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Kid and the Bear Cub brew up a storm

- The Goodland island and its ancient beers

Vello Noodapera, who came to the island of Goodland from Estonia, has a Gotlandsdricka brewery at his home in a village called Ardre, near Ljugarn, also in the east. His barn-like building, painted in red oxide, has a neat sign saying Ardre Brewery, in Swedish.

Vello is uncharacteristically light on smoked malt. Despite this, his brew has a smoky flavour, and is distinctly dry. Perhaps he enhanced the dryness by serving it from a juniper mug more typical of Estonia or Finland.

A more malty, syrupy, menthol-ish interpretation was served by Lennart "Lillis" (Kid) Svärd in the village of Vänge at the geographical centre of the island. While I sampled, another batch was being made in Lillis' farmhouse brewery by his friend Bjorn "Nulle" (Bear Cub) Persson.

Nulle was using a mash of one-third smoked malt and the remainder Munich malt. He had moistened the malt, 24 kilos, for three hours in advance.

The mash tun was a whisky barrel. Juniper sticks were arranged in a criss-cross pattern at the bottom, then several layers of twigs placed on top, as a filter.

The malt grains were shovelled into the mash tun, and hot water added. Nulle stirred the mash with a juniper stick, taking care not disturb the filter base. After about 90 minutes, the wort was transferred by buckets to the kettle, again a wash copper (of 1920s vintage), heated by a wood fire.

As in other parts of the Nordic world, farmers brew for Christmas, Easter, Midsummer's Eve (especially) and family celebrations such as marriages.

At weddings, the onlookers who gather on the street to see the bride and groom must also be offered beer. I heard stories of weddings that consumed 400 litres of beer.

Like English Mild, Gotlandsdricka was traditionally provided as a restorative for workers after the harvest or other tasks. Once, a supply of a thick, under-fermented version was supplied to farm workers as a nutritious part of their daily food allowance.

A lighter, caramel-ish derivation of the under-fermented beer, originally made from first runnings, is commercially produced by a dozen specialist breweries in Sweden under the name Svagdricka ("weak drink").

"Even today, if you want your neighbours to help you renew the thatch on your roof, you must supply them with beer," Lillis told me.

"The beer is as much a part of the raw materials as the reeds for the thatching. Someone on the island wanted to restore a windmill, but he was anti-drink, and did not supply beer. The job finished up taking three or four years."

I was reminded of an academic paper I recently read, in which an anthropologist discussed cultures in Asia, Africa and South America. The author noted: "Among farmers who take turns helping each other with periodic tasks that require mass labour, the host is normally expected to provide beer for his unpaid neighbours. This is similar to, in American history, the barn-raising." - Dwight B.Heath, Professor of Anthropology, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island (from Alcohol, Science and Society Revisited, University of Michigan Press, 1982)

Published Online: APR 14, 2000
Published in Print: DEC 1, 1996
In: What's Brewing

Brew Travel - Beer Review - Historical

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