The farm is situated 110 meters above sea level and approximately 3,5kms from town centre. We are placed high and dry on an elevated wedge between 2 glacier valleys and have a really nice view both overlooking Sykkylvsfjorden and the dramatic alpine landscape of our region. Here you will surely find somewhere to rest your eyes.
Our brewing history is somewhat of a haze. We have found records of our cluster Aurdal as far back as mid 12th century, but the black plague hitting Norway 200 years later probably wiped out all the farms here. However – somewhere during the late 16th century, the sheriff of “Valle Skipreie” – a regional naval home guard – set up his courthouse on the farm. Our family traces directly back to this sheriff, and we where lucky enough to be the family to keep the courthouse even if the farm was split in to 7 pieces as the years went by. In 1878, the courthouse was torn down and rebuilt 100 meters away from the place it was originally situated. This is today a 250 square meter villa built as a crossover between the two building styles predominating that era. Inside these massive wooden walls, people have been living and working for more than 420 years.
That includes brewing.
Norway has been a poor country. We did not have any proper ways to feed our workhands ensuring they avoided malnutrition. The rich contents of vitamins and minerals in beer was a good supplement to the poor food that was available. In Gulatingsloven, a law from the 9th century – there where demands that every farmer in Norway brewed proper beer for their workhands and the Church was set to monitor and fine those who didn’t obey.
So, it is only natural to assume that our good sheriff Peder Olsen (or his wife ..?) brewed the proper beer that he was expected to. It is also natural to assume that this has been the story for the line of ancestors descending right down to this day. Of course, the laws eventually changed, coffee became the preferred drink to put on the table for your guests, and our traditional beer and beer traditions died out. Only a small number of enthusiasts kept the traditions running, preserving the craftmanship, the receipe and the tools.
My great grandfather Peter Carl - the man, the legend, the brewer.
Early 20th century, my great grandfather Peter Carl Weiberg-Aurdal (PC), starts brewing beer. This man is a mystery to us all; questioning all the brewing routines from earlier years. He starts looking at the process and decides to make some hygienic changes. One can only imagine WHY, since everybody else where brewing in the same manner – HE still decided it was not good enough. Among other things, he decides to build new wooden barrels for the brewing, and he makes them higher and wider than the old ones. He even widens the internal doors in the basement so that the barrels can move from storage to brewing room to washing room – but not go outside. So when someone else wanted to borrow his barrels, he could just lift his shoulders and say: Sorry, they are not possible to fit through the outer door.
This wasn’t done because PC was a selfish man, he had just experienced so many times that the same people came to his door to borrow his brewing gear, and the returning it 3 months later without having cleaned them. With modern equipment made from stainless steel, that would only be annoying – but with wooden barrels this would make them impossible to get clean again. The mold and sour remains from the brew would penetrate the wood and be hopeless to get sanitized again. Not even soaking them in seawater or steam-treating them would help. Hence the bigger barrels – now THAT problem was solved.
He also had a long and good look at the way he preserved his yeast. Tradition was to use a yeast-stick. You would dump this wooden stick made from Alder or Birch into the warm wort in the fermentation barrel and leave it there for a few hours. The stick had lots of holes in it, allowing yeast to cling and stick inside it. Then you would hang it up to dry for the next brew. Alternatively you would boil it after removing it from the wort, and then pull it through your trub and yeast remains on the bottom of the barrel after fermentation was over and the beer was put away for storage. Some could even have a chain-link-ring (a yeast-ring) made from the same types of wood, serving the same purpose.
He figured out that he was unhappy with the degree of cleanliness he could achive with this method. Eventually he threw away his yeast stick and started taking the yeast remains from the bottom of the barrel, putting it on a clean piece of cardboard and drying it in the woodfire heat of the fermentation room. He would then break it up in small pieces and store it in a linen bag under the ceiling in the storehouse. Then he would even be able to store yeast from several batches, not leaving it to chance and having only one source for good yeast.
Why did he put so much effort in preserving the yeast? Couldn’t he just go to the store and buy a new one? Remember the saying : The brewer makes the wort, the yeast makes the beer. The farmer would take as much pride in his beer as he would in any other product he made for other people. His yeast was a part of the farms livestock and he would treat it as well as he treated his dog or horse. You would know by the taste of the beer which farm it came from, and 90% of the taste was the yeast. By the way, there was no yeast in the stores. If you ran out of yeast, you would have to ask the neighbor to borrow some of his, and who would want THAT taste on his beer ?
Countless are the weddings where the beer was brewed by Peter Carl. In many cases the bride refused to have a wedding unless they could persuade this brewing legend to make the beer, others claimed that if someone else brewed the beer, the marriage wouldn’t be a happy one.
In 2016, I got aware via facebook that a man was collecting the old farmhouse yeasts. He even put a strange name on them, “Kveik” – a name very unfamiliar in my home town. Long story short, I sent him some 12-15 year old samples that had been sitting in my freezer awaiting discovery. Time went by, and I got some short messages from him with updates on the lab testings, note about a guy in Canada who had made an imperial stout with it and LOVED it, and then … silence.
After many months I got this message: Congratulations! You are the unofficial Norwegian champion of Kveik! Your kveik has 10 separate strains of Saccharomyces Cerevisiae , none obvious dominant so they don’t compete with each others, no bacteria, POF-, ferments from 25 to 42 degrees, alcohol tolerance of 15%.
So… I actually have something extremely unique in my freezer! What the report doesn’t say, is the speed it ferments at. It will burn 80% of the sugar contents within the first 24 hours, and be done after 4-5 days. This is however similar to most of the farmhouse yeasts.
This is my great-grandfathers yeast. According to family tradition, he kept the same yeast for all the decades he was brewing beer. It seems like all farmhouse yeast strains at some point grows “weak”, and the the brewer will go to another brewer and get a small amount of his yeast, and add it to the fermenting beer that will not finish. This will normally revitalize the fermentation and the beer will finish. When he now collects the yeast remains on the bottom of the fermentation barrel, he will have a new collection of strains, and his yeast will be like new again.
This also happened to us. This story unfolds probably in the timespan of 1940 – 1948, my grandfather had just married the brewers only daughter and was the overseer of 7 or 8 small basement-based furniture factories (Sykkylven had about 100 of these in that era). It was a hot summer day, and he was touring the basements on his bicycle. At his last stop, the houseowner hailed him and told him that he had to go and a see a friend of his father-in-law in the afternoon. Together the two men trekked about an hour up a small creek, where the friend picked up a sealed glass jar from the near-freezing glacier water. “Go straight home without stopping, and keep this glass in the shadow of your backpack or this might become a disaster” was the cryptic message my grandfather got. He pedalled the 7 kilometers back home as fast as he had ever done that afternoon, and the mystery contents of the glass jar was revealed; this was the best yeast anyone had ever heard of, and was considered by the brewer to be the perfect partner for our now “weak” yeast. The slurry was pitched and it actually rose the temperature of the fermenting vessel to a point where they had to take of the insulation of the barrel and open the windows to keep the temperature down.
After this incident, the yeast has – to my knowledge – never run “weak”. Almost every year in the season for the Christmas beer, some random brewer would come by and ask for a sample.
The last time I brewed, I took a sample of the wort and cooled it down to 30 degrees C. I then pitched 15 grams of dried yeast and put it inside my fermentation cabinet at the same temperature. 90 minutes later, after boiling and cooling of the worth, I retrieved the small bowl from the cabinet, and it had a 5 cm thick layer of bubbling yeast on top. 90 minutes later, the airlock on top of my fermenting vessel was blown dry by the exhaust gases.
The brewer / trainer
Growing up at my grandparents farm was like a fairytale. Of course, my parents moved to a new house in another part of Sykkylven, but I think I was at the farm almost every day. My mothers brother was running the farm at the time, and I can remember the brewing days as very hectic. The week prior had been long nights of polishing the copper kettles and steaming the wooden barrels, and brewing Saturday started EARLY. The woodstove under the copper kettle was filled up with juniper branches and water, and the fire was running already at 7 in the morning. Being just a kid, I didn’t have any relationship with the beer, but I noticed that so many friends of my uncle and my grandfather often came to participate in the brewing. I learned to appreciate brewing as a social event.
Come my teenage years, I had my first encounter with lager beer on a language travel in Poole in Britain at the age of 15. I don’t know if it was my size or my charm, but I was even allowed to buy liquor in the stores that summer. Coming home, I decided to “borrow” some of the beer that was stored in plastic cans in the basement at the farm, but this taste didn’t quite fit the young tate buds of neither me or my pals. I didn’t know that I had taken 4-5 years old beer …
I think the summer I was 17 was the first time my uncle and grandfather actually invited me in on a brewing. My uncle had made new brewing vessels from stainless steel after realizing that the old 600-liter wooden barrel would NEVER be able to make good beer again. This was new toys and they wanted the youngster to be included in the tradition. I was there every night that week, polishing the copper kettles with ash and water, making them shine for the event. I got on my motorbike before the birds where awake, and participated in filling the kettle with juniper branches and water, and making a good fire under the kettle.
Gradually the secrets of brewing was revealed to me, and I started taking great interest in beer as a topic. I never could say I loved the taste, but everyone 20 years older than me loved the taste.
As I became a student, brewing my own beer got more interesting. I was now adjusting my taste in beer to fit the available products at home, but none of my fellow students would prefer this over a god commercial lager. Moving from student to a busy computer consultant and the workload the brewing really was – I kind of lost the interest for many years. I only did the occasional brew to please mye grandfather and uncle, and eventually just to keep the craft in my memory.
Some years later, a divorce and a bunch of new friends, I rediscovered the joys of craft brewing. A very good friend of mine had bought a “terrace brewery” – a handy one-kettle 60 liter brewery with a malt pipe inside. Fascinated by the ease of making good beer with so compact equipment, I soon bought my own gear and started brewing again. Now I was exploring all styles from light lagers to imperial stouts and all in between. I was playing with smoked malts to honour my inheritance from the farm-malted, farm-dried, smokehouse-smoked malts that was used in the traditional brewing, but it never occurred to me what treasures I had for fermentation before the “big awakeing” passed a few years ago. Lately my brewing focus has been mainly on what I can brew using my own yeast.
The brews / a brewing day:
We had a large bag of pale ale malt that we took to the barn to grind – and now I knew what that big chunck of steel in the barn was for. We have a 1 tonne German roller / grinder from 1850 there, and it will “grind” 40 kgs of malt in only 2 minutes. I was shown how to feed it and listen for the right music coming from the rollers when the feeding was just right.
Back in the basement, the juniper mixture was close to boiling, so we started out on the mashing. A long wooden rod was handed to the youngster, and about ¼ of the grain was put in the vessel. Then we added a bucket of the juniper water, and the mechanical mixing begun. More grain, more water, heavier mixing, and finally the last batch. Now we had to ad enough water so that we got the correct porridge consistency, and I was showed the magic tick to know when it was JUST right. (Interestingly enough, repeating this procedure in later years with proper measuring tools, this gives us a mashing temperature of 68 degrees)
So, now we had to ad cold water to the juniper kettle, and rekindle the fire. Filling it up to JUST reach the edge should give us enough juniper water to do the rinsing.
Now for the “main” event, the rinsing. We would take the vessel that’s about the size of an oil barrel with a valve at the bottom and place it on a small table, just high enough to get the smallest kopper kettle under the valve. First, we would place a sieve made of wood with lots of small holes in over the inlet to the valve. Then we would make sticks of alder, cut a 5-15 cm thick alder in 20cm pieces and split them in 2-3-4-5 pieces. We wash the pieces in hot water, and place them in a pattern that leads the fluids in the bottom of the vessel towards the valve. Next we take some juniper twigs and branches, cut them up with the axe to small pieces, rinse them in hot water, and add a layer on top of the alder sticks that’s at least 30-40 centimeters high.
Now we are ready for the mash. At this point, the juniper water should be at the boiling point again, and the mash should have been sitting for at least 1 hour in its vessel. We now take the bucket and start lifting the mash over on top of the juniper twigs, bucket by bucket. Eventually we rinse down the mash vessel with the juniper water to make sure we get all sugar out.
Now its time for some serious rinsing. We start carrying buckets of juniper water and add it on top of the mash, and we keep adding til we have a good 2-5 cm of water above the mash. Then we open the valve so that you get a thin beam of wort coming out and running into the copper vessel. Now this process goes on for the “rest of the day” or until you no longer can taste any sweetnes of the wort coming out of the valve. Keep adding juniper water on top and make sure to watch that the wort keep running at the right pace.
Now its time to take the mash tun, place it in the middle basement on a piece of styropor to insulate it from the floor. This will be the fermenting tun. Find your hops, add it to a pan holding at least 8-10 liters of water and put this up for boiling. We used to buy whole dried hops from the pharmacist, but today we often use a mild german hop like Hallertauer Mittelfruh. Gentle heating before running it through a sieve.
As the copper kettle is filling up, we start carrying full buckets of wort into the fermenting tun. For each bucket, you make a mark on a piece of wood or paper. As the day goes by, the temperature of the wort is increasing and as soon as the content of the fermentation vessel reached 30 degrees, we pitch the yeast. Here we would have made a starter from some hot wort, making sure that the freezed / dried yeast actually wakes up. We only pitch about a teaspoon or 15 grams of dried yeast for 100 liters of wort. At this point its time to start chilling the buckets before we add them to the fermenting tun to avoid the temperature getting too high.
As the process of carrying the buckets of wort into the fermenting tun reaches the end, we note how many buckets there are of wort. Then we take a cup and add one spoon of “hop-tea” and one spoon of wort per bucket, to get a tasting reference for the mixture.
It is also common to add a few kilos of brown candy sugar to get the right taste. This can either be boiled in water to dissolve it completely before pitching, or it can simply be dropped into the fermentation tank. The yeast will eat it anyway.
At the end of the day, we put som insulation around the tank, place the mash paddle on top and cover it with a couple of sacks. At this point, the yeast should have made a good amount of floating active yeast, and the production of fresh yeast cells is in full swing.
The next morning, you should be able to hear the yeast working 10 meters away and for sure smell it in the whole house. Lift the sack, and put your nose inside, and you will be sure that there is a fair mixture of alcohol and CO2 in the space on top of the beer. Keep gently checking your fermentation and temperature on a daily base, and make sure that the temperature stays in the range around 30 degrees (or higher if you like …)
At day 4, you will want to check to see if fermentation is finished. Take the ladle and pull it through the yeast on top of the beer – if still present. If the gap closes immediately, then you still have a fermentation going, and you wait one more day. If the gap closes slowly, or not at all, you can prepare for “oppskøk”. This is the traditional happening where the brewer invites his neighbors to taste and assist in the heavy work of getting the beer out of the fermentation tun and over to the glass balloons for storage and ripening. This involves bending into the tun, and taking out ladle by ladle (and inhaling a good amount of the alcohol fumes). This usually ends up with a good hangover for everyone involved.
Now we take the yeast that’s left on the bottom of the tun and put it on clean piece of cardboard or paper and keep the temperature up to dry it. When its completely dry, we break it up in smaller bits and put it in the freezer.
Note that we didn’t boil the wort, so this is a traditional raw-ale. Hence, everything touching the wort must be boiled and / or soaked in the boiling juniper water. Any bucket or ladle involved in the process should not be placed on the floor or any other surface, but hung in hooks in the ceiling. The extreme cleanliness in the brewing process is probably the most important inheritance from mye dear great grandfather – without it, the beer will be ruined