Norse Legend, the pet project of Jennifer Glanville, a brewer at the Boston Beer Co., is dosed with Metcalfe, Copeland, two-row pale Harrington, Special B and aromatic malt along with earthy, spicy rye. Hallertau hops entice the 21st century barfly, adding a reasonably high level of bitterness to a drink that’s redolent with fresh evergreen flavor. Koch expects drinkers to be increasingly interested in rare styles, especially with Great American Beer Festival judges now rating them. He also believes consumers will have fun exploring something new such as sahti. That said, Norse Legend and Verloren, which is German for “lost,” are available only on a limited basis nationwide.
At Vintage Brewing in Madison, WI, Scott Manning decided right away to make room in his regular rotation for the occasional experiment. Almost from the time Vintage opened in 2010, Manning was confident that Madison’s diverse, well-educated, well-traveled population would welcome something out of the ordinary and began to read up on rustic Finnish brews.
“Several small batches of juniper-spiced European rye ales followed,” he says, “resulting in what’s become our summer sahti, a light-bodied ruby ale with a bright ginlike aroma and a peppery, earthy, dry rye finish. Fermented with ale yeast, it’s no doubt closer to the American spiced ale tradition than those of the Old World. The public took notice, liked the beer and the sahti story. So I vowed to up the ante for a ‘winter warmer sahti’ and try to bring ours closer to my imagination of what a real Finnish farmhouse ale might be like … but with a holiday twist.”
Full-bodied and appropriately strong at 8.2 percent alcohol by volume, Joulupukki is based partly on sahti lore and partly on Scandinavian baking traditions. Which is to say that juniper twigs and juniper berries mingle with cardamom, vanilla beans, clove and orange peel to create, in Manning’s words, “a bit of holiday magic in the glass.” And while he acknowledges that following traditional methods to brew sahti in a brewpub would be impractical or inadvisable, he does use baker’s yeast as well as acidulated malt and a tiny dose of lactic acid to lend a slight tartness to his cheerily named Joulupukki, or Santa Claus beer.
For brewers such as Manning, determination has been an important factor when attempting a historical re-creation. In other cases, a generous splash of collaboration has proved useful, too. At East End Brewing Co. in Pittsburgh, Scott Smith worked with a friend from the other side of the state to create kvass, a low-strength, dark-colored rye beer with an Eastern European birthplace. Considered more of a summer drink with health benefits making it suitable for children, homebrewed kvass is still sold from roadside stands in parts of Russia. Neighboring Finland has a similar drink called kotikalja or sometimes just kalja, but neither has attained much popularity outside its home country. For ambitious brewers, however, kvass can be a tempting challenge.
“The first time it was Tom Baker’s idea,” Smith says, referring to the owner of Philadelphia’s Earth Bread + Brewery. “So one morning over coffee, I cajoled him into coming out to my brewery to do a guest brew. His wife heard us talking about kvass and asked if that was the one that really sucked. ‘Well yeah,’ said Tom, ‘but I’ve got an idea this time.’ ”
An idea that involved 30 loaves of stale rye bread from a local bakery, a small amount of hops to balance the grain bill, caraway seed to lend a spicy note and East End’s house ale yeast.
“It certainly was the most interesting beer I’ve ever tasted,” Smith says. “And it [sold] really well for a beer that’s so cloudy and low in alcohol.”
Little kvass exists in the United States, although in New York in 2010 the Coca-Cola Co. began selling Krushka & Bochka, a nonalcoholic kvass that it had developed for the Russian market. Up the road from East End, Dan Woodske of Beaver Brewing in Beaver Falls, PA, has also tried a kvass with two-row barley malt, wheat malt, lemon juice and peel, and raisins, along with a trace of Fuggles and Hallertau hops.