Saturday, May 18, 2013

Brewing the Viking Whey: Blaand

This weekend is Syttende Mai, which commemorates Norway's independence from Denmark in 1814. There are impressive Styyende Mai celebrations happening in Norwegian neighborhoods throughout the state but, if you happen to be in southern Wisconsin, the city of Stoughton throws an awesome Syttende Mai shindig that dates back to 1868. Skal, y'all!

In honor of Syttende Mai, and our state's reputation for fabulous cheese, my Norwegian-American fiancé and I are brewing a couple batches of a lesser-known Viking beverage. Sure, almost everyone has heard of, or sampled, mead. But very few people know about blaand, and I have yet to find anyone (in Wisconsin, at least) who has ever sampled the beverage. Perhaps for good reason-- blaand is made from fermented whey. Yes, the byproduct of cheese making! As the story goes, Vikings would bring casks full of whey on their voyages at sea. By the time they reached their destination, the Vikings would have a fermented, boozy beverage. Unfortunately for the modern day brewer, there isn't much written about blaand. And there certainly isn't any recipe to follow. So. We're blazing new frontier here. After pillaging the local homebrew store for a few simple ingredients, our mission to brew a contemporary approximation of Viking blaand was underwhey. (see what I did just there? :D)
For our four test batches, we used a few strains of brewer's yeast, hops, and various grain blends. We purchased these supplies at the Wine and Hop Shop on Monroe Street in Madison, WI.

This morning at 6am, we drove up to Willow Creek Cheese in Berlin, WI. The owners generously donated two, five-gallon buckets of fresh goat's milk whey for our Viking blaand experiment. Thanks, Willow Creek Cheese! The whey doesn't look like much. Two big buckets of glossy white liquid. If you have cats, watch your back when the lids come off of the whey buckets. We managed to snap this shot without any feline tampering, but it must smell like cat ambrosia. 
Two buckets of fresh goat's milk whey from Willow Creek Cheese in Berlin, WI.

We reduced the whey in a propane powered turkey fryer.

We're brewing four, 1-gallon test batches in various styles. Because most brewing yeast cannot digest lactose, we decided to make one standard blaand and a couple of blaand/beer hybrids in order to see which variety will be 1) most successful--read: most fermented, and 2) most flavorful. Here's the line-up:
1) Straight-up blaand: Containing only reduced whey and lambic blend yeasts.
2) Milk Stout: Traditional recipe with reduced whey substituted for brew water.
3) Milk Stout with lambic yeasts: Traditional recipe with reduced whey substituted for brew water, plus the addition of lambic yeasts.
4) Scotch Ale: Traditional recipe with unreduced whey substituted for brew water.
After a day of brewing, all of the batches are in the fermenters and ready to go. Friends who've heard about this project have joked that we should take the fermenters on a canoe trip in order to add extra authenticity but, for now, they're stashed safely in the basement. Some of the lambic batches will age for close to a year and we'll uncork them during Syttende Mai 2014. The hybrid batches will be ready to sample in a few short weeks. If there are any brave Madison-based readers who want to give this stuff a whirl, let me know in the comments! 

Stay tuned for more adventures in Wisconsin whey brewing later this summer...

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