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As a final warm up for his National Geographic Society beer seminar tonight, “New Beers of Scandinavia,” we are posting one last excerpt from our interview with Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver. Read on for a preview of topics to be covered at tonight’s event, including how brewers in Scandinavia are infusing old styles and ingredients with modern ideas and collaborating with brewers from all over the world.
You have a lot of stuff going on right now in Scandinavia. I think that what’s maybe the most interesting thing in some ways is people looking at what is their particular terroir of Scandinavia and trying to translate that into a modern beer with an old Scandinavian influence, whether it be a particular style like old smoked beer styles in the past that you see coming back. From HaandBryggeriet you see Norwegian Wood for example, which has some peat smoking and some wood smoking. People like Mikkeller are doing things that are a little more in the American mold. You see both things from people like Nørrebro Bryghus. And then you have things that are very traditional like Lammin Sahti—beers based on the traditional Finnish beer of that name. Really there are things that people are doing like growing old varieties of Danish barleys that would have been used a few hundred years ago, bringing back very old varieties of hops, and really trying to feel their way toward a Scandinavianness, if you like, if that can be a word, of beer. And I think that it’s fascinating to watch.
Nøgne Ø is doing some of the most exciting stuff out there. They’ve really taken up a collaborative style of brewing, brewing with people everywhere from other parts of Scandinavia to Tokyo, which I think is really brilliant. The head brewer there, Kjetil Jikiun, has recently started making sake, and it’s actually really, really good. He’s not making an easy to make form of sake, either. He’s making a really difficult form of sake. I sat down with him at the Craft Brewers Conference and he was with Yoichi Kiuchi, who is from Hitachino. Hitachino brews beer of course, but their main business is actually making sake, which they have been doing for 150 years. So here you have this 6′ 5″ Norwegian guy who is making sake and is consulting with a guy from Japan who has a 150-year old sake brewery and also a beer brewery, and they are there talking about beer and sake and whatever else. It really shows the wonderfully free flow of information and inspiration between different countries and even different drinks.
And I think that the brewer is re-becoming an artisan, whereas for a long time in the United States and also in Scandinavia, the brewer was an engineer essentially. You know, “Take this grain and make this one product that tastes exactly like this all the time.” Now the brewer becomes once again much more like a chef. As a chef, you don’t just do one thing. You do a number of things and you continue to create. Hopefully if you are a chef you have the things that you are most famous for, but you also have some specials every week. You’ll interpret what’s at the market, you’ll interpret whatever is on your mind, you’ll interpret influences that you had and places where you ate, and all these become part of your food. I think it should be the same with beer. It certainly is with us [at the Brooklyn Brewery].
For those who tried to get tickets to the NGS event but couldn’t, we’ll be posting our drool list for you as consolation (or torture—you call it.)