March 26, 2018

Norse by Northwest - S01E09 - Viking Culture in the Modern World Part I - an Interview with Ethereal Visions Publishing.





A slight departure from the normal podcast, this is the first in a series of interviews discussing Viking influence in modern culture.
Today I interview Hope and Matt from Ethereal Visions Publishing about their Gjallarhorn project, a series of Viking themed playing cards.
If you are interested in getting in on the kickstarter before it closes, head out to and grab one of the amazingly customizable sets.

Find Etheral Visions Publishing on their Facebook Page.

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The podcast is graciously sponsored by The Froggy Viking.


Intro and Outro music as always provided by the amazing Svanevit - www.svanevit.com

As always, I welcome any questions or comments. You can email me via or just go to the Website, and I accept messages on Facebook and Twitter as well.



As promised, here is a bit of a write up explaining how I made my Viking Ale with sources for future study if you're interested.


Having made a few different types of Viking ale using completely modern methods, I wanted to produce a Viking age brew from the ground up as much as possible.
This was going to mean using period appropriate ingredients as well as building the equipment and making period tools to build the equipment with. So what ingredients and equipment would I need?

Despite solid evidence of brewing by the Norse people in period and references within the Sagas and such, we know more about it as an end product and not much about the process. So at this point we are kind of forced to make some educated guesses. 
Microbiology has been used to examine casks and other containers found at various digs so we know what ingredients were being put into some brews, but not the quantities or the methods.  For example, we know that the Norse were brewing with more than one grain and often many of them at the same time.  We know that they did have access to hops for bittering but that wasn’t the only thing they used. 

I decided to go with a slightly higher alcohol dark ale bittered with Juniper.  My ingredients were:

  • Bere, a barley cultivar thought to be incredibly close to the barley that the Vikings used.
  •  Very old Finnish Sahti yeast. I got this from a commercial Sahti brewery and it was the oldest Scandinavian yeast variety I could get my hands on. I got some dried about a year ago and have reused the yeast cake over and over to make my own ‘House’ yeast the way the Norse peoples likely would have. (I now have some very old Norwegian Kveik yeast that I'll be using in future to see how it differs.)
  • Local river water. Not the same profile as Hebridean or Scandinavian waters, but I wanted to keep things simple and also realistic. Use what you have and all that.
  • Juniper branches with berries still on.

The method was going to be slightly more complicated. We don’t know for sure how they were brewing even though we do know that there was a large change between Pre-Medieval Brewing and Late-Medieval brewing. At least at the time of the Hymn to Ninkasi they were creating loaves with their grains, baking them to save them and then using the entire loaf to create a mash. But by the Late-Medieval period our sources from monasteries and such indicate they were using the malted grains loose rather than in a loaf.
We do see some early Irish annals describing loaves being made for brewing, but the little information we have on Viking age imports seems to imply that grain imported for brewing was loose and in sacks or pots.  So we just don’t know for sure.

What we have started to find lately is that some of the Archaeological evidence for brewing seems to match pretty closely with the folk methods of brewing used in remote Scandinavian and Scottish regions. So it’s not unlikely at all that they would have been using very similar methods in the Viking age.
I decided to use this as my jumping off point for what method a Hebridean Norseman would likely have used when brewing.

Now, in the Scandinavian countries one of the popular folk ales is Juniper Ale. Made in relatively similar fashions but called different things depending on the region. (Sahti, Gotlandsdrika etc.)
I decided to build my own Kuurna like the kind you’d use making Sahti, but make a slightly darker and higher alcohol Ale with it, more like the traditional Norwegian farmhouse brews.

So I needed to build myself a Kuurna. I was lucky to have a few logs handy from getting trees cut down at a friend’s house. These were mainly Linden wood rather than a more Nordic Pine or Spruce, but you use what you have.
The first step was splitting the top third of the log off. I used wedges and a mallet to do this. So the wedges were roughly carved out of some leftover scrap wood and the mallet was made using an offcut from one of the logs.
I figured out quickly that due to some of the knots in the log it was cleanest and easiest to split from both sides.


Once the log had been split it was time to hollow it out. I did this using a hand axe and an adze. This works a lot better if you sharpen them frequently. If you don’t you’ll find yourself hacking out large runnels that you didn’t mean to.



After she was nicely hollowed out I used some period appropriate iron nails to nail end caps on. Just some leftover pine boards from another project. Then I needed to drill a hole on one end for draining the wort out.

The only solid evidence I could find for Viking period drills was T-Handled drills. So I made myself one using an old flathead screwdriver and a branch. The end of the screwdriver was heated and hammered into roughly the right shape. Then I drilled the hole in one end and cut down a dowel from a branch to use as a bung.

Finally, I decided that I wanted to season the Kuurna. I did this over a peat flame. (Peat being one of the main sources of fuel in the Hebrides.) Initially I used a full block of peat and suspended the Kuurna over it, but it was far too windy that day. So I moved the Kuurna into the garage and rigged up some tiles underneath it with small chunks of peat lit at the corners to smoke it and season it. This worked really well.



The Kuurna is ready, now it’s time for the brewing! Bear in mind that at no point did I sanitize ANYTHING nor use modern yeast or extra sugars/wort for carbonation. Everything was done exactly as described here.

I managed to get hold of 10 lbs of malted Bere barley. This was only lightly roasted so I roasted it to a much darker colour over a peat fire. The small amount of grain evidence we have from Norse brews really runs the gamut of roast colours, so I think people likely had differing tastes and catered to that, just the same as they do today.

Firstly, I needed a fire. I had some Hebridean peat blocks to use, but I started the fire using wood kindling which I split with my axe. Then I started a fire using my iron starter and some char cloth and dried grass.


Then I added the peat bricks to the fire so that they could catch and get a good flame going after the wood had burned out. Again, this is because peat would have been the main fuel source for my persona.


I rigged up a rough tripod over the fire using old pieces of wood which I had sprayed down with water.
then I hung a basket from this with the grains I intended to use. I let them sit over the smoke for a couple of hours, turning them occasionally. My aim was to have them pick up any peat smoke flavours that grains malted and roasted over peat smoke would have. I ended up piling some wood boards around the tripod so that the smoke wouldn’t get blown away from the grains, this being something of an attempt to mimic what a malting house would have been like.



From this point I got the juniper woven into the base of the Kuurna then I added the grains and the water to it.

After this was done I started heating some river rocks in the fire and added them to the Kuurna.
I gradually switched these out over a two hour period, letting the water get to a good rolling boil and attempting to keep it there over the whole two hours.


Once I felt everything had been boiled pretty appropriately and that everything had had a chance to mingle pretty well, with occasional stirring using my mash paddle, I left everything to cool to about blood temperature before draining into the fermenting vessels on top of the established yeast cake of Sahti yeast which I have used previously.


Most of it was open fermented in a plastic bucket with just a linen towel over the top to stop things from falling in.
The rest was fermented in a period appropriate oak cask.
The resulting beer was put into bottles with no attempt at priming and capped.
As before I found that these carbonated quite a bit, and even transferring from the cask the contents were thoroughly carbonated.

I definitely observed a fair amount of crystalization of sap from where the rocks had come into direct contact with the branches, which seems to match the archaeological finds I have been looking at.

This batch had bright flavours both of fruit and pine as well as of the malt itself. Overall I found it to be a much more well-rounded beer than the ones brewed using modern methods and very enjoyable.
The colour continued to be dark and rich, with ruby tones in the light. Appearance wise it reminded me a lot of Wychwood Brewing’s Hobgoblin ale.



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