We travel again through Nordic land, for another visit to the ancestral brewing practices in Norwegian farms. Somewhere between the 17th and 18th centuries. Here tradition rules, not science. Simple conventions of the modern world that we take for granted are challenged. If not, let’s see:
The cereal does not come from the homebrew shop already ground, on the contrary, it is planted on the farm’s own land, malted and ground in millstones.
The mashing is done in a wooden tank, so the easiest thing is to put some stones in the fire and pour them into the malt and water mix, to heat the mash up to the right temperature. And what temperature is that? Wait, no thermometer is used to check the temperature of the mash, you stick your fingers directly into the mash and feel the temperature. Can you hold five fingers in the wort? It’s still not hot enough. One finger only? Ahhhh, now yes. That’s how Simonas Gutautas taught us.
Beer is not boiled, because that would require a large metal pot and back then it would be expensive and could be put to better uses. Since there is no boiling, hops are not boiled, nor is there an isomerization of alpha acids. But the hops are used in another way. There is little or no protein precipitation, which helps to explain why Raw Ales do not age very well. Having little shelf stability, they should be drunk while the beer is still fresh.
But wait, if we don’t boil the beer, then surely we’ll be making a sour beer, right? You can’t drink that, can be harmful!
Hmm… not quite. One reason for boiling the wort is to pasteurize it, sure, but this is not the only reason, nor is it the only way to do it. Typically, mashing in Raw Ales is carried out at higher temperatures, up to 75ºC for periods longer than an hour. This allows the pasteurization of the wort and with the help of the protective substances of the hops and the quick work of the yeast, will result in a clean – and safe – beer.
But since there is no boiling of the wort (remember that we are making beer in wooden vats) and without isomerization of alpha acids from the hops, we must find another way to include them in the beer. And the solution is to make a hop “tea”. Using a small portion of water or a little bit of the initial wort, a portion of hops is boiled in a separate, smaller pot, probably the same used to cook meals.
All of this seems unthinkable to us today. But it turns out that… we think about it.
Hands-on to make our raw ale with modern equipment. Metal pots have become commonplace and therefore, our process is slightly adjusted here and there in some parts. It is not 100% “farmhouse”, but for a first experience, it’s close enough.
The mashing started at 55ºC with increments of 2°C every 10 minutes, up to 67°C. Small pit-stop in the middle to adjust the 5.64 pH, brought down to 5.5 with lactic acid (bah, modern stuff). After that, we respect the tradition of long mashes and let the mash and recirculation run freely while we go to bottle previous beers and do some tastings. Total mashing time? X hours, who knows? What is certain is that the wort was impeccably filtered and transparent.
As we have a kettle with a basket, at the end we separate the grain from the wort. We drain and sparge the malt to reach the desired volume. And some added water to hit the right density, which was a bit high.
Then we add our hop porridge, previously boiled for 30 minutes, to the wort and raise the temperature to 82ºC. First Raw Ale, so let’s make sure pasteurization occurs and that we don’t show up on the evening news for food poisoning.
Traditional Raw Ales from Norway typically use juniper branches, placed at the bottom of the wooden tank to help make a filter bed for the wort, and also as a way of cleaning / sanitizing, since the juniper contains antiseptic properties, similarly to hops. As our brewing kettle has a filter on the bottom, we don’t need this and here comes the next twist. Even more so because we didn’t have any juniper branches at hand… But we do have some lemon-verbena, picked fresh and added in the final moments of pasteurization together with the hop tea.
We mix Norwegian and Lithuanian traditions in the same beer. There are points of contact, farm beers have historically existed in both places. Be it the Maltøl in Norway or the Kaimiškas in Lithuania, there is common ground. As artisanal process as it could be, wooden tanks, no boiling, malt from the farm itself, hops too. What changes is the use of juniper and the yeast to ferment it, thus there are also differences in the flavor profile.
For this one, nothing like using an also historical yeast, from Lithuanian farms. But first we bring you another old school brewer: Julius Simonaitis. A brewer for many years, probably more years than what many of us are alive and from a time when beer was not meant to be sold. Rather, it was brewed and shared. For important events like weddings or any day, just because. When there was smoke in the chimney, friends and neighbors would appear. A ritual almost like drinking a Radler in the morning before starting our brew day. And so a community is born. And from that same community comes this yeast that was used and shared.
Uncle Julius inherited from his father all the tools and barrels necessary to make and store beer. Through him, the world inherited this yeast, so that we could, here in our corner, make a brewski with this.
Simonaitis’ sensory profile refers to tropical fruits (passion fruit, orange and guava), stone fruits and produces spicy, earthy and herbal spice tones. As for the temperature and fermentation profile, Simonaitis likes to do its job in the cozy warmth of some 35º C and is a speedy kid just like the Norwegian Kveiks.
Just like Uncle Julius. The Goodfellas.
Total Cereal 4.51 Kg.
Original Gravity: 1.048
Boil Time: what boil?
40% – 1.8 kg. Pilsner
40% – 1.8 kg. Wheat
15% – 0.68 kg. Spelt
5% – 0.23 kg. Rye
100 gr. Saaz (pellet, 4.5% AA). Hop tea boiled for 30 min.
Yeast nutrient @ 5 min.
The Yeast Bay Simonaitis Lithuanian Farmhouse – WLP4046
CL to SO4 Ratio: 0.77
Saccharification – a(n) (un)certain and (un)determined amount of minutes @ 67ºC
Mash Out – 10 min @ 76ºC