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: https://youtu.be/eTDX6fds7EU
Session 2: https://youtu.be/LNIbYj_J2QI

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” (https://www.garshol.priv.no/blog/298.html). In here, Roar mentions that since the juniper taste is secondary to the taste of the malt, he does not use it anymore when he brews for himself. Roar also boils the wort for an hour where Jørund does not; he prefers to brew a raw ale.

Smoking the malt in Roar’s “firehouse.”

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

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

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

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

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

1:01:37 – 1:25:27

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

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

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

2:01:21 – 2:10:10

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

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

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

4:12:04 – 4:20:20

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

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

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

Screaming at the kveik.

4:31:09 – 4:55:05

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To brew stjørdalsøl


  • 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: https://youtu.be/eTDX6fds7EU
Session 2: https://youtu.be/LNIbYj_J2QI

For a whopping 12 hours anyone interested could follow the brewing of three different styles of farmhouse beer at three different farmhouse locations. Lars Marius Garshol, of Larsblog fame, and Amund Polden Arnesen, brewer at Eik & Tid, hosted the slow-TV festival. When brewing activity would be minimal, viewers were treated to several talks of which only one was in Norwegian (thank you!). Mohammed Tawfeeq, from University of Leuven, talked about Traditional beers as a source of new yeast biodiversity, Mika Laitinen demonstrated the brewing of Finnish bread/beer taari and Martin Thibault looked Beyond Kveik at 3 Unexplored Hotspots for Heirloom Brewing Yeasts (all three in session 2). I was very sad to see Jereme Zimmerman was bested by the demons of virtual technology and never got his sound to work. Perhaps we’ll see, and hear!, him next year?

During these 12 hours, three farmhouse ales were brewed using three slightly different processes. Hornindal brewed a raw ale, Stjørdal a 1-hour boil ale, and Voss brewed a 4-hour boil ale. Each group of brewers did things in a slightly different way: as they said themselves, where you have 50 brewers, you will find 50 different methods, and each brewer thinks their beer is the best!

The different brewhouses did share the use of open fire and a copper kettle, as well as the use of locally grown dried hop flowers and fresh juniper sprigs. I spent a wonderful Saturday glued to the TV watching these different brewers chat about beer, while taking copious notes to fine-tune my own open-air medieval brewing demos. Videos of the live festival are released on youtube and to make navigating the two 6-hour YouTube videos a little less confusing, I will annotate each brew, step by step, as they appear in the videos (the times listed can be plus or minus a few seconds). First up is the raw ale by the brewing team at Hornindal.

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” (https://www.garshol.priv.no/blog/342.html).

12:40 (indicates the minutes:seconds of the video)

Hornindal gets going with a general introduction of the brewhouse and the brewers. The brewers present are Stig Seljeset (owner of keik #22 Stalljen; wearing a blue pullover), Olav Sverre Gausemel (ownder of kveik #18 Gausemel), Lars Andreas Tomasgård (ownder of kveik #21 Tomasgard), Odd Steljeset, brother of Stig and owner of the brewhouse, and Arve Raftevold as well as a number of other local brewers apparently looking to replenish their diminishing store of beer. There is a kettle with a juniper infusion steaming in the background. The festival started at noon local time and the brewers have had some time to start preparations. The juniper used in the infusion is picked fresh, with or without berries, and is not really measured. Stig prefers to harvest juniper tips from the small weedy shrubs, not their nice large ornamental trees. Some of the branches go in the water for the infusion and some go on the sieve bed.

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.

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)

Iron Age stone brewing demonstration

My interest in anything Viking age, and anything early-period brewing merged last weekend when I organized a brewing demo at a local medieval festival. Jeff Boerger traveled from afar to help Ken Stuart and I work our way through the different steps of successfully brewing an all-grain beer with nothing modern but a thermometer – and honestly, we did not even truly need that! Inspired by a Facebook post by a Texan brewer who shared his interpretation of an Iron Age brew in northern continental Europe around 2,000 years ago that he brews for an Iron Age immersion week each spring, I figured we could give it a try too.

While 2,000 years ago is a wee bit past the Viking age, it is unlikely the way of brewing changed all that much from the Iron age until Middle age monastic breweries started pushing the boundaries of brewing volume and shelf-life. And while there might not be a whole lot of recorded history, with only a single example from the Icelandic Ljósvetninga saga telling of milk warmed by stones, there is plenty of archaeological evidence for the brewing of beer in Viking age context. Residues of a fruit & honey beer from northwest Denmark of circa 1500-1300 BCE, found in 2014, included honey, bog cranberry, lingonberry, bog myrtle, yarrow, juniper, birch tree resin, as well as wheat, barley and/or rye. And there is nothing archaeologist like better than rubbish heaps and trash middens, of which the old farmsteads have plenty!

It seems in central Norway the rubbish heaps suggests Vikings and their descendants brewed beer by tossing hot rocks into wooden tuns. Many a fire-cracked stone is found at most of the farmyards of old, historically named farms. Unfortunately for the archaeologists, since most archaeological digs are initiated by construction sites, as developers are required to check for cultural artifacts before beginning construction, most construction sites avoid developing through a farmstead. This means most of the archaeological information we have about the Viking age comes from graves, and most of the archaeological information about the Middle ages comes from excavations in cities – which misses a large chunk of data as most people back then lived in the countryside. Recent small-scale excavations in farmyards found that the oldest farmsteads carbon-14 date to 600 CE, the late Iron age.


Nineteenth century Sociologist Eilert Sundt recorded an encounter on a farm in 1851 in Hedmark, Norway after seeing a pile of strange looking smallish stones. “What’s with these stones?” he asked and the farmer replied “They’re brewing stones. Stones they used for cooking to brew beer, from the old days when they did not have iron pots.” Sundt noted that most of the farms he visited had piles of burned or fire-cracked stones, and every time he asked about them, he was told the stones were from brewing, when they would be heated until they were glowing hot and plopped into the wood vessel to heat things up. The stones were everywhere, Sundt wrote, and so thick and compact in places, houses were built right on top of them! A modern excavation at Ranheim, near Trondheim, Norway, found 700 cubic meters of stones from just one portion of the farmstead. A test sample of 24 farms found that 71 percent had fire-cracked stones. Hot rock brewing would not be as obvious in the archaeological record elsewhere as with Norwegian brewing stones because of the types of stones used, as most regions use stones which tolerate heat without fracturing, like the igneous rock granite and basalt. Brewing beer with hot rocks is nothing unusual, and traces of brewing with stones have been found in England, Germany, Finland and the Baltics.

And thus, in the great tradition of Gulating’s law – the Gulating being the Norwegian governmental assembly which met from 900 to 1300 CE – requiring three farmers to work together to brew beer, Jeff, Ken and I set up our brewing along gorgeous Cayuga Lake to make some Viking beer!

Our grainbill:

  • 18 lbs of 2 row barley malt
  • 4 lbs of malted oats
  • 1 lb of acidified barley malt
  • ½ lb of peat smoked barley malt (very smoky, use sparingly)
  • ½ lb of malted rye (left over)

The grain was milled on-site, and by hand.

With an infusion of:

  • Yarrow (big handful)
  • Baby spruce tips (handful)
  • Mugwort (less than a dozen sprigs)
  • Henbit (small handful)
  • Aged, yellowed hops (handful)

The herbs were fresh and picked the day before. The hops are homegrown and have been sitting in the dark in my basement for about a year. This way the brew gets minimal flavor, while still benefiting of some of the preserving qualities.

Step by step how we made our stone beer:

First thing we did was start a fire to make the coal bed.

Then we used that fire to make a juniper infusion and clean out the wood tub (the mash tun) with the scalding infusion to clean and sterilize.


Then we put a layer of juniper twigs covering the bottom, concentrating around the plug (there is hole in the bottom of the mash tun, kept closed with the plugging stick).

We milled the grains by hand: we used 2 row barley, malted oats and some random leftovers, including rye, as well as some peat smoked malt.


Then we added water. We added it cold from the tap – it could also be pre-heated in the sun, especially in summer.

Next, we put stones on the coal bed and built another fire right over top of them, with a hardwood / pine mix I had brought from home to make sure we had dry wood.

IMG_0810 - Copy

In the traditional Scandinavian style, we made a separate tea, or infusion, with the herbal bittering agents. We used yarrow, some mugwort, aged and yellowed hops, some henbit, and baby spruce tips.

When the fire was mostly burned down again, we started pulling stones, and added them to mash (the soaked grains) 3 or 4 at a time. Jeff really enjoyed this bit, as did my son when we did a water-only trial in the back yard. We tried three metal grabbers and found the funky accordion style firewood grabber worked best.

We kept checking the temperature, especially the top and bottom as the mash & juniper was quite insulating and there often was quite a heat difference between the top and the bottom. It was difficult to stir with the juniper branches covering the bottom. At around 130F we observed protein break which made the surface of the mash all foam up.

We kept adding hot rocks until overall temps were at or over 160° F, and then we kept it at this level for an hour and a half – adding more stones as needed.


By now, whenever a new hot rock is added, the wort (the liquid surrounding the grains) surrounding the rock immediately went to a boil, creating lots of steam, a wonderful smell of sweet malt, lots of sizzling & sputtering, and quite the surface boil. This part, which takes about an hour and a half, is spectacular to watch!

At around the end of the protein rest (the hour and a half) we noticed the protein foam had dissipated, and the wort started to settle. So, we put the draining bucket under hole, carefully wiggled the plug stick, and slowly drained the wort into a sterile bucket. I would plug the drain back up each time the bucket was ready to dump the filtered wort into a sterilized fermenter bucket. This traditional way of having a combined mash tun (where the grains are soaked) and a lauter tun (where the infusion is drained off the grains) worked surprisingly well.

We sparged with boiling water. We intended to use juniper water but ran out of cooking vessels as we started to cook dinner while waiting for the protein rest. We drained about 4 gallons from the initial wort, and another 2 gallons were sparged, by trickling boiling water over the mash to wash out any remainder sweetness. The last sparge we handed around for anyone to taste.

We made about 8 gallons of wort from about 25 pounds of grain, including 4 pounds of oats I sprouted and roasted (called malting) over the winter, and bittering adjuncts grown and harvested from the backyard. All in all, it took about 6 hours from start to finish, but we also took all the time we wanted and ended up cooking dinner over the hot stone fire as well – rabbit with spring onions, over barley, nettle and plantain. It was a good day, and I can’t wait to taste the results!

The things we learned:

  • Making the first coal bed took a while. In case of restricted time start with a bag or two of charcoal, add rocks, and built a wood fire over that.
  • We needed more pots to boil water, and/or vessels to store juniper tea for sparging.
  • Stones crack, but slowly, crumbly, and pose no danger (apart from sharp edges when fishing them back out of the wort). It is no wonder the farmyards had layer upon layer of discarded stones, as from two trials I already have half a bucket of small gravel! Brewing stone beer means keeping an eye out for replacement granite.
  • When the wort reached about 130° F, we saw foam (protein break). When it reached about 160 °F the surface was really steaming (and too hot to touch easily). When it had sat for about the right amount of time, the foam had also started to dissipate and the wort was starting to clear.

Back home, I added some Nottingham dry ale yeast, and Ken added Munton’s “Active Brewing Yeast” which the package says “…is a high viability robust yeast carefully selected for its consistency and clean finish.” As we had brewed on an alcohol-free Boy Scout campground I had not brought any yeast to pitch on site. When we tried the wort at about the 5-day point, we found it to be more acerbic and herbal tasting than expected. It had soured, quite likely because of the delay in pitching our yeast. The little bit of wort I had added to my yeast ring did not sour, but was fairly bitter, like an overly hoppy IPA. I checked back in with the Iron age brewer and he suggested not to boil the herbs, but only to steep, and to add the infused tea as a sparge, not during heating. We will do further testing before our next demonstration and look forward to sharing our results with you then! Skål!

For anyone who would like to try Cy Phorg’s Iron Age interpretation:

  • 4 lbs of 2 row barley malt OR a mix of light and dark Munich malt
  • 1 lb of rye malt
  • ½ lb of peat smoked malt
  • ¼ lb acid barley malt

Mash for 160° F or more for 1.5 hours

Steep in ½ a gallon of water a combination of:

  • Juniper branch tips (handful)
  • Meadowsweet (several handfuls)
  • Sweet gale
  • Heather (handful)
  • Henbit / deadnettle (handful)
  • Yarrow

All preferably harvested in spring, use with flowers and buds when possible. Sparge with the herbal tea first.

Cy uses kveik yeasts, farmhouse/saisson style yeasts, and Belgian/Trappist style yeasts to good effect, often in a mixture and often with a health addition of bread yeast. It will be ready to drink in as little as 48 hours, though in his experience he finds 72 hours is a good spot to start pouring. It is not intended to be carbonated, and should be consumed in a day or two.

More on brewing with stones:

How to make a yeast ring

The Scandinavian Saga’s show the Vikings understood how to work with yeast to brew beer long before the first published Nordic books on brewing. Halv’s saga speaks explicitly of yeast, called dregg. Other words found in sagas are jǫstr, related to the Swedish ‘jäst’ and gerð, related to the the Danish-Norwegian ‘gær.’ As well as kvikur or kveykur, both linked to the adjective ‘kvick’ and meaning that which sets something in motion, related to the Norwegian ‘kveik.’

Many different methods of preserving yeast have been used over time, including the baking of yeast cakes with the addition of flour and the drying of yeast sludge on rough wood logs, straw wreaths of whittled yeast rings. For more on the history of Scandinavian yeast devices, check out my previous post at:


The most curious piece of brewing equipment, the yeast ring is mostly found in traditional Scandinavian farmhouse brewing. It would be used by drying yeast sludge on wreaths of straw or braided bark, as well as rings of small pieces of whittled wood. For this type of storage, the sludge could be dried quickly with the help of sterile hot ashes which would absorb excess water, the heat would help expedite drying, and the alkaline environment it creates would be antimicrobial. When Sir Arthur Mitchell toured some of the western islands of Scotland in 1768 he took note of how the natives of the Isle of Skye revived their yeast preserved on a wreath:

“The natives preserve their yeast in the following manner: They cut a rod of oak four or five inches in circumference, twist it round like a w[r]ythe, and steep it in fresh yeast for some hours, then hang it up and dry it. And whenever they need yeast they take down the twisted rod, and put it into a covered vessel amongst two or three pints of luke-warm wort, so in two hours thereafter they have fresh barm fit for immediate use.”

Practical instructions


Design of a Danish yeast ring, from the book Landbokvinden (Back to the land, 1964).

There are many different ways to make a yeast ring. Some are made simply from tightly twisted straw, others from strips of bark expertly braided together. Most are made from wood, often birch or beech, and most are made from narrow mortise & tenon pieces which are interlinked together. Some have a raised wedge head which keeps the pieces locked in, others have an indentation to the side. Some are square edged, some have rounded edges, and some have a decorative serration at the top, sometimes even at the bottom. Most have a square wedge head when seen from the top, and the measurements are often 2 wedge lengths makes up one body length (ratio 2:1), but sometimes shorter, at one and a half to 1, and sometimes much longer. On average, a good ball-park design to match many of the extant artifacts is about 75 pieces, or 25 sets of 3.

A modern reconstruction (left) made out of plastic with a 3D printer by George Hart (http://www.georgehart.com/rp/torzle/torzle.html)

Remekel a Bicska OCR-26-3b    Remekel a Bicska OCR-26-2b

A traditional reconstruction from the Hungarian book on whittling called Remeckel a bicksa (The knife is great, 1958).

This version seems to be the most common design and is probably indicative of the process: the many, many pieces would be carved or whittled by hand, with a knife, and the wedged end and slot (mortise) would not be problematic to create. This technique might also explain why it perhaps originated in Scandinavia – an area with a strong whittling tradition and long, long dark and boring winters.

The key to the puzzle

There are several options for the key piece which closes the loop, and could theoretically open it again. It is not quite clear what the benefit of taking it apart would be, except perhaps for a deep clean before it goes into storage (or to the museum). There are several museum artifacts which are disconnected (often also incomplete); the majority of the artifacts are connected and in one piece. None of the four key versions mentioned below are easy to re-open, and are all prone to damage when done so repetitively.

key pieces - composite

  • Key 1 (left): a piece with a minimally raised wedge, low enough so it can be pushed through the mortise. Optional: widen receiving mortise slightly as well. For cheaters: chisel the wedge off completely, insert piece, and glue back on. This key piece has to be the very first of the chain.
  • Key 2 (mid.): the tenon is split lengthwise from the middle of the back to the mortise. Then the two arms are sprung open and pushed over the body of the connecting link, similar to an old-fashioned clothes pin.
  • Key 3 (right): If the mortise is cut a bit wider than the link width, then it could be possible to remove just enough of the side wall to push through the other link. The part removed could be carefully glued back to remove all traces of construction.
  • Key 4: steam or boil the key piece ten to twenty minutes to soften the wood. Compress the wedge in a vice to flatten the wedge and insert through slot. As it cools and dries, it will re-expand somewhat and steaming can be used to expand it further. This is a known technique for making improbable wooden objects.


  • Loránt, Ferkai. Remekel a bicska, 1958.
  • Ole Højrup. Landbokvinden. Denmark, 1964.
  • Mitchell, Arthur. James Robertson’s tour through some of the western islands, etc., of Scotland in 1768. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Volume 32. Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 1898. https://books.google.com/books?id=-vacElTywOMC&dq
  • Thunæus, Harald. Ölets historia i Sverige I Från äldsta tidre till 1600-talets slut, 1968.