Brewing Washougøl

Washougøl is a beer that’s inspired by Norwegian Maltøl. If you’re unfamiliar, Maltøl is an indigenous Norwegian farmhouse beer style. Traditional brewers use juniper branches to make an infusion and use that as their strike and sparge water, often juniper is used in the mash vessel as well to create a filter. These beers are very lightly hopped, if at all. They are fermented with landrace yeast that’s been handed down in the families and villages for generations and is known as kveik. You can read a lot more about this sort of beer and the different kveik yeasts over at Larsblog.

Maltøl is a bit of a catchall blanket term that encompasses a few different sub-styles that exist in Norway. Since my own version deviates in a few ways from these sub-styles that I’m aware of and since I live in Washougal and not in Norway I’ve called my beer Washougøl. Anyway, let’s talk about the differences and my thoughts/reasons behind them.

Juniper. Juniper is a staple in Norwegian farmhouse brewing, indeed it seems to be a staple in nearly all indigenous Nordic brewing from Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Baltic States and probably into Russia as well. The species used is Juniperus communis which is super abundant in these areas. Brewers basically cut a few branches from their hedge or whatever and they’re ready to go. While Juniperus communis does grow in certain parts of the pacific northwest it’s not incredibly abundant and mostly grows at the higher elevations of the Cascade mountain range. Instead of driving up to the mountains I decided to use an evergreen that’s very abundant on my property: Leyland Cypress. Leyland Cypress is a fairly common hedge tree in suburban PNW. It also makes a delicious tea as well as beer. For this beer I cut a few boughs and used them in the mash and also to make infusions for the strike and sparge water.

Hops. In traditional Maltøl hops are very restrained or even not used at all. They are typically homegrown or procured at the local pharmacy.  For my Washougøl I used only homegrown Glacier hops (partly because I have a shit ton of them) to give just a touch of bitterness to the brew and help beat back lacto. I suspect my Glacier hops have a rather low alpha acid in the 2-3% range, but I aimed for an IBU level of around 12 using hops in both the mash and toward the end of the boil.

Kveik. Kveik is yeast that has been passed down for generations from brewer to farmhouse brewer in Norway. While kveik is starting to become available to brewers around the world and is certainly an option for Washougøl, it wouldn’t be especially Washougally to use yeast from 5000 miles away. Instead I chose to use my local wild yeast culture that I’ve been using for 6ish years now. It’s obviously not handed down from my great grandfather but it does seem to be the dominant yeast in this area and it makes delicious beer, I’ve been using it for a while and it’s one of my favorite yeasts. You can be sure, if my daughter takes up brewing I will be handing it down to her.

Malt. In traditional Norwegian farmhouse brewing the malts were made on the farm. This is mostly due to a long standing Norwegian law left over from temperance times stating that anyone wanting to homebrew had to do so with homemade malts. A previous even longer standing law said any farm in Norway must produce beer. Both of those laws have been repealed in Norway and while some farms do still produce all the malt they brew with, most just buy pilsner or pale malt from continental Europe. For the Washougøl I used locally malted Superior Pilsen from Great Western Malt and Rimrock malt (a sort of vienna style rye malt) from Mecca Grade in Oregon. Rye is actually more common in Finnish Sahti than Maltøl but I wanted to give a little of that rye mouthfeel in this beer that I knew would be quite dry due to my (likely) STA1+ yeast selection.

Process. Maltøl is typically not boiled at all, though one sub-style boils for around 4 hours. I boiled Washougøl for one hour. I didn’t go for a raw ale because I want this beer to have a longer shelf life. Raw Maltøl contains a lot more protein and typically goes ‘off’ after a few months (though this may also have something to do with sanitation practices and the sparse use of hops). Boiling precipitates a lot of protein out of the beer and also gives opportunity to boil hops.

Recipe. My recipe was as follows for a 10 gallon batch:

20lbs Great Western Superior Pilsen Malt
4lbs Mecca Grade Rimrock (to impress those judges)

2oz homegrown Glacier hops in the mash
2oz homegrown Glacier hops @15 minutes

A bunch of fresh cut Leyland Cypress boughs in the strike and sparge water as well as the bottom of the mash tun. I didn’t weigh it.

1L starter of my wild(feral?) Abbey yeast culture, probably an underpitch…

Fill kettle with water for the strike, cut Leyland Cypress branches and stick them in a kettle and turn on the heat. Also cut boughs and lay them in the mash tun, I stuck smaller branches under the manifold in my tun. Target a mash temp of 156F, it’s also not a bad idea to actually heat the water up to boiling and then let it cool down to your strike temp to get a good cypress infusion.

Add 2oz of homegrown hops to the mash when mashing in, let it sit for one hour. While mashing add water for the sparge to your kettle along with more cypress boughs and heat that to boiling, let it cool a bit while you drain the mash of your first runnings, vorlauf if you feel like it. I’ve stopped bothering to aim for a specific mashout temp but you can target 168-170F if you want.

Drain the sparge into the same kettle with your first runnings and begin to heat the wort to boiling. Add 2 more oz of hops to the boiling wort with 15 minutes left in the boil.

When the boil is over, chill the wort, drain to fermentors and pitch yeast. I fermented at around 85F, for kveik you can push it even higher, I’ve fermented with my yeast up to 100F outside during a heat wave and had good results. 85F is about as hot as my chamber can get with its current heating elements. After about a month of fermentation I cold crashed the beer for a month or so before getting around to bottling because the competition I brewed it for got postponed.

I bottled with a low level of carbonation, around 2.0 volumes. Typically Maltøl is minimally carbed or even served completely still.