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Posted in Beer on 2014-02-01 11:47
I wrote earlier about how I went to Sogndal to brew a traditional Christmas beer there. Unfortunately, since I had to get back to work, I left Sogndal the next morning, just as the beer was beginning to ferment. There was no way I could bring a big can of fermenting wort on the little propeller plane I was taking back home, so I just had to go home hoping we could find some way to transfer the beer. As luck would have it, a kind colleague was celebrating Christmas in Sogndal, and brought a 10-liter can of the beer back over the mountains, so I got to try it.
Pouring it into a glass there's barely any head, just a coarse offwhite froth around the edge. This is as expected, as true farmhouse ale doesn't have any CO2. The body is black, and nearly opaque, though I can see a little hazy dark brown in it at the edges. So visually, the beer is just right.
On the nose, the first thing that stands out is juniper, and a kind of roasty oily banana aroma. The juniper really is a major component of the flavour all the way through, and one of the things that define the beer. It's different from the juniper flavours in sahti and in Haandbryggeriet's Norwegian Wood, but quite similar to the juniper flavour in Huvila Arctic Circle Ale. I really don't know what causes these differences.
There's also a herbal oily smoky flavour to the beer, which is odd, because there's no smoked malts in it. The banana-like flavour is also a surprise, since in other farmhouse ales I've ascribed it to baking yeast, but we used Safale Ale Yeast. Is it the juniper? Is it something about the fermentation? I don't know.
Overall, the beer is sweet, mild in the mouth, and flat. It feels a bit rough, but at the same time it's pleasant, and easy to drink. The end is fairly bitter, in a rough way, probably from the juniper. I really enjoyed it. So much so, in fact, that I'm glad I got 10 liters. I've shared some bottles with others, and the feedback is generally positive. Via cousin Svein I hear that the consensus at the institute is that "we were lucky with this one". In short, it really is a good beer.
One thing I notice when drinking it is a slight heat in the mouth that could be anything, but as you go down the glass you realize the heat must be due to alcohol, because you're starting to get a buzz. In fact, the thing kicks like a mule, but you don't notice until it's too late.
Seeing a photo of the beer can prompted my father to tell a story about grandpa's traditional Christmas ale, which he would brew all year round. The Christmas ale was served at some cousin's wedding, where the groom's family came from a different part of the country. They were unfamiliar with this kind of beer, but really, really liked it. Like me, they failed to note that while the beer was smooth and easy to drink, it carried a hidden sting. Before long the wedding party turned into a "sea battle" of epic proportions.
A friend took the recipe from the previous blog post and typed it into BeerCalc. Playing around a bit with it myself, assuming a mash efficiency of 72% (the default) I get an original gravity of 1107, a final gravity of 1026, and an ABV of 10.6%. These numbers are obviously rough, but probably not that far off. Carlo (the brewer) wrote that the final fermented beer was a bit too sweet and thick, "tasting like porter essence and having a consistency like sauce", so he diluted it with about 10% water. So the actual ABV is probably somewhere in the 9-10% range.
Putting in the hop numbers we get the IBU, which is almost as interesting: a mere 7 IBU, and yet the beer actually is balanced and has a good dose of bitterness in it. How is this possible? The answer is that the juniper adds a lot of bitterness. I spoke to a woman who'd done a lab analysis of a farmhouse ale from Voss a few decades ago, and she said that although there was barely any hops in the beer, it had lots of bitterness from the juniper.
So it seems that these beers use just a touch of hops to stave off infection, but actually the bitter/sweet balance is mainly taken care of by the juniper infusion. Which again explains why Carlo didn't care what type of hops he was using: there was so little hops that the flavour contribution was minimal in any case.
Anyway, that concludes the tale of the farmhouse ale I was lucky enough to help brew. My next ambition is to brew a farmhouse ale with homemade malts and family yeast. We'll see how that goes.
Svein Ølnes - 2014-02-02 06:32:38
Although not as advanced in judging beer as you, I have exactly the same impression of the beer we made. I could also easily have brought 10 l more of it. The beer was also very well received in the rest of the family, and from people that isn't very fond of the traditional homebrewed beer.
The beer was strong but I doubt if it reached 9-10 %. Comparing the effect to other strong Christmas beer I would say around 7 %.
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