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During the summer we got the chance to visit the Midgardsblot festival in Borre, Norway. We found it one of the most extraordinary and mesmerizing festivals we have ever visited. It offers a complete package for adepts of the viking heritage and lovers of viking or pagan (metal) music. An attempt to capture the experience in a review can be read here, while a visual overview of the bands and atmosphere can be found here. Of course such a festival would not be complete without its own festival beer rooted in viking traditions. This beer could only be tasted at the festival's pre-party at Horten Mikrobryggeri the day before the official start of Midgardsblot, at the brewery's beer tasting session during the festival and at the Midgard Historical Center over the summer. During that first night in the brewery we were part of the culprits who finished the first 30 l keg before the festival even started. So if you wanted to taste this beer... you had to be there! But if you want to find out how a viking beer could have tasted... keep on reading!
The first thing we notice after receiving our freshly tapped Midgard Ale is reddish amber colour. The small white head does not last too long. Things really get interesting, however, when we delve in with the nose. It is clear from the start that this brew is very different from any of the other festival beers we tried before (Dynamo Metal Fest, Summer Breeze,...). We notice a soft, natural sweetness, reminiscent of fresh, wild honey. Most noticeable, though, is the herbal and slightly smoked character of the beer. While the herbal aspects draw us toward images of green kitchen herbs (thyme, basil,...), the smokiness is not like a traditional rauchbier or anything. To be honest... It mostly reminds us of a pizza with lots of fresh herbs! If I have my historical facts correct I'm pretty certain the Vikings did not bake pizza's yet in their time. Still, it is a fascinating experience for the nose that makes us eager to taste.
The first sips reveal an oily texture and low to medium carbonation. Another surprise, as this beer tastes different than what you would expect from the aroma. That the Midgard Ale is a complex beer is kind of an understatement as it taste evolves in unexpected ways. The herbal aspects return but are complimented with lots of resin near the end. The first oily, herbal and sweeter flavors run into a more pronounced thicker, smokier, warming resin experience. While the first taste lasts long in the mouth, the after taste is suddenly cut pretty short. It is refreshing, yet warming. It is sweet and floral, yet also dry and herbal. While one could argue this must make it a pretty unbalanced beer, I found the flavors to drift into one another really smooth. It invites you to keep sipping and discovering new aspects of the beer. What the group of visitors at the pre-party clearly did as we finished the first keg before closing time!
We could not offer any packaging information like we usually do, since the brew was only served from the tap. Instead we had a talk with Horten Mikrobryggeri's manager Elisabeth Kjær to learn more about this unique brew and understand the original taste experience we just had:
What can you tell us about the Midgard Ale and what makes it so special?
Horten Microbrewery has had the privilege to make Midgardsblot's very own festival beer. The Midgard Ale is based on the recipe of “The Beardless Viking”, the winning beer from Midgard Beer Festival last year where home brewers of Vestfold (the county we are in) competed. One competitive category was to make a ”Viking” beer where one of the criteria was to use other ingredients than hop, hopefully changing it with some ingredients the Vikings in the area might have used. They also had to use smoked malt. As the Vikings dried the malt by an open fire it would most likely add a smoked flavour to the malt. An expert panel and the audience voted on the best beer and this beer was the recipe used for making the Midgard Ale.
The beer is brewed with an exciting mix of ingredients as we think the Vikings might have done it and one of the distinctive characters comes from the beech wood-smoked malt. The winning beer, Beardless Viking, was made with fresh birch sap, juniper and fresh thyme, so we can definitely say this is not your average beer! We used the same ingredients, but as the birch sap was not ready at the time of year we brewed, we changed it with birch wine. 6 bottles in total were added in the fermentation tank. The juniper berries and fresh thyme was boiled with some hops (Magnum, EKG) while the juniper branches had soaked in the warm brew-water overnight.
We brewed 500 liter which gives a finished result of around 430 liters beer. We brewed this beer specially for Midgardsblot and Midgard Historical Center got around 100 liter of this that has been served on tap to the guests in the Gildehall over the summer.
In September we will arrange the 2017 championship in the Gildehall, in collaboration with Midgard Historical Center and BorreBrygg (BorreBrew), and hopefully the next winning ”Viking” brew will be an inspiration for next year's Midgard ale!