 52; Dodoaeus 1644, 813; Ebbing 1994, 29-30; Hornsey 2003, 530; Irsigler 1973, 84; Verberg 2018, 58-59)

With this in mind, I choose to run a small experiment and brew three interpretations of gruit to test several variables:

  • Could the gruit paste and gruit porridge, as instructed by the post-period recipes, adequately emulate the medieval gruit substance descriptions?
  • Does the addition of this gruit paste or porridge significantly change the specific gravity (SG) of the wort and thus the resulting alcohol by volume (ABV)?
  • Does gruit-porridge & syrup wort sour less quickly than the herbed, and/or plain wort?

For this I needed four samples:

  • Sample 1: plain wort
  • Sample 2: wort, plus the herbal & resin additive
  • Sample 3: wort, plus a malt syrup with the herbal & resin additives
  • Sample 4: wort, plus a grain-in malt porridge, with the herbal & resin additives

The wort was made by diluting a can of brewing malt extract to a SG of 1.05 (as advised for the brewing of standard 5% beer) and dividing the resulting wort over 4 one-gallon glass carboys.

I used a bread yeast as the more period-appropriate kveik starter was delayed in activation (our wood heated house might be too cold for its liking).

Producing the gruit substance

Version one:
Taking inspiration from the above-mentioned recipes, in specific the one by Lobelius (1554), I devised the following process for the first trial gruit: the porridge.

Process: Add 8 lbs of ground malt and 1.5 gallon of boiling water to my copper brewing kettle. Cover well, stir often, for a day. The next day, place on wood fired stove and slowly cook down to a thick porridge. Stir well to prevent burning.

Result: This indeed produces a sticky, dry porridge. It caramelizes well but is difficult not to burn at the bottom. It is easy to incorporate the crushed dry herbs and heated resin.

Version two:
As none of the recipes indicate whether the mash would be lautered (the liquid wort is filtered off the spent grains) and the wording is ambiguous (is it a syrup, or a porridge), I opted to make two versions, a grain-in and a filtered extract. The recipe for the porridge version did not generate much liquid, so for the syrup version I slightly tweaked the liquid volume to make sure there would be enough volume to concentrate (as the instructions do not suggest to sparge). The additives added later were adjusted accordingly.

Process: Add 6 lbs of ground malt (contained within a brew-bag) and 15 lbs (nearly 1.5 gallon) boiling water to the copper brewing kettle. Cover well, stir often, for a day. The next day, remove the brew-bag and thereby the grains (in lieu of a lauter tun). Place the kettle and the drained wort on the wood fired stove, and slowly cook this down to the consistency of syrup.

Result: This process produced a beautiful thick caramelized syrup. The evaporation did not require a lot of attention (unlike version one) and anyone with experience making jams and maple syrup will have no trouble recreating this. Be aware that hot syrup is more liquid than syrup at room temperature, without experience one could be tempted to overcook and burn.

The herbal additives

As suggested by the medieval gruithuis purchase accounts, I used the following herbs in the herbal mixture:

  • Bog myrtle; leaves and catkins
  • Laurel berries
  • Caraway (substituted for the unavailable laserwort)
  • Pine resin (colophon)

There are nearly no records available for the specific amounts of these herbs and spices in the gruit mixture. The one post-period recipe for Gruytbier uses very small amounts of herbs, and no malt (it does mention chaff; a gruit grain alternative, and something for another experiment).

“Om Gruyt, ende Gruytbier te maken. Neemt tegen eenen pot een koren bakelaer, ende alsoo veel aipoys, ende wat haveren doppen, ende twee saykens van gagel. Ende maeckt dit bier alleen van gherstenmoute, ende set dit dan met ghiste.” To make gruit and gruit beer. Take against one pot (half a gallon) a laurel berry, and also much resin, and some oat bran, and two seeds of bog myrtle. And make this beer only of barley malt, and set it with yeast.

The gruithuis accounts seem to indicate bog myrtle to be used most, and that laserwort was the most expensive ingredient. Modern science found that 2 grams per liter would inhibit lactobacillus souring (introduced 20 minutes before flame-out). Bog myrtle can have an overpowering flavor. The amount of herbs is adjusted according to the amount of malt used for the base gruit.

Gruit 1 (porridge) adjuncts: 30 grams of bog myrtle (20 gr leaves and 10 gr catkins), 30 gr of laurel berries and 5 gr of caraway seeds; as well as 42.5 gr (1.5 oz) of distilled pine resin. The herbs were crushed using a mortar and pestle.

Gruit 2 (paste) adjuncts: 22.5 gr of bog myrtle (15/7.5), 22.5 gr of laurel berries and 3.75 gr of caraway; 42.5 gr (1.5 oz) of distilled pine resin. The herbs were crushed using a mortar and pestle.

The four fermentation vessels are started as follows:

  • Wort 1 (porridge) includes a half gallon of plain wort, fortified with 9 ounces of gruit porridge.
  • Wort 2 (paste) includes a half gallon of plain wort, fortified with 4.25 ounces of gruit paste.
  • Wort 3 (herbed) was fortified with 3.75 gr of bog myrtle (2.5/1.25), 3.75 gr of laurel berries, and 0.6 gr of caraway seeds; 5 gr (? oz) of distilled pine resin. The herbs were crushed using a mortar and pestle.
  • Wort 4 (plain tester) is not fortified.

The carboys are capped with airlocks filled with star-san which will create bubbles to indicate active fermentation. They are then placed on a heating mat and wrapped with a blanket as the ideal fermentation temperature for bread yeast is 70-80 F (21-27 C).

At regular intervals, the specific gravity (SG) of the wort was tested. The addition of the gruit paste and porridge significantly raised the amounts of sugars in solution, raising the specific gravity and thus the alcohol by volume (ABV). The addition of extra sugars to a grain wort is also found in Farmhouse brewing, and is thought to have originated with the brewing with oats instead of barley. Oats do not saccharify as efficiently as barley and wheat, and to still make a strong beer, the Farmhouse brewers would add extra sugars. Oats are easier to grow, and in much of the Low Countries oats were the norm.

The table below indicates the starting or original gravity of the four different wort samples, as well as the final gravity reading at three weeks. The alcohol by volume is calculated as follows: (FG – OG) x 131.25 = ABV % The readings of the herbed and plain samples are identical, as expected, while the porridge levels are slightly higher than the paste. This is likely due to the spent grains not being sparged, or rinsed.

      Original Gravity               Final Gravity              ABV %
Porridge                      1.068                           1.024               5.775%
Paste                            1.062                           1.026               4.725%
Herbed                        1.052                           1.020               4.2%
Plain                            1.052                           1.020               4.2%

The readings of this proof-of-concept experiment indicates that, yes, adding gruit paste makes for a stronger beer. This supports the theory that the gruit substance positively affects fermentation including alcohol content and thus shelf life, leading to greater economic possibilities.

Question: If the shelf life of the brew is extended, either through raising the ABV % or by adding preservative herbs, can this be tasted in the resulting brew? How fast do the different samples sour?

  • Day 1: Pitched the yeast.
  • Day 6: all samples are effervescent, and sweet.
  • Day 12: The plain sample went sour (badly).
  • Day 16: The herbed sample is going (nicely) sour.
  • Day 20: The two gruit paste/resinated samples are still going strong, but unclear if this is due to the increased ABV or the potent resin.

Question: Can chaff (grain hulls) function as a source of spontaneous fermentation?

My experiment was not able to answer this specific question at this time as the local mill used to source fresh chaff in the past was closed to walk-ins due to the pandemic. But: the significant difference in the ABV % between the porridge (which includes the naturally yeasty chaff) and syrup might indicate there is validity to this: instead of providing active yeast, perhaps the chaff provides yeast nutrients and promotes vigorous fermentation. Happy yeast results in a quicker and potentially higher sugar to alcohol conversion. English grout uses dead yeast for a similar purpose.

Unanticipated Question: Does resin alone have a noticeable preservative effect, does the manner how it is added to the gruit paste matter?

The gruit syrup had a slightly higher amount of resin than the porridge due to oversight (did not account for the 2lbs difference between the two). The syrup brew stopped showing signs of active fermentation (bubbles) within a few days, unlike the other two, and it also tasted much more resiny (an unpleasant, antiseptic, mouth numbing taste). The heated liquid resin was poured into all three samples, but unlike my previous brewing with resin experiences where it was added to room temperature wort, it now was added to hot porridge and syrup as well. Presumably, the resin dissolved much more completely, dispersed much more finely, which significantly enhanced its preservative effect, as well as its unusual flavor. The resin flavor, while initially very sharp, did mellow out over time (now, two months later, it still has not soured and while it does not drink well, it does work great as a cooking beer).

The addition of herbs to plain wort somewhat slowed down the souring process. The addition of grain paste to raise the SG slowed down souring even more, and the use of resin boosts this protection further. Concentrating gruit porridge takes more effort to prevent burning than concentrating into syrup, but unexpectedly, the benefits of a higher OG (no wort lost by removing the spent grains) and possible yeast nutrients could make up for this inconvenience. The addition of resin might be more important in connection to the preservative function of gruit than previously assumed.

Food Drinks for thought…
That the ABV percentage would be higher after adding concentrated malt (gruit paste) was assumed, but the difference is more significant than initially expected. Porridge gruit could be a viable option: syrup seemed to be the obvious choice but the experiment seems to indicate porridge to be more efficient. The difference in application between adding hot resin to cold substrate as opposed to adding hot resin to hot substrate is significant. The unexpected effect seems reminiscent of my wax comb mead experiments, where the hot wax dispersed into the wort but did not re-solidify when cooled, and further investigation is warranted.

Poster presentation at the Experimental Archaeology Conference #EAC12, Wednesday March 31st, Session 12. After the presentations follows a one-hour live session with Questions & Answers. Please Join us.

Overview of Session 12:


  • Alberts, Leen. 2017. Brouwen aan de Eem: Amersfoort, een Stichtse bierstad in de late middeleeuwen. Hilversum: Uitgeverij Verloren.
  • Arnold, John P. 1911. Origin and History of Beer and Brewing. Reprint Edition 2005. Cleveland, Ohio: Beer Books.
  • Dodonaeus, Rembertus (Rembert Doedesz Joenckema). 1644. Herbarius oft Cruydt-Boeck. Leiden: Inde Plantijnsche Druckerije van Francoys van Ravelingen. Plantaardigheden.
  • Doorman, G. 1955. De Middeleeuwse Brouwerij en de Gruit. (The Mediaeval Brewery and the Gruit). Den Haag: Martinus Nijhoff.
  • Ebbing, Hans. 1994. Gruytgeld ende Hoppenbier. Een onderzoek naar de samenstelling van de gruit en de opkomst van de Hollandse bierbrouwerij van circa 1000-1500. Doctoraalscriptie middeleeuwse geschiedenis. Amsterdam: Universiteit van Amsterdam.
  • Gray, Samuel Frederick. 1828.  The Operative Chemist. London: Hurst, Chance, and Co.
  • Hasselt, Gerard van. 1804. Arnhemsche oudheden, Volume 2. Arnhem: J. H. Moeleman Junior.
  • Hornsey, Ian Spencer. 2003. A History of Beer and Brewing. RSC Paperbacks. Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemistry.
  • Irsigler, Franz. 1973. “Hermann von Goch als Kölner Grutpächter.” In Aus Geschichte und Volkskunde von Stadt und Raum Bonn: Festschrift Josef Dietz zum 80. Geburtstag am 8. April 1973, ed. Edith Ennen and Dietrich Höroldt, 79-88. Bonn: Röhrscheid.
  • Karkeek, Paul Q. 1877. “White Ale.” Reports and Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art 9:188-197.
  • Kieft, C. van de. 1964. “Gruit en ban.” Tijdschrift voor de geschiedenis 77: 158-168.
  • Matthias Lobelius (l’Obel). Kruydtboeck oft beschrijvinghe van allerleye ghewassen, kruyderen, hesteren ende gheboomten. Christoffel Plantijn, 1581.
  • Schiller, Karl & Lübben, August. 1876. Mittelniederdeutsches Wörterbuch. Zweiter Band G-L. Bremen: Kühtmann’s Buchhandlung.
  • Runde, Justus F. 1788. Aus führliche Darstellung der gerechten Ansprüche des Grafen zu Bentheim Tecklenburg auf die Herrschaft Bedbur, gegen den Grafen von SalmReiferscheid.
  • Verberg, Susan. 2018. “The Rise and Fall of Gruit.” Brewery History Journal. 174: 46-78. ResearchGate.


All about KVEIK at the Norsk Kornølfestival 2020

This is part 5 in a series covering the brewing of farmhouse ale during the Norsk Kornølfestival 2020.

Session 1:  
Session 2:

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 annotated each process, step by step, as they appear in the videos (the times listed can be plus or minus a few seconds).

This is the final blogpost in the series and I left the best for last: kveik! This part covers the transcripts of the general questions regarding kveik, as well as the yeasty highlights during the brewing of the three farmhouse ales. I will also include a brief intro for the kveik-specific yeast presentations, as well as links to further resources, including the Farmhouse Kveik Registry, and research, historical background and practical techniques by Lars Marius Garshol of Larsblog and Mika Laitinen of Nordic Brewing.

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

Part 5: All about the KVEIK!

During downtime Lars Marius Garshol and Amund Polden Arnesen take questions from the live chat from the general public, including several about kveik.

2:43:20 (session 1) How does kveik react to aging, both barrel aging like Lambic, and bottle aging, or other types of aging like stainless steel, concrete etc?

Amund: “We have a brewery in Oslo that kind of does this so I will answer this question from our perspective. We have a house culture, which is a mix of three Hornindal kveiks at this moment, and we basically use this to make sour beer. The guys in Hornindal? They don’t want to make sour beer. We are basically going against tradition. And the reason why this works is that there are bacteria in some of these kveik cultures especially lactobacillus and we primary ferment to get the fruitiness from the yeast fermentation, and then we age to get the sourness. The longer you wait, especially in an oak barrel, the beer will sour. I have had Hornindal beer which was over a year old, from a bottle, that wasn’t sour. I guess there is a lot of influence on how you brew if the beer turns sour or not. But it is definitely possible to make sour beer with these kveiks, and it is also possible to make un-sour beer. This Lactobacillus seems quite sensitive to hops so we have done some whiskey wash brewing where we do not add hops and we measure the pH and it drops quite quickly, but when we use hops and make a hop tea or mash hop, it takes longer for the beer to go sour. It usually goes not as sour, but it goes sour. This is a complex question and it depends on which kveik you are using. If you are using a Voss kveik for instance, chances are less that it will go sour. But there is a lot of factors here, depending on how you brew, what you age it in, and how lucky you are, I guess.”

2:51:36 (session 1) What do we think about using kveik in mead and cider?

Lars Marius: “Kveik, you saw what Stig in Hornindal was preparing to do: he‘s got the first wort that came out of the mash and he wants to put the yeast in to that to grow. This yeast is really used to having lots of nutrients, when it grows but also when it ferments. Analysis by microbiologists shows that it has really high expectations for how much free amino nitrogen, as it is called, it needs, probably also other things. Experiences with fermenting mead and cider is that sometimes it works fine and there are no problems and other times it almost won’t start at all or it stops before you are finished fermenting. So, if you are going to ferment mead or cider with kveik – which you can do, it works just great – it is a really good idea to add yeast nutrient. And the same goes if your wort is not very strong. In Hornindal the beer is about 6.5% to 8.5% and in Voss, Sigmund Gjernes makes 8.5% but the guys in Dyrvedalen make 11-12% beer. This yeast is not used to wort that doesn’t have a lot of sugar and other nutrients in it. In fact, if you are fermenting relatively weak beer it may also be a good idea to add nutrients. There is not really any strong reason not to add nutrients, let’s put it that way.”

2:53:38 (session 1) Is there a difference between a boiled word and a raw wort, in that sense?

Lars Marius: “There probably is a difference, unfortunately, we don’t know that much about it. I don’t know if anybody has ever studied the chemical composition of raw wort. Obviously, it must have more protein, for example. Does it make a difference to the yeast? We don’t really know. We need some scientist to finally figure that one out!”

5:46:58 (session 1) What do you think about kveik being sold all over the world?

Stig: “It’s OK with me. I think if you should have the original kveik, you have to brew it in the original way. Otherwise, it would be weaker and weaker every time you use it. I think it is OK, I think the interest in it will be bigger when people can use it. People are interested in it all over the world, and then, I think we cannot just keep it for ourselves. I don’t think that is the right way. I think it is better people can try it, and if they are really interested maybe they will try [and brew] it original!”

5:48:17 (session 1)  Do you think the commercial kveiks, the ones they sell from the labs, are different from the ones you are using in any way?

Stig: “I think they are, and will be more and more different because we don’t do it [brew] in conditions where we have control over everything. You have seen how we do it today and I guess there will always be, maybe, a flower or two in, we don’t have control [over that] sometimes. But I think that is the strength of the kveik, we don’t have the same temperature, not the same sweetness, I think that is why kveik can handle so many different worts with different sweetness and different temperatures.”

5:49:40 (session 1) How do you dry the yeast?

Stig: “We usually put it on paper, a baking sheet or whatever, and put it on a dry slightly warm place for two weeks or so and then it is [dry]. I don’t think it is smart to have it too hot, too long, because then I think you can kill it. But it has to be warm, and dry. And then, 14 days, three weeks, then I think you can freeze it.” Lars Marius: “Yes, you put it in the freezer in a plastic bag, right. This thing with it being too hot, in Hardanger, Jacob, he puts aluminum foil over one of these shoe racks that have heating in them to dry the shoes. And if he puts on [level] 1 then the yeast will dry quite quickly. And if he puts it on 2 then he kills the yeast. When we were brewing there for Norwegian TV he had put it on 2 and the beer didn’t ferment [both chuckle]. Stig: as I say, there are many different ways to do it.”

(random note) Was wort chilled?

Traditional farmhouse brewers in modern times use home-made modern immersion wort chillers and (home-made) milk container collar chillers. Metal milk containers were popular to use for wort, and as milk needed to be cooled down rapidly just like wort, its use and already available equipment lend itself well to the farmhouse brewing tradition. Perhaps earlier it was placed in cold stream. Whichever way, the faster the wort is cooled, the safer it will be for the yeast. Kveik is a fast and hot ferment, it will really quickly make alcohol and then beat the competition. At first, hot wort will real quickly drop in temperature, but the last wait is the longest. With the high pitching temperatures of kveik that last bit is quicker: the brewer doesn’t have to wait as long to pitch as with normal yeasts.

4:00 (session 2) How are pitching rates determined in traditional brews?

Lars Marius: “You saw how they did it, right? They just take a certain amount of [dried kveik] chips, or a certain amount of liquid kveik and add that. There isn’t any measurement or anything like that. Stig for example will do the “mariaue” [yeast starter; see session 1 at 5:23:36 – 5:36:06] and use that to check his yeast is fresh and so on. Sigmund, as I understood it, he usually looks at the yeast, he opens the jar and if there is a lot of CO2 and it seems like it is fresh, he will just use it. If not, he will make a starter. They kind of play it by ear, see how the yeast is doing and determine it that way. We don’t really measure very much. Sigmund will typically pitch half his jar for example, and then, if it does not start, he will pitch the other half, as well. Tests on under and over pitching have been done by Escarpment Labs. They did a poster presentation at one of the brewing conferences where they looked at this, and what they found was that the Voss and Hornindal kveiks give more aroma if you under pitch them and less aroma if you overpitch but they found that for some of the other kveiks that was not the case. That’s really quite interesting. There isn’t a single rule that works for all the kveiks, basically.”

Amund: “From testing at the brewery, we experienced that the temperature is more important than the pitching. Even when we were under pitching less than the Escarpment Lab recommendation, we saw that as long as we had the high enough temperature on a 1,000-liter batch it did not matter. The temperature turned out to be more important than the pitch rate, for us. This was with our house culture, which is a mix between three Hornindal kveiks. We ferment 1,000 liters without temperature control so we have to pitch at a lower temperature in the summer months and a higher temperature when winter becomes strong. The brewery is from 18°C in the winter to 23-24°C in the summer. Of course, there is a big of a longer lag phase before the fermentation vessel has enough temperature to rise by itself. If it is colder in the environment, we have to pitch higher to have more temperature [buffer] to go down on.”

Escarpment Labs on the impact of pitch rate on kveik ferments

5:04:05 (session 2) Have you ever tried to combine Brettanomyces yeast with the kveik?

Amund: “Yes, we do that quite often. The way it usually goes is that primary ferment with our house culture, which is Hornindal kveik based, and then we put it into oak barrels or oak tanks which contain Brettanomyces yeast among other stuff. And what we see is that, especially the fruity ester profiles that the kveik make, get pretty much picked apart by the Brettanomyces and you get a more familiar Brettanomyces [?]. It seems that these huge ester profiles that the kveiks are famous for don’t really survive Brettanomyces over time. In that way, it is not really recognizable as a kveik” [he gives more detail, as well on his Brewery].

5:25:10 (session 2) Hornindal kveik had bacteria, does that contribute to taste?

Lars Marius is not sure, there has not been any research in that area. There are specialists working with brewing bacteria, like Lactobacillus, but in isolation, not as a mix working together.

5:31:58 (session 2) What does Sigmund know about the history of the kveik he has?

Lars Marius: “He got kveik from a neighbor when he moved to the farm where he lives now and started brewing there. That kveik apparently came from Bordalen but then he mixed in kveik from the family farm Gjernes and at Gjernes they used to get the kveik from the farm Veka in Dyrvedalen (I don’t know exactly who lived there at Veka so that is a hole in my research, I’ll try to find that out later). It is interesting, what he said was kind of the summary to all of this, kveik has forever been traveling around, circulating from person to person.”

5:35:00 (session 2) Is there a limit to how long a raw ale can be stored, apart from the normal aging issues?

Lars Marius: “Many people have said that long-term storage of raw ale does not work, but he has stored raw ale for six months and it kept going getting better, slowly souring and funking up. At the festival, I think last year 2019, Ståle served us his beer he brewed for the festival the year before. It was perfectly fine, normal storage issues but otherwise just great. And then there was the home brewing competition […] there was only modern beers in the home brewing competition. But the locals knew I had written this book about Norwegian farmhouse ales so they asked me to say some words and, I could not help it, I had to tell them I felt it really weird they did not have any of their own beers, all they had were copies of foreign stuff. And then when I sat down, the guy next to me turned around and said, would you like to try some raw ale? He had this huge plastic canister with beer that was two years old and it was fine. Different but fine. What is the limit? I don’t know.”

5:38:06 (session 2) Were any of the beers in the [Kornol Festival] competition carbonated?
Lars Marius: Three were carbonated, one made third place, but other than that, no – generally no.

(random note) Is the Oslo strain a real kveik?
The Oslo strain is a single strain. It is isolated from a kveik house culture, by Bootleg Biology and has very clean flavors. It was isolated from the house culture at Eik & Tid (Amund’s brewery), and is genetically in t kveik family.

Brewing the farmhouse brews
During the Norsk Kornølfestival the volunteer brewers brewed three different farmhouse ales. Especially Stig Seljeset from Hornindal shared valuable practical information on how to work with kveik. It was interesting to observe how matter of fact the brewers treated their kveik, as well as with obvious reverence; clearly kveik has a deep connection with the Nordic farmhouse brewing culture.

Links to the blogposts of the farmhouse ales brewed during the Norsk Kornølfestival.

Brew #1: Hornindal
Stig Seljeset and friends demonstrate the brewing of a traditional Hornindal kornøl.

1:33:17 (session 1) How many generations of Hornindal or Voss kveik can I cultivate before is unviable or produces off flavors? Can it be harvested indefinitely? Stig: “When we harvest the kveik we dry it and stick it in the freezer and then you can have it for… I don’t know… I have been using kveik that is twenty-five thirty years old. Which has been in the freezer. If you dry it well, I think it will stay for a very long time.”

Does it sometimes happen that you have a bad year with the beer and that you don’t use the kveik from that year? Stig: “I only take care of the kveik when I have good beer, because we have so plenty of it, and friends, we just harvest the kveik when we have good beer.”

2:19:34 – 2:42:21 (session 1) 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 large glass bowl as it will be put near the fire to keep warm, no more than half full to leave room for expansion.

2:35:44 (session 1) About the pronunciation of kveik: is there a definitive pronunciation of kveik? From Norwegians alone I’ve heard “kveik, kvie-ke, kvy-kee.” Most UK and North American people have opted for “kvy-kee.” Basically, how do you pronounce kveik?

Stig: “We just say kweik (with a slight rounding of the v, almost but not quite like a w). Lars Marius: You have a slightly different pronunciation than I do as I am from the east side of the country, I say kwejk (more emphasis on the “ei,” almost like an “ej”). But I don’t know that an English speaker would even notice. Stig: I myself, my language is very much like the old people here in Hornindal were talking, so I think the way I pronounce it is like they did for seventy years ago.” (2:36:49 for a loud and clear pronunciation)

Lars Marius: “When there is a vowel after the final “k” that’s a grammatical inflection. People say “kveika”, but it means “the kveik”. So it’s easy to be fooled here.”

4:20:05 – 4:31:09 (session 1) Stig placed the kveik bowl near the fire, guided by experience, and moves it closer or further away depending on how he gauges the temperature. Hornindal shows a beautiful traditional beer 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 29°C, they usually look for between 28-32/34°C, 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 30-32°C as then it would start to ferment quicker.

Kveik raises the temperatures several degrees after pitching, from 29°C to 42.5°C. Natural high krausen occurs at 42.5°C and kveik keeps fermenting quite vigorously for a while after high krausen. Ferment in a good insulated fermenter to try and maintain the high temperatures so they do not go down to quickly to support this vigorous ferment (this is what makes kveik ferment so fast).

5:23:36 – 5:36:06 (session 1) Hornindal is congratulating the yeast starter, regionally called the “mariaue,” as it has “really done a good job, it is all foamy.” The kveik starter is 32°C and they are ready to put it all in the “gil,” here meaning a fermenter. They normally have the fermenter in the basement as it is warmer there, but they found down there they have no video, so for the sake of the festival the “gil” 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.”

Brew #2: stjørdalsøl

There is a traditional kveik ring hanging indoors, obviously used before and setting the stage nicely. Stjørdal saves kveik only from good beer, traditionally dried yeast was stored in bags, rings, sticks, but now it is stored in freezer where it stays good forever. The locals all switched to bakers yeast, a store bought yeast, as they live in a humid area close to the fjord and they find it hard to save yeast.

Read more on traditional Norwegian bakers yeast, often sold as a solid block wrapped in parchment paper, at Lars Marius Garshol’s blogpost “Does bread yeast exist?” (2020)

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

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

Brew #3: vossaøl
5:17:58 – 5:46:38 (session 2; with some sound issues) The yeast is kept as a slurry in a rubber-ring jar. He draws the yeast from the bottom of the fermenter and stores it in the cold cellar; with its stone walls and earth temperatures, he been able to repitch it for several brews. He pitches the whole jar into the three buckets – he does not think kveik can be over-pitched: “it’s kveik!”

But before pitching he first takes a sip of it, to make sure it is fresh.

Lars Marius: “Is it customary to do the kauking (yelling) here in Voss?” “No… we never do that in Voss…[giggle]” Brewer: “We don’t do it every time, but sometimes we do it, in secret, if we are alone: then we may scream some black metal tunes into the beer! [laughing] Makes the beer extra good, and evil!” Another: “And that is the purpose of the beer!”

5:43:08 (session 2) Black Metal yeast scream!
Can you make out what he tells the kveik?

But wait, there is more!
Presentations on Kveik

In the downtime between the three different brews, which could take from 6 to 12 hours depending on the recipe, the festival scheduled several talks and presentations. The following should give you a general idea of what was discussed, where to go to see the full talk, and how to download their PowerPoint presentations.

2:46:43 – 2:50:18 (session 1) Lars Marius Garshol talks about Looking for yeast in Telemark (see image).
He brought back samples but due to Covid they have not been tested yet, so it is not clear yet what type of yeast it is. Lars Marius has tracked down all of the farmhouse yeasts he had heard about, including their origin stories, but as of yet there is no progress on the analysis.

29:04 (session 2) Traditional beers as a source of new yeast biodiversity
Mohammed Tawfeeq is a student at the Kevin Verstrepen lab at the University of Leuven which published the Gallone 2016 paper, showing that brewer’s yeast is divided into two major genetic families, called Beer 1 and Beer 2. Tawfeeq discusses his project where he characterized and compared 26 different farmhouse yeast cultures of a total of 1250 strains to typical ale yeast strains. The fermentation was done in common industrial conditions and in kveik conditions. The fermentation performance, as well as its metabolites and the tolerance toward different stressors (temperature, ethanol, sugar and salt) were tested to investigate the diversity of the farmhouse yeasts. More.

Link to the PowerPoint presentation
Press <tawfeeq-2020> to open the PDF of his PowerPoint, or the <Last ned> button to download the PDF directly.

2:30:00 (session 2) Beyond Kveik: 3 Unexplored Hotspots for Heirloom Brewing Yeasts
Martin Thibault has been seeking out farmhouse brewers all over the world and writes about his experiences. He finds traditional farmhouse beer cultures thrive to this day, hiding in plain sight from the Western world. Over the years, Thibault has visited farmhouse brewers in Lithuania, Norway, Estonia, Finland, Peru, Bolivia, Bhutan, and Ethiopia. Although their ingredients and recipes vary from ours, one thing unites these three hotspots with Norway’s own deeply-rooted brewing culture: they each have unfathomable quantities of their own heirloom yeast blends. More.

Martin Thibault has a blog where he writes about farmhouse brewing (in French).

Link to the PowerPoint presentation
Press <martin-thibault-talk-2020> to open the PDF of his PowerPoint, or the <Last ned> button to download the PDF directly.

Further information on kveik
There are myriad websites, blogs and YouTube videos discussing the performance of kveik in modern beers and how to use it. For this blog I only listed those with direct links to traditional farmhouse brewing, which pretty much limited the playing field to the blogs of Lars Marius Garshol, Larsblog, and Mika Laitinen, Nordic Brewing. Garshol also wrote about kveik in his book Historical Brewing Techniques: the Lost Art of Farmhouse Brewing (2020) as did Mika Laitinen in his Viking Age Brew: The Craft of Brewing Sahti Farmhouse Ale (2019). If you would like to learn even more, the Facebook group Milk the Funk is a good source for mixed fermentations, especially their online resource Milk the Funk Wiki. If you would like to know more about traditional and historic brewing then the Facebook group Medieval Brewing would be for you.

Farmhouse yeast registry

“Traditional Norwegian Kveik Are a Genetically Distinct Group of Domesticated Saccharomyces cerevisiae Brewing Yeasts” by Richard Preiss, Caroline Tyrawa, Kristoffer Krogerus, Lars Marius Garshol and George van der Merwe. Microbiol., 12 September 2018


Larsblog, by Lars Marius Garshol

Brewing Nordic, by Mika Laitinen

Smoking malt in Stjørdal with Roar Sandodden and friends as part of the Norsk Kornølfestival 2020

Part 4 in a series covering the brewing of farmhouse ale during the Norsk Kornølfestival 2020.

Session 1:
Session 2:

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).

Haven’t read about the farmhouse ale demo’s yet? Check my blog for Brew #1: Hornindal kornøl, Brew #2: stjørdalsøl and Brew #3: vossaøl of the three farmhouse ale brewing demonstrations.

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.

Lighting the kiln.

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.

Roar demonstrates how his germination bed folds down when needed.

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 freshly germinated malt ready for drying.

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.

The tumbler used to clean the dried malt.

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…”

Stoking the fireplace with grey alder wood.

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.

The malt house and chimney as seen from the outside.

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.

Most of the smoke is moisture being driven out of the damp grain bed.

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” and can be found here. 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.”

It is time for dinner for the Stjørdal brewing team.

Part 2

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.

Smoked malt: a truly Viking snack!

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 shows how the sugary malt sticks to his hand.

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.

Roar turns the malt.

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.

Leveling the surface of the malt for even drying.

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.

The result: some fantastic smoked malt.

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 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” (
 and “Stjørdalsøl — the tasting” (

Kjetil Dale and friends brew vossaøl as part of the Norsk Kornølfestival 2020

Part 3 in a series covering the brewing of farmhouse ale during the Norsk Kornølfestival 2020.

Session 1:
Session 2:

From sunup to sundown, just about, the brewing world was treated to a special event Saturday, October 10th: 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.

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!

In a way, farmhouse brewers do use different house recipes for different live events. But the ingredients and process of traditional farmhouse brewing does not leave all that much room for large changes. The hops are grown by the house, the yeast is house yeast and many would use their own malt kiln to produce their malt. One could change strength – brew low ABV (alcohol by volume) for summer and high ABV for Christmas, or perhaps use sweet gale for childbirth – but with the single brew process there is not much room for each brewer then to brew their own unique type of (farm) house beer.

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 daunting, 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). Third up is vossaøl by the brewing team at Voss.

Brew #3: vossaøl

The third brew is demonstrated by Dag Jørgensen, a professional brewer at Voss Bryggeri, and Kjetil Dale, farmhouse brewer and owner of the old brewhouse. They are assisted by Ivar Geithung, farmhouse brewer, Ivar Husdal, farmhouse brewer, Sigmund Gjernes, and Atle Ove Martinussen, of Western Norway Cultural Academy and responsible for the UNESCO application to give kveik world heritage status. Vossaøl is often grouped with the beers in the style called “heimabrygg,” which literally means homebrew. The beer is quite different from the beers from Hornindal and Stjørdal as the brewers will use a long mash and a very long 4-hour caramelizing boil. The process demonstrated at the festival can be found described in detail, and with a recipe, as “Sigmund Gjernes’s Vossaøl” in Lars Marius Garshol’s book Historical Brewing Techniques on page 311.

Kjetil’s brewhouse is a fantastic timber frame structure with a Viking-style slate flanked raised hearth in the middle of the room. The large copper brew kettle hangs suspended off chains from a large beam resting on the ceiling rafters. This beam actually is loose, to my surprise, and the brewers can lift it up to slide along to rafters to maneuver the kettle closer or further away from the wood fire.

Adding juniper tips to the kettle.

50:29 – 56:23 (indicating the minutes:seconds in the video)

Kjetil and Dag start the brewing day with making the juniper infusion. Their kettle holds about 150 liters and they add about 3-4 kilos of juniper sprigs to this (it looks to be the volume of about a 5-gallon bucket). They prefer the tips of the plants, the shoots, not the barked twigs. This infusion is used throughout the brewing process as a cleaning antiseptic medium plus it also gives a nice acid and a spicy taste. And as an antiseptic it gives preservative qualities to the brew and they don’t actually need to use hops. Plus, it acts as the sieve during lautering – a more versatile brewing ingredient you won’t easily find!

They infuse the juniper tips at temperatures of 75-80C, not too hot as otherwise you get different flavors. Other brewers use thicker branches and hotter water and get different flavors. This is reminiscent to the difference in taste between steeping black tea and boiling black tea, and no-one likes boiled tea. Ivar Geithung, who is wearing an (urban) 18th century eastern Norwegian costume, says of making the juniper infusion that “it smells like the forest; we are boiling the forest!”  The infusion is steeped for an hour after which the brewers would start mashing in. They both agree that “Now it is time for a little beer. Just a little. We have to always make sure to stay awake at the end! That is important [laughing].” The brewing of vossaøl is a marathon, not a sprint: the process takes up to 12 hours, plus or minus 2 hours, from beginning to end.

A sample of the slate used to line the bottom of the mash tun.

1:37:05 – 2:00:51

At this point the brewers get ready to prepare the mash tun for mashing. The mash tun is a blue plastic barrel, similar as those used by Hornindal. It has a spigot at the bottom and is placed off the floor on top of a bench to leave room for a bucket to drain into. To prepare the mash tun, they move the already used juniper branches (reusing these instead of fresh minimizes the juniper flavor) from the kettle to the bottom to create a filter, and lay flat rocks on top to weigh them down. The wet juniper branches are lifted out of the kettle using heat-resistant gloves: “if you are a true Norwegian, you would just use your hands!” at which his fellow brewers all start laughing “no, no, never!” The flat rocks used are slates, normally used on the top of roofs (but thicker than the roofing slates I’ve seen in the US). Then they add a couple of buckets of juniper infusion to the mash tun to preheating it, the sample shown looks a bit like apple juice, and then it is time to add malt and infusion in succession.

The hot infusion water is transferred from the copper kettle to the tun with a stainless-steel bucket. The mash paddle used to stir the mash looks a bit like a boat paddle, but crooked – presumably carved from a juniper branch.  They use a pale malt, and, like with the other brewers, alternate the adding of the malt and water to help mix and dissolve the dry goods better to prevent clumping. This does not seem to be measured; they fill the mash barrel to the consistency that the mash paddle can stand up (reminiscent of Hornindal). We can hear the mash paddle scrape over the stone floor, indicating how well this seemingly simple addition works to keep the gnarly branch filter in place.

The mash takes no less than 1 ½ hours, on average 2 – 2 ½ hours but sometimes up to 4 hours – this differs from farm to farm. The plastic barrel mash tun is insulated with a fiberglass blanket which is wrapped around it, and is topped off with a towel. Voss uses the longest thermometer I have ever seen, at least a meter long, that can reach all the way to the bottom of the mash tun! The mash water (the infusion) was at 80-85C, the mash itself measures at 67.6C.

In the past they would not measure temperature, they’d stick in their finger; they would not measure the sugar, but taste it. The brewer’s reminiscence they did not depend on instruments but on their senses. As the two explain: “It’s kind of a different feeling, brewing in this traditional way and the micro-brew we do nowadays.” “It’s two different worlds.” “I have two kinds of mindsets when I do this. The modern brewing, I do in the kitchen, I measure, I have a formula, stuff like that, and I am kind of rigid. Here, I use my feelings, my experience. Two different kinds of thinking about brewing.” “When you are micro-brewing, it is important to know, it is smaller scale, and if you want to make these new modern beers you have to take measurements, to verify, to be able to make the same beer again and again. This is slightly different, from time to time, sometimes you can get it pretty much like last time …” “But it is not industrial, this is more like a feeling; how did my grandfather do it, how did my father do it.”

Both brewers then lament that neither know for sure how their grandfathers did brew, as they both come from families which had two generations without brewers. “We kind of have to start from the beginning.” They are happy to find that in Voss there are plenty of farmhouse brewers willing to share their experiences. But quickly ran into the age-old issue: “they don’t have the same answers! You have to pick one, and figure out your own way of doing it. But that is part of the fun about it: every brewer, they think they are making the best-ever beer!”

Heating the water for sparging.

3:59:49 – 4:11:47

The sparging water in the copper kettle has a blanket of steam flowing on top. As they will need the kettle for boiling the wort, and it is still full, they will lauter – drain the wort from the mash tun – into plastic buckets first. While the wort is draining, the hot water is sparged on top of the mash tun’s grain bed to help leach as much of the sugars out as possible. Voss also circulates the first run-off back onto the grain bed to have less particulates which aids clarity. The brewers remark “looks like the juniper filter worked well this time; it’s very clear.” The wort is yellow and almost clear, like a Hoegaarden, and it is commented it tastes very sweet. When the kettle is empty, the wort is put back in and heated for the boil. The brewers estimate they will lose about 50 liters in the boil.

1:23:45 [session 2]

The wort is at 85.4C and is approaching protein break. We can clearly see foam on top of the wort as the kettle is pretty full. To while away the time, Ivar Geithung performs some songs on his mouth harp.

Ivar Geithung performs on his mouth harp.

1:44:54 – 1:50:57

They put a handful of hops in the wort, and the wort is starting to approach the boil. They are looking at a 4-hour cooking time, and realize they perhaps will have to cut it a little short to fit the schedule of the festival, but are confident it should still be well-reduced and well-caramelized.

Lars Marius has a question for the brewers and asks why the Voss brewers used these very long boils? Of course, it is for reduction – the reduction raises the sweetness, the sugars, and thus the alcohol. They will have less volume of beer, but a higher alcohol content and thus a higher quality beer – just as in the Saga’s. If the other person does not stagger away in drunkenness after drinking your ale, then you did not do it right! Another reason, and one we’ve heard before, is that wheat beer malt did not modify very well and resulted in a lower gravity, less sugars in solution, as generally wanted. The brewers also know of another region close by which doesn’t boil for more than an hour, hour and a half, but it was said that was because they did not have as much wood to burn.

Adding hop flowers to the boiling wort.

3:47:26 – 4:08:58

Voss is still boiling, and they sprinkle some more hop flowers, grown on the farm, in the wort.

Atle Ove Martinussen, of Western Norway Cultural Academy, talks about the UNESCO application to give kveik world heritage status.

4:53:35 – 5:03:04

With only an hour to go in the festival – by now we are quite literally at the eleventh hour! – Voss is ready to start cooling the wort. Two of the brewers manually maneuver the beam from which the kettle hangs sideways away from the open fire. A wort chiller is plunged into the wort in the kettle, and gently maneuvered up and down for maximum cooling effect. The hot water from the wort chiller is used to clean the fermenting buckets, with added industrial disinfectant (an acid, I presume similar to Star-San). The fermenters are standard plastic buckets.

The kveik slurry safely stored in a glass jar.

5:17:58 – 5:46:38 (with some sound issues)

Voss is finished with cooling the wort and disinfecting the fermentation buckets. They have about 110 liters left after the boil, which are drained into the fermentation buckets with a piece of hose, and estimates that after bottling they will have about 80 liters. “And how much after [ub skokkur]?!” “5 liters!!!” [much laughing] The yeast is kept as a slurry in a rubber-ring jar. He takes it from the bottom and stores it in the cellar with its stone walls and earth temperatures, he’s had it for several brews. He pitches the whole jar in the three buckets – he does not think kveik can be over-pitched: it’s kveik!

Lars Marius Garshol: “Is it customary to do the kveiking here in Voss?” “No… we never do that in Voss…” [giggles all around] Brewer: “We don’t do it every time, but sometimes we do it, in secret, if we are alone: then we may scream some black metal tunes into the beer! [laughing] Makes the beer extra good, and evil!” Another: “And that is the purpose of the beer!”

5:43:08 Black Metal yeast scream!

Can you make out what he tells the kveik?

I hope you will enjoy this story and their video as much as I did, and that you too will be inspired to brew a traditional Farmhouse ale to feed your kveik. As I cannot think of better words to leave you with, I will give the last word to the brewers at Voss:

“I hope you all have enjoyed this stream tonight all over the world and I would say it was a pleasure to be here with you today so I hope to see you soon! Come on, Ivar, play on with your tunes!”

To brew vossaøl


  • Open hearth with wood fire
  • Copper kettle
  • Plastic barrel mash tun, wrapped with fiberglass insulation
  • Flat stones
  • Stainless-steel bucket
  • Thermometer (extra-long)
  • Mash paddle, juniper
  • Wort chiller
  • 5 and 10-gallon fermenting buckets


  • Pale malt
  • Juniper, homegrown
  • Hops, homegrown


  • The brewers start by heating a juniper infusion at 75-80C in the copper kettle for one hour.
  • After the hour, the mash tun is prepared by layering the wet (pasteurized) juniper around the spigot at the bottom, flattened and kept in place by flat stones.
  • Several buckets of hot infusion are poured into the mash tun to heat it up. Then the grist, the coarsely ground malt, is added, followed by more infusion, more grist, etc, until the mash tun is filled up.
  • The mash is at 67C, the mash tun well insulated, and will rest for 1 ½ to 2 hours.
  • Water for sparging is heated (I did not see them put juniper in this).
  • The fermenting buckets are cleaned and used to temporarily store the wort.
  • The wort is drained into buckets, the mash sparged with water from the kettle, and the kettle is emptied (I do not know for sure if they used all the water, or dumped any left-overs).
  • When the kettle is empty, the wort is put in and together with three handfuls of hops brought back to a boil.
  • The boil takes 4 hours, about halfway through another handful of hop flowers is added.
  • When the wort is done boiling, reducing, it is cooled with a wort-chiller. The hot water from the outlet of the wort chiller is used to clean the fermenter buckets, combined with a commercial acid rinse.
  • When the wort is cool enough, it is drained by hose into three 5-gallon fermenters.
  • The kveik added is not proofed beforehand; it is the bottom slurry (lees) of the brew he did before, stored cool in a glass jar.
  • Scream! And much drinking of beer.

The introduction of Brew #3: Voss on the festival website:

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

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” ( 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


  • 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


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


  • 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.

Stig Seljeset and friends brew a traditional Hornindal kornøl as part of the Norsk Kornølfestival 2020

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:
Session 2:

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.

Hornindal kornøl

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” (

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.

Stig checks the density of the mash with his juniper stick.

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 rusteko, a home made lauter tun filter. For a better picture click here.

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.

“You are welcome to the beer.”

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
  • thermometer
  • 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.

Gruit contains bog myrtle, marsh rosemary – and yarrow?

One of the better-known historic beers, gruit beer might just as well be also the one most misunderstood. The importance of gruit beer within the socio-economic and political structure of medieval Europe meant much is written about the taxation system surrounding gruit. But the product gruit did not receive much attention, at least not until very recent times (see my publication “The Rise and Fall of Gruit”). Gruit beer is enjoying a resurgence as an alternative to hopped beers. This craft beer revival has many brewers taking a closer look at recreating historic beers, including gruit beer. What they will find is the idea that the identity of Low Country gruit is unclear and unlikely to ever be solved. But that the best guess is that the herbs used were bog myrtle, marsh rosemary – and yarrow. And no matter how hard I look, I cannot find an “historical link” between gruit and yarrow.

To be clear, this story is about historic gruit beer, not modern gruit ale which can use any type of botanical additive as long as it is not hops. Historic gruit beer is much more narrowly defined, mostly using the same three kinds of herbs, pine resin and a grain product. There are many websites discussing modern gruit ale, but only a few talk about historic gruit beer. Alexandre Bessette of says the following on the historic gruit beer ingredients:

Bessette: “Gruit ale is historically linked with these 3 herbs. Delicious and satisfying beers can be brewed from either of these on their own, but a true gruit will usually contains all three.”

The three main herbs used in historic gruit beer are bog myrtle or marsh rosemary, laurel berries and laserwort. The data from nine different gruit brewing city accounts show these purchases consistently and without much variation. But those are not the three herbs Bessette referred to: he meant bog myrtle, as well as marsh rosemary – and yarrow. Bessette is mentioned by Richard Unger in his article “Gruit and the preservation of beer in the Middle Ages” and he said about Bessette’s work on reviving the interest in a drink made with that combination that:

Unger: “… he is performing a valuable service in creating a range of experiments which set out to create something like the medieval drink. His own experience harvesting bog myrtle, yarrow and marsh rosemary in eastern Quebec to create a marketable gruit have yielded information about the process of creating what he and many others conclude is the additive. His posting of various recipes ad requests for reports on what brewers found when they have made various forms of herbal beer has already expanded the range of experimental archaeology.”

Kevin Cullen, an experimental archaeologist from the Discovery World in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was involved in a similar brewing experiment as part of the “Ale Through the Ages” brewing seminar hosted in 2011. Cullen brewed a Belgian Gruit Ale based on the same three botanicals as Bessette mentioned, as well as juniper.

Cullen: “The three most common herbs were Bog Myrtle (Miricia gale), Yarrow (Achillea milleflolium) and Wild Rosemary (Ledum palustr).  Other later gruit additions often included: Cardamom, Caraway, Ginger, etc. Therefore, this all-grain recipe is true to the pre-14th Century Belgian Gruit style, which combined bog myrtle, yarrow, wild rosemary and juniper berries.”

The mention of pre-14th century by Cullen reminded me of a collection of supposed historic beer recipes published in “Old British Beers Book” by beer historian John Harrison, member of the Durden Park Beer Circle which he may or may not have been aware of. It lists two “Gruit Ale (ca. 1300)” recipes which, to the common brewer, seem to suggest they are based on an actual historical recipe. Both recipes again advise using bog myrtle, marsh rosemary and yarrow. They reference to Jeffrey Patton’s “Additives in Beer: Adulterants and Contaminants.” As Patton does not list any recipes, presumably Harrison’s recipes are his best guesses based on Patton’s information, not on any literal recipe (and this makes sense, as the grain bill is modern). Patton, again, reiterates the same three botanicals.

Patton: “The three major ingredients of gruit were:
1. Myrica gale, also known as sweet gale, pors, porze or porst.
2. Ledum palustre, also known as marsh or wild rosemary.
3. Achillea millefolium, also known as milfoil or yarrow.”

He does not cite his information but his bibliography shows he is familiar with Corran (1975) and Arnold (1911). He goes on to say the composition did vary from region to region and refers to the 1393 Cologne accounts, which list similar alternative herbal ingredients as Cullen mentioned. This is correct, but only partially, as from all the city accounts that survived the years, only the Cologne accounts suggests botanical variety.

But first, let’s take a closer look at the botanicals. Why these three? The first two, bog myrtle and marsh rosemary are easy. They are both found in the city accounts although there is a bit of a trick as both marsh rosemary and bog myrtle are known as pors. The properties and function of the two plants is so similar that they could be used interchangeably. It seems that the gruit producers bought bog myrtle and marsh rosemary at trade markets but that the two were not traded long-distance. Bog myrtle and marsh rosemary grow in mostly separate habitats with marsh rosemary more northern (circumpolar). This means the Belgium and Dutch regions of the Low Countries would use native bog myrtle, and the northern German region would use native marsh rosemary. Both bog myrtle and marsh rosemary were gruit ingredients, but not as two separate ingredients used in combination, in the way modern brewers envision.

The third ingredient, yarrow, is a bit of a mystery. So, what about the cardamom, caraway, ginger and juniper berries as mentioned by Cullen? The connection with cardamom is a bit unclear, but caraway, ginger and juniper come from the 1391/93 city accounts from Cologne, Germany. The accounts list the purchases of caraway, cumin, anise and juniper, as well as the actually common gruit ingredient laurel berries and bog myrtle of course (ginger is a likely mistranslation of juniper). What they also list are two ingredients they apparently wanted, but did not have: the laserwort and resin.

Laserwort is part of the plant family Apiaceae, as are caraway, cumin and anise, and juniper could potentially stand in for the missing resin. It looks like the gruit producer in Cologne was trying his best to emulate the product of his peers. Even though he used different ingredients, apparently he wanted his product to fit in, not stand out. He was not alone in this sentiment. By 1408, the gruit from Neuss was thought to be “much better than that from Cologne.” So… how “gruit” are these ingredients? If the brewer preferred the standard bunch, and the locals preferred the gruit from somewhere else, then my guess is not so much.

backyard yarrow

Then again, what about the yarrow? I am not sure. Out of the city accounts of nine Dutch and German cities spanning from 1339 to 1530, not a single one mentions yarrow. The accounts do consistently mention bog myrtle, marsh rosemary (but only for Munster and Wesel), laurel berries, laserwort, resin and some sort of grain product, in the form of malt, flour or chaff. If the information in the city accounts does not match the description of gruit found in popular publications, are modern publications consistently reprinting misinformation?

According to Ann Hagen in her expansive tome “Anglo-Saxon Food and Drink” (1992/2010), yarrow is found in connection with Anglo-Saxon English brewing. Odd Nordland in his well-researched “Brewing and Beer Traditions in Norway” (1969) found that yarrow, although not as often as bog myrtle by far, was part of Nordic historic brewing. But as gruit was only brewed in the Low Countries, which covered what is now the Netherlands, Belgium, northern France and western Germany, this does not mean yarrow therefore was part of gruit. The assumption that the growing range of bog myrtle was synonymous with the production of gruit and gruit beer by for instance Richard Unger would explain why these sources are absorbed into the history of gruit. Or perhaps modern researchers also had trouble connecting yarrow with gruit, and went with the assumption that if neighboring countries would use it, then surely the Low Countries would too?

The Scandinavian author Nils von Hofsten, who wrote extensively on the use of herbs in Scandinavian brewing, believes the use of yarrow in gruit “is very questionable.” Mika Laitinen voices a similar sentiment in his “Viking Age Brew: The Craft of Brewing Sahti Farmhouse Ale”

Laitinen: “Many sources claim that yarrow (Achillea millefolium) was a typical constituent of gruit, but that is perhaps a misconception. I think the claim is rooted in another misconception, that the gruit region extended to the Nordic area.”

Tracking gruit – and in its wake, yarrow – through many publications I noticed an interesting pattern: the same books would show up in the bibliographies, books which perpetuated the connection of gruit and yarrow. Unfortunately, many of these books do not cite their sources (well) and several are dead ends. Hagen (2010) for instance referenced “A History of Brewing” by Corran (1975) but Corran does not cite his source.

Corran: “Before hopped beer became customary in German, a mixture of herbs, including bog myrtle, rosemary and yarrow, among others, was employed; this mixture was known as gruit, and the product as gruit beer.”

A bit more round-about, Harrison (1993) referenced Patton (1989) which has no references but does have a bibliography. Patton is familiar with both Corran and the “Origin and History of Beer and Brewing” by Arnold (1911) but unfortunately both Corran and Arnold are dead ends.

Arnold: “Opinions as to what went into the composition of gruit differed formerly, and even to-day, somewhat. However, to judge from the scan information that has come down to us at this point, it must have been chiefly three plants which formed the stock of the gruit, namely:

1. Myrica Gale, sweet gale, called in Westphalia Pors, Porze, Porst, and the same in Danish, as well as Swedish; well-known also in the moors and bogs of Scotland and elsewhere.
2. Ledum Palustre, marsh or wild rosemary, in German Sumpfporst, porst, wilder Rosmarin, Bienen-, Brauerkraut, also Wanzen- or Mottenkraut (moth or bug herb).
3. Achillea Millefolium, milfoil, yarrow; German Schafgarbe.”

Unger (2011) references “The Mediaeval Brewery and the gruit” by Doorman (1955), among others, and even though Doorman worked from primary sources and lists the correct herbal ingredients of bog myrtle, marsh rosemary, laurel berries, laserwort and resin., he also added yarrow. But without citation this is another dead-end. Doorman did list “Beer has a History” by Frank King (1947) in his bibliography, which might explain why he felt the need to add yarrow even though his historical sources do not support it.

King: “Gruit was a mixture of herbs which included sweet gall or bog-myrtle, marsh or wild rosemary, and yarrow or milfoil and probably other ingredients.”

Unger also cites “A History of Beer and Brewing” by Hornsey (2003), who in turn (probably) cites the dead-end Corran (1975). Before it gets too confusing, let’s put the most influential authors in order of publishing: Unger (2011), followed by Hornsey (2009), Buhner (1998), Hagen (1992), Harrison (1993), Corran (1975), Doorman (1955), King (1947) and finally Arnold (1911). It seems that most of the English language popular publications refer back to either Corran or Arnold. Neither Corran nor Arnold left any hint of where they themselves came across the information.

Without having anything more to go on, for now, Arnold (1911) is as far back I’ve been able to track the use of yarrow in Low Country gruit. I had high hopes for John Bickerdyke’s “The Curiosities of Ale & Beer: An Entertaining History” (1889) but it does not mention gruit (or yarrow) at all. Perhaps the gruit/yarrow connection originated in a non-English source? It is a non-English drink, so that would make sense. Either way, I am rather impressed by how solidly this one ingredient attached itself to the history of gruit and will definitely keep an eye out for any new leads. Whomever first wrote down the idea must have presented it with gusto for it to have become such a solid fact.

My question to you, the reader: do you have any old and obscure brewing books on your physical or virtual book shelves? Can you take a look and see what is to be found in there? I just know Arnold is citing from another source, and wouldn’t it be cool if together we could find out from where. Proost!


  • Arnold, John P. 1911. Origin and History of Beer and Brewing. Reprint Edition 2005. Cleveland, Ohio: Beer Books.
  • Bessette, Alexandre.
  • Buhner, Stephen Harrod. 1998. Sacred Herbal and Healing Beers. Boulder, Colorado: Brewers Publications.
  • Corran, H. S. 1975. A history of brewing. David and Charles.
  • Cullen, Kevin.
  • Doorman, G. 1955. De Middeleeuwse Brouwerij en de Gruit. (The Mediaeval Brewery and the gruit). Den Haag: Martinus Nijhoff.
  • Hagen, Ann. 2010. Anglo-Saxon Food and Drink. Combined version of: A handbook of Anglo-Saxon food: processing and consumption, published in 1992, and A second handbook of Anglo-Saxon food & drink: production & distribution, published in 1995. Hockwold cum Wilton, Norfolk, England: Anglo-Saxon Books.
  • Harrison, John. 1993. Old British Beers and How to Make Them. Durden Park Beer Circle.
  • Hofsten, Nils von. 1960. Pors och andra Humleersättningar och ölkryddor i äldre tider (Bog Myrtle (Myrica gale) and Other Substitutes for Hops in Former Times). Acta Academie Regie Gustavi Adolphi Vol. 36. Copenhaven: Lundequistska Bokhandeln.
  • Hornsey, Ian Spencer. 2003. A History of Beer and Brewing. Royal Society of Chemistry. Cambridge, UK: RSC Paperbacks. Academia.
  • Laitinen, Mika. 2019. Viking Age Brew: The Craft of Brewing Sahti Farmhouse Ale. Chicago: Chicago Review Press.
  • Nordland, Odd. 1969. Brewing and Beer Traditions in Norway. The Norwegian Brewery Association, Universiteitsforlaget. Norway: Mariendals Boktrykkeri A/S.
  • Patton, Jeffrey. 1989. Additives in Beer: Adulterants and Contaminants. Exeter, Great Britain: Patton publications.
  • Unger, Richard W. 2011. “Gruit and the preservation of beer in the middle ages.” Special Topic Issue: Medieval Brewing. AVISTA Forum Journal. 22: 1/2: 48-54
  • Verberg, Susan. 2018. “The Rise and Fall of Gruit.” Brewery History Journal. The Brewery History Society 174: 46-78. ResearchGate.

Boiling up Bochet, medieval style

The obscure history of Bochet, a sweet French honey drink.

Interested in my video tutorial? Check out the Mother Earth News Fair Online  where it is featured alongside tutorials by Jereme Zimmerman of “Make Mead like a Viking” and Hannah Crum of “The Big Book of Kombucha” fame.

Not all that long ago, the homebrewing community discovered Bochet, a medieval French beverage, and the resulting burnt-honey mead style has gathered quite a few enthusiast followers. This enthusiasm is in large part due to the unique and challenging way of process, as the modern interpretation of bochet is a mead made from caramelized honey, spices optional. Hearing the stories of smoking honey and tasting the delicious caramelly results I wanted to know more about this unusual mead. Surprisingly, I found that the modern mead variety is based off of just one historic recipe from 14th century Paris, France. When Le Ménagier de Paris (1393), a medieval household manual detailing a woman’s proper behavior in marriage and running a household, was newly translated and republished as The Good Wife’s Guide: a Medieval Household Book by the Cornell University Press in 2009, its collection of recipes – including one for bochet – became easily available to the general public. As the word bochet is not connected to a modern definition, the original French name of the recipe using caramelized honey was retained, and the word bochet became to signify the product of this one recipe: a mead made with caramelized honey.

Let’s take a closer look at historic bochet
There are not many historic sources that mention the product bochet, but while Le Ménagier might be the most elaborate source, it is not the only source. Interestingly, these other sources more or less collectively point at a different definition for what makes a beverage a bochet. The word itself is not currently in use in modern French, with the governmental Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales defining bochet as a drink made with water, sugar, honey and various spices (especially cinnamon). Cursory searches on-line find that Bochet as well as Boschet are in active use as surnames. Eighteenth century French sources use both words as a diminutive of Bois (forest): boschet (small bush; thicket) and bochet (Le bois / la garenne / le bochet; second decoction of sudorific woods). The connection between bochet and sudorificus, from Latin sudor ‘sweat,’ is intriguing, as the ‘sweat’ of forests could be interpreted as honeydew, a sticky sweet sap exuded by certain trees during specific weather conditions and likened to honey in medieval times. Along this same line of thinking falls the bouchet pear, plausibly likened to bochet due to its sweet juice.

The earliest variants of bochet as a beverage are: bochetus (1292); bocheto (1301); boschier (1330); bochet vero [true bochet], boischet, boschet & bouchet (1348); bochet (1385) and boschet (1404).

The earliest literary mention of bochet does not give much information about the beverage itself.

1301 CE: Item pro uno Bocheto, sito in loco ubi dicitur en Bruier. Boschet, ibid. (Carpentier 1766, 569) Also in place of a Bocheto, in this location called Bruier. As well as Boschet.

Another source, contemporary to Le Ménagier by nearly a decade, confirms bochet is a beverage, and indicates the beverage is (served) hot.

1385 CE: Ledit Alain comme tout esbahi, bout a arrière de li ledit Gieffroy, & en c’est boutement a çopa ledit Gieffroy, s’il qu’il che en une cuvée de Bochet, qui mise y estoit pour reffroidier. (Carpentier 1766, 569) Said Alain all appalled / amazed, at the back of said Gieffroy, & in this raising of his cup by said Gieffroy, in that he cheers with a vessel of Bochet, which is put there to cool down.

The most interesting source in regards to this article is the inspirational recipe from Le Ménagier de Paris, “the Parisian Household Book” from 1393. Le Ménagier includes two detailed recipes for bochet, as well as detailed instructions on how to caramelize honey for this bochet.

Bochet. To make 6 septiers of bochet, take 6 quarts of fine, mild honey and put it in a cauldron on the fire to boil.  Keep stirring until it stops swelling and it has bubbles like small blisters that burst, giving off a little blackish steam. Then add 7 septiers of water and boil until it all reduces to six septiers, stirring constantly. Put it in a tub to cool to lukewarm, and strain through a cloth. Decant into a keg and add one pint of brewer’s yeast, for that is what makes it piquant – although if you use bread leaven, the flavor is just as good, but the color will be paler. Cover well and warmly so that it ferments. And for an even better version, add an ounce of ginger, long pepper, grains of paradise, and cloves in equal amounts, except for the cloves of which there should be less; put them in a linen bag and toss into the keg. Two or three days later, when the bochet smells spicy and is tangy enough, remove the spice sachet, wring it out, and put it in another barrel you have underway. Thus you can reuse these spices up to 3 or 4 times. (Greco 2009, p. 325)

Surprisingly, the recipes from Le Ménagier du Paris are not the only historic recipes available detailing the making of bochet. Jean Longis included one in his 1556 book “The great owner of all things, very useful and profitable for keeping the human body healthy [as instructed by 13th century] Bartholomaeus Anglicus.” This recipe could, or could not, confirm bochet used caramelized honey – the description is not detailed enough, and the translation ambiguous. The word in question is cuyte (cuit) which derives from cuisine (cooking) and most likely translates as the verb cooking. But it could also translate to burnt (brûlé, incendié, cuit, carbonisé) which could indicate the caramelization process explained in the Le Ménagier recipe. This recipe does not indicate any fermentation, and also includes the use of herbs “to keep it longer & to give it a scent.”

Bochet is in Latin called Medo & is water and honey to drink, when the Bochet is undercooked & the honey is not well cooked [burnt?], it bites the belly hard & generates the diarrhea & makes great suffering: but when it is well cooked & scented it is delectable to the taste. And smoothens the voice & clears the throat & the pipes of the lungs & comforts the heart & gives it jubilation. And nourish the body: but it is not good for those who have badly burning spleen and who have the [kidney] stone and the gravel, because it restrains their conduits and to the humors. We put aromatic herbs in the Bochet to keep it longer & to give it a scent, & in Bretagne we put in absinthe which is a very bitter herb for that to trust. (Longis 1556, p. ccvij)

Another recipe detailing the herbs and spices needed as well as some cursory instruction on how to make bochet comes from Le Thresor de santé (1607) by Jean Huguetan. This recipe is interesting, as the process described again connects bochet with heating, but then connects this heating process with the making of hippocras, a type of mulled wine which is spiced and can be sweetened with honey or sugar.

We take, freshly boiled water, … a pot.
Crushed cinnamon,… half ounce.
Sugar,… half pound.
The whole thing happens by heat, in the fashion of hippocras. You can change the amounts, taking:
Fine sugar in powder,… four ounces.
Cinnamon, as much as above. – – – –
Boiling water,… four pounds.
The whole mixed together cools down into a well-covered bowl of pewter or earthenware. In fact, we pour it through a white sheet to use it. It is good for gouty people. (Huguetan 1607, 110)

The sources in context
The historic sources show a slightly different characteristics for the beverage bochet then found in popular writing. In that regards the instructions from Le Ménagier are in stark contrast to the other sources. Not only is Le Ménagier the only source instructing to caramelize the honey, it is also the only direct source instructing fermentation. Some sort of alcoholic content is indirectly inferred from its association with other alcoholic beverages, like beer, cider and perry, but it is not explicitly stated elsewhere. There are several sources equating bochet with barley water, infusions and broth – none particularly known for their alcoholic contents. Perhaps the connection of bochet with hippocras can shed light on this question: “The whole thing happens by heat, in the fashion of hippocras” (1607). Perhaps the word bochet is not an indication of a general product (like wine, or mead) but instead of a specific process? To answer this question, we need to take a closer look at the defining features of bochet to pin down its characteristics (see table 1).

1385 1393 1393 1556 1607 1611 1684 1695 1725
HEAT, boiling &c. X X X X X X X ?
Honey X X X ?
caramelized honey X ?
Sugar X X
Fermentation X X
Infusion X X ? X X X
Hypocras X X
Kitchen spices X X X X X X
Medicinal herbs X X
Ginger X
Long pepper X
Grains of paradise X X
Cloves X X
Absinthe X
Cinnamon X X X
Coriander X X
Aniseeds X

Table 1: the characteristics of historic bochet.

The results
Honey & Sugar: Modern bochet is defined as a mead, a honey wine, flavored by caramelizing (part of) the honey. Historic bochet seems to be more diverse, and indicate bochet could be made from either honey or sugar.

Fermentation: There are indications middle Age bochet was fermented but that later bochet is not. It is unclear from the later recipes if fermentation or the addition of yeast is not mentioned because fermentation was not part of the process, or because fermentation was an obvious fact which did not need repeating. Usually this omission of process is more likely in earlier recipes than in those more recent, putting this interpretation into question. It is also a possibility the product bochet changed over time, from an alcoholic infusion akin to hippocras, to a non-alcoholic infusion, akin to modern sodas, teas and tisanes.

Process: The use of heat – boiling the (sweetened) water – is consistently mentioned, as is the technique of infusing the added spices into this hot liquid. It is likely the resulting infusion, a type of tisane or infusion by heat, was consumed at room temperature as the recipes indicate the sweet tisane is cooled down slowly (“well-covered”) and filtered before consumption.

Spices: The addition of spices is mentioned consistently as well, indicating to be another characteristic of bochet. The changing of types of spices used over the decennia could be indicative of the change in flavor preference from medieval times to early modern times; transitioning from obscure medieval cooking spices to the more typical modern baking spices.

The modern definition of bochet as a mead flavored with caramelized honey still stands, but seems to place too much weight on a singular source. The defining factors of historic bochet seem more fluid. In a way, historic bochet was similar to hippocras: they both are sweetened with honey/sugar, spiced and steeped (mulled). But the base of hippocras is wine, not water, and while it might be heated for consumption, it is less likely to be boiled as part of the mulling process, as that would drive off the alcoholic content. Bochet can also be seen as similar to mead or hydromel (the French word for mead); both use honey as a source of (fermentable) sugar. Perhaps fermented bochet could even be the French word for metheglin, a spiced or medicated variety of mead associated with Wales. The difference between bochet and metheglin could be how the spices are added: with bochet the spices are boiled as part of the whole, and with most metheglin recipes the spices are added in a little spice pouch and dry-hopped during primary fermentation. And as mentioned previously, it is not at all unlikely the beverage itself evolved throughout the ages from an alcoholic spiced honey drink, to a non-alcoholic sweetened and spiced tisane.

This change of function is not at all unusual in the world of historic brewing and illustrates the importance of historical awareness, the authenticity of traditional beverages, to the homebrewer and craft brewer alike. With the ever-growing interest, and commercial market, in traditional brews it is easy to fall into the trap of plausible assumption, and letting this assumption shape our modern perception of historic products. For instance, neither modern braggot, a mead variety using less than 50% malt in its production, and modern gruit ale, an uphopped ale using any variety of herbs, existed in this form in history. Historic braggot is actually a honeyed ale and gruit beer used very specific herbs, and possibly hops.

This misconception can have real life consequences when registering for brewing competitions, as well as licensing for commercial production. Perhaps the modern brewer can make a little room for both modern specifics, and historic fluency, and enjoy the bounty our combined history has to offer. What we can say about bochet specifically with more certainty now is that what characterizes an historic bochet is not so much that it is made of (caramelized) honey or sugar, nor if it is fermented, or not – what characterizes a bochet is how it is made. The defining features of an historic bochet are that it is made by boiling sweetened water with spices and letting the concoction slowly cool down, infusing into a wonderful tasty beverage, and anything else just makes the resulting brew that much more special!

For the complete article including more samples and specific citations, please check:

Abbreviated bibliography

How Viking is mead, exactly?

Anyone thinking of Vikings also thinks of mead, the two seem inextricably linked. It should seem surprising to then find that there was basically no local honey production in Norway and most of Sweden before the middle of the 18th century, and even after, access to honey was extremely limited. Maybe the reason mead is mentioned so often in the Saga’s is because it was such a rarity – was it truly only a drink for kings and the Gods? The earliest recorded account of the production of mead in connection with the Northern lands is in the Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus (History of the Northern People – 1555) by Olaus Magnus – Archbishop-in-exile of Uppsala, as at that time Sweden was not Catholic anymore. During his exile Olaus Magnus wrote extensively about his home lands, including a chapter with instructions on making mead. He then added two chapters on making Polish, Lithuanian and Goth mead. As this broadly overlaps with the trading areas of the Viking era one wonders if most of the mead consumed by the Vikings was imported from down south, way down south. Another early cookbook with mead recipes of the Scandinavian region is the Danish Kogebog (1616), which literally means cookbook. It includes two chapters on mead, with much practical information including which herbs work well to spice the mead, and the numerous health benefits of mead. It is clear mead was made by the Danish, but then, even though Denmark is part of Scandinavia it is geographically connected to Germany, not the Scandinavian peninsula, and much more southern and more hospitable to beekeeping.

Magnus-BookXIII OCR-9

From Chapter 23 of Olaus Magnus: “On the voluntary drowning of King Hunding in mead or hydromel.”

And that is the crux of the matter: looking closer at the geographical setting of the Northern lands as compared to the geographical distribution of bees shows something interesting. Scandinavia lies just on the cusp on the natural range of honey bees. The south of Sweden and Denmark are within the native distribution of honey bees, but their natural range ends just south of Norway. This excludes central and northern Sweden and near all of Norway from local honey production, although theoretically, honey bees might survive in the south-eastern corner, right around Oslo and down along a little way on the western side of the Oslo fjord. The reason for this is not the cold, as one might assume, but the short duration of the flowering season. Honey bees collect pollen and nectar from flowering plants, which is their food. They concentrate nectar into honey as an emergency food supply for the hive, among other uses. As the flowering season that far up north is too short, the bees run out of honey and starve to death before the next season begins.

Chased by Suttungr, Odin spits the mead of poetry into several vessels. Some of it accidentally goes out the other end. Illustration by Jakob Sigurðsson, an 18th-century Icelandic artist. (Public Domain)

If that is the case, then why is mead so often mentioned in the Norse mythologies? Maybe it truly was a matter of wishful thinking. There is less mention of mead in the sagas, which claim to be stories about actual people. One of these mentions from Egil’s saga recounts of someone sailing to Denmark to buy honey, as well as other things, which makes sense if there was no local beekeeping. There are other mentions, but on average it seems real people mostly drank milk products and beer. Surviving records show wine was considered the best by the Norse, with records of wine traded from the Mediterranean up to Scandinavia back to the year zero, then mead, likely imported either as honey or fermented, and then locally-produced beer (coincidentally, or maybe not, this is the same order in which Olaus Magnus has listed his wine, mead and beer descriptions and recipes). True to human nature, it was not the easily available product which was considered finest – after all, it is always that which is hard to get which is valued above all others.

But: there does seem to be one caveat in dealing with Viking age beekeeping from a modern point of view. Much of the Viking era coincided with the Medieval Warm Period, which happened from about 950 to 1250 CE. It is conceivable beekeeping was possible then, even if only in an opportunistic wild beehive robbing sort of way. Eva Crane’s World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting recounts of a find of “tens of thousands” of dead bees from 1175-1225 CE in the Old Town of Oslo, which could mean purposeful beekeeping. Or it could be a singular large hive which died spectacularly all over the town, as one hive can contain from 10,000 to 60,000 individuals. But it is feasible people did keep bees in at least part of Norway during that time, and later lost the knowledge when the climate changed again, and the northern lands became too hostile for bees. More likely is that local beekeeping never was very widespread, but as the famous traders and raiders the Vikings were known for, they bought and plundered honey from abroad.

The popularity of mead waned in the rest of medieval Europe as the production of honey slowed and prices rose and the consumption of beer spread. When The Medieval Warm Period was followed by The Little Ice Age, lasting from about 1350 to about 1850, this also contributed to the decline of medieval honey production, especially in short season climates like northern Europe and southern Scandinavia. And with the increase of population and thus agriculture, old growth forests which provided nectar were cut down and wild flower meadows were planted with grains, which yield no nectar at all. By the 14th century a gallon of French wine was cheaper than the honey needed to make a gallon of mead, and by the 17th century imports of cheap sugar from the West Indies mostly replaced the use of honey in cooking and brewing. Mead survived well into the 18th century in central Europe, where raw materials were easy to get from the large forests they still had, and in the rest of Europe in different versions as a drink for the sick. It could well be that mead did not only decline because of cost, or the improving quality of other drinks, it could also be because mead was said to be so good for the drinker’s health, it became associated with the sick and the weak.

Example of sheltered beekeeping from the European Alps (left –, in which individual hive boxes are communally housed within a larger structure to help the hives make it through the winter cold. Another concept for Viking Age appropriate hives, similar to log hives as found in illuminated Medieval manuscripts (right –

Whether or not the Vikings were active beekeepers, from the numerous mentions of mead-drinking in the Saga’s we know they sure enjoyed the results, or at least wished they could. Surprisingly, it took until the middle of the 18th century for someone to figure out how to keep bees successfully in the Oslo area. He did this by closing down his hive with a perforated screen in early spring to prevent the bees from flying and feeding the bees watered down honey. That far up north, the bees run out of honey and wake up too early in spring to go in search of flowers while there still is snow on the ground. They go in search of food because they are starving, and instead freeze to death. Keeping them cooped up and fed they can be kept alive until the rest of nature wakes up and there is food for them to find – the similar as our modern practice of feeding sugar water. From that point on, beekeeping spread, and resulted in a strong tradition of beekeeping, especially in the south-eastern corner of Norway and southern Sweden, that grew into a local mead-making tradition.

Much of this information comes from an ethnographic survey on farmhouse brewing issued by the Norwegian Ethnographical Research Institute (NEG) in 1952 and 1957. This questionnaire ran 103 questions, and questions 99 to 103 dealt with mead, and the results were surprisingly consistent: most of Norway at that time had no mead-making and barely any mead drinking tradition at all – except for a small cluster south of Oslo, and down into southern Sweden. Of the small handful of Norwegian responses, one replied people collected wild honey, and four replied independently that people who kept bees sold the honey, but then made mead from the honey that remained stuck to the wax combs. The beekeepers would dissolve the honey in hot water, boil it, add some spices, and then ferment it. A process very similar to the washed comb mead making techniques found in medieval cook books.


Modern beekeeping in Sweden, from Biodlingsföretagarna, the Swedish Professional Beekeepers website (


  • Crane, Eva. The World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting. Taylor & Francis, 1999.
  • Garshol, Lars Marius. Norwegian Ethnological Research. Posted in Beer on 2014-09-15 15:38
  • Garshol, Lars Marius. Mead: a Norwegian tradition? Posted in Beer on 2018-04-15 12:16
  • Gayre, Robert. Wassail! In Mazers of Mead. Colorado, US: Brewers Publications, 1986.
  • Husberg, Erik. Honung, vax och mjöd : biodlingen i Sverige under medeltid och 1500-tal.
  • Unger, Richard W. Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.

Iron Age Stone Brewing – part two

The things we learned this second trial: what worked, and what are we going to work on some more. And no, the brew did not sour this time, and yes, the recipe made a fine drinkable juniper ale. With only a wood tub, a fire and some hot rocks. Who knew historic brewing could be this much fun!

Our second brewing workshop happened at the Great Pennsic War, a large two week re-enactment get together in rural Pennsylvania. The workshop was allocated space in one of the Royal encampments on middle Saturday in the center of things, right next to the University, which meant many brewers and prospective brewers could stop by, see what was going on, and actively participate. There was no shortage of tub scrubbers, malt grinders and water haulers here!

Cy Phorg’s tutelage had set us on the right path and we did not feel the need to alter his recipe much. We again used 18 pounds of 2 row barley, combined with 4 pounds of rye and 2 pounds of smoked cherry wood malt. We used the smoked cherry wood malt instead of the peat malt as I had picked up a number of samples at the 2019 Homebrew Con. Thank you, sponsors.

For our botanicals I chose not to use the mugwort again as I think it contributed greatly to the vegetative bitter taste in our first trial. We again used a handful of yarrow, this time dried, a handful of bog myrtle and some yellowed hops. I also made a separate boil with 2 oz pre-packaged hop pellets “Cluster Fugget”, another free sample from the 2019 Homebrew con. Because we were fermenting on-site in questionable sanitary conditions I added the pelleted hop infusion to the wort hoping it would aid in preserving for the short week the brew would need to ferment. The wort did not sour this time – we also pitched yeast as soon as the temperatures were good – and the small amount of hops used did not add significantly to the flavor of the ale.

Things we did the same (from the first trial):

The wooden half-barrel mash tun works surprisingly well. It does need conditioning and a good clean after, and before use, which makes using wood a bit more involved from using stainless steel. As the tub had been sitting for a few months it had dried out and the staves had loosened. Two days before brewing I filled the tun with hot water and had it sit in the sun. It stopped leaking within 24 hours. I then dumped the water and let it dry facing the sun, which has antimicrobial properties as well, so we could haul it to the brewing site empty. Having ears, and a long handle, makes moving this 30+ gallon half barrel a breeze, without stressing any loose staves and have the barrel fall apart due to manhandling.


Things we did differently:

We used the same type of granite rocks of around grapefruit size, heated in a large wood fire. But we started the fire on a layer of charcoal briquets (one bag of barbecue coals) which knocked a couple hours off of getting a functional bed of coals to heat the brewing rocks. We used metal tongs to move the hot rocks, but instead of using fireplace tongs I had found a pair of metal blacksmithing tongs for round stock which worked extremely well and look quite similar to tongs from traditional Nordic brewing illustrations. While the tongs worked great, the firepit surround did not work as well, and caused for some shriveled knuckle hairs as it really concentrated the heat upwards which made it hard to remove kettles and hot rocks. Next time, no surround, and I heard rumours of one of our brewers finding 4 foot handled tongs.

I made a stand for the mash / lauter tun based on historic pegged-leg exemplars to keep it at a good working level with enough space underneath for a bucket to drain the wort. At first we used three logs, but those don’t pack up neatly and are hard to haul around (and technically illegal outside of 50 miles). The design was inspired by the traditional Nordic brewing illustrations of tub stanchions.

What we learned for next time:

Like last time, we used a shared mash and lauter tun. While this is not unheard of, there are traditional brewers out there who did this, I do not think it is as helpful as it sounds to be. The filter bed interferes with stirring, which in turn interferes with a good temperature throughout the mash. To help this, we pulled (cold) wort from the bottom and added it back to the (hot) top. The only reason we did this set up again was that I did not have room to transport two wooden tuns. Trial three will feature a separate mash tun and lauter tun.

We need larger capacity for boiling water and making juniper infusions. We need a proper kettle. I have one I can, and have, boiled a whole goat in – which might be a wee bit too large – but if needed, that’s what I’ll bring for future use. It’s good to own a truck.

A few observations:

The brew tasted overwhelmingly of juniper, especially for us who are not used to the taste. I am glad we had our brewers do a taste test of straight juniper infusion, so we knew exactly where the taste came from. Nordland mentions traditional brewers using minor amounts of juniper, only as a filter in the lautering tun, but also mentions traditional brewers making strong juniper infusions to sparge the mash with. Likely our brew was somewhere in between, not as mild as it could be, and more of an acquired taste than us modern brewers are used to. Two things we can do to limit this flavor is to avoid adding any juniper branches with bark, and to not heat the mash on top of the juniper filter bed. And as we’re planning to separate mashing and lautering anyway, this will be an easy change.

Brewing in Pennsylvania during the summer month of August also brings another challenge – ambient temperatures. Daytime temperatures are in the nineties, if not higher, with overnight temperatures between the sixties and the eighties. Standard ale yeast does not like this very much. It also takes a long time for the wort to cool down without intervention to be able to pitch the yeast. A yeast which does like high fermentation temperatures, which can be pitched hot, and attenuates quickly, would be the Nordic yeast kveik. This might not be coincidental. We did two yeast trials, one part with WB-06 and one with Nottingham and found that the one with Nottingham displayed definitely floral overtones, just like kveik is known to do, and that our taste testers preferred this flavor profile. We will be doing kveik trials this winter to learn more about its likes and dislikes.



Brewing in wood, on-site, to drink within a few days, is completely feasible. People in general are mesmerized by the process, and brewers can not be shooed away. With a little bit of effort, and an oak wine barrel, this way of brewing would be attainable to anyone who is interested in low-key historic brewing processes, and drinking something enjoyable which will not be duplicated time and again. We had people scrubbing, grinding, hauling water, splitting wood, stirring the mash – and ooh-ing and aah-ing anytime a hot rock violently boiled the mash.


We fermented part in a plastic bottling bucket (sanitary, and with built-in dispensing tap) and, after the initial fermentation, added part to an oak barrel. The couple of days it was in the closed barrel it did built up pressure, and made for a nice tingle-on-the-tongue mouth feel. Both bucket and barrel were well sampled at our Closing Party, with numerous return customers.

And at home I now have some left over party booze slowly oaking in my cleaned out barrel. My barrel will be sterile for the next demo, and we’ll have some drinkable booze to boot. Proost!

For more on our Iron Age brewing experiments, please see my previous post at:

To read more about Nordic Farmhouse brewing, check

  • Vom Halm Zum Fass: Die volkstümlichen Alkoholarmen: Getreidegetränke in Finnland (1975)
  • Brewing and Beer Traditions in Norway by Odd Nordland (1969)
  • and Mika Laitinen’s new book Viking Age Brewing: the Craft of Brewing Sahti Farmhouse Ale (2019)