I recently completed an epic 3-week Viking Brewing tour of the Pacific Northwest with Finnish beer writer Mika Laitinen, author of Viking Age Brew: The Craft of Brewing Sahti Farmhouse Ale. Mika also writes about Nordic homebrewing at his website brewingnordic.com. A full travelogue of our experiences would be lengthy, so I’ve chosen to do a photo recap instead with some brief text explaining some of the pictures (okay, so it still ended up being a bit lengthy). We delivered many brewing presentations, tasted many beers, met with several folks in the brewing industry and had an amazing experience overall. Much of what I learned and the contacts I made will surely work its way into my future work. If you haven’t checked out Mika’s book or website yet, I encourage you to do so. He has a very thorough, informative writing style. If you’re a brewer, there is lots of information and some recipes on brewing beer Nordic-style. Whether you’re a brewer or not, the historical and cultural discussions are fascinating in their own right. So without further ado, let’s head to Seattle, Portland and wherever else the winds may take us! Be sure to check out Mika’s website for a recap of his version of the trip, which will likely have more details about the breweries we visited.
Seattle’s Fremont District
National Nordic Museum
Our first event was held at the National Nordic Museum in the Ballard district of Seattle. Mika and I discussed Nordic and historical brewing. We also sampled some Nordic ale brewed by a local homebrewer. Some of us dared to drink from a communal Finnish drinking cup called a haarikka. Made from juniper, it has a lovely smell reminiscent of cedar and completely changes the nature of the beer drank from it. They're usually a bit bigger and are meant to be passed around at feasts for everyone to drink from. Thanks to Mika for sending one home with me!
Mecca Grade Estate Malt
Next we headed to Bend, Oregon to brew up a batch of Finnish sahti-inspired ale using local Oregonian ingredients in collaboration with Ale Apothecary. The malt for the brew came from Mecca Grade Estate Malt in nearby Madras. The team at Mecca Grade graciously showed us around their incredibly innovative malting operation. They are seriously dedicated to making a quality product using only grains that are grown within a 2-mile radius of their malt house. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, check out what your favorite craft brewery or artisinal distillery uses for malt. There’s a good chance it came from Mecca Grade.
Brewing at Ale Apothecary
This is me clipping off the Oregonian fir needles that went into the brew.
Mecca Grade Estate’s Seth Klann poses with some Kentucky Bluegrass hay grown on his family farm that went into the brew. (Hay and straw were traditionally used to line mash tons as a grain filter.)
Paul Arny: the man, the myth and the legend behind Ale Apothecary’s unique wild farmhouse ales.
Before leaving Bend we of course had to visit Ale Apothecary’s tasting room. I can say that it was a unique experience. Several of the brews tasted like walking through a forest, with subtle-to-strong flavors of pine, fir and oak. As someone who doesn’t really have the palate for sour or tart brews, I found some to be a bit challenging, but it was an enjoyable tasting experience overall. I can certainly tell that a lot of love, innovation and creativity went into every brew. Mika certainly enjoyed himself…
Portland Distillery, Creamery & Brewery Visits
After leaving Bend we headed to Portland for a week of beer tasting, workshops and general shenanigans. Mika and I also visited various fermentation-related establishments to conduct interviews for magazine articles we’re working on. One of our first stops was Stone Barn Brandyworks in Portland’s Distillery Row. These folks are making some really unique European-style brandies and whiskies using seasonal and local fruits and grains. You probably won’t find their products outside of Oregon, Washington and Japan (yes, those are their most popular markets) but I highly recommend stopping by their booth at a Portland Farmers Market to give them a try!
Just so you don’t think it’s all about booze with me, I am interested in other fermentation products! I was lucky enough to get a personalized tour of the creamery where Portland Creamery’s handcrafted chevre goat cheese is produced. Check out the brand new quarterly magazine Fermentation and you should be seeing my article on them eventually!
It was a true pleasure to get a personalized tour of Portland’s Hair of the Dog Brewing Company from head brewer and founder Alan Sprints himself. These folks create some really unique brews and are one of the first American breweries to experiment with barrel-aged, high ABV, bottle-conditioned beers. Great beers and Alan couldn’t have been more congenial and patient with us beer geeks… ergh, writers. Mika had done his research and took us to several more breweries. Keep an eye on his website for a detailed rundown!
Oregon Brewers Festival
Belmont Station Tasting
We were a tad nervous (okay, and a bit excited) for the premier of our Finnish-Oregonian-Kentuckian Sahti at Belmont Station in Portland (often touted as one of the best beer bars in America), but were met with much enthusiasm. Understandable, because it was damn tasty! Grainy, thick, boozy, but highly drinkable. Notes of citrus and a bit of a grassy / hay (in a good way) note on the finish from the Kentucky Bluegrass. A solid 4 out of 5 on Untappd - not bad!
Rogue Brewery Retirement Party
As an unexpected bonus, we got to attend the retirement party of John Maier, head brewer and founder of Rogue Ales! I picked up a bottle of barley wine that was brewed in 1999, the year I started homebrewing and had him sign it. What an honor that was. I tried to rub beards with him just a bit to catch some of that legendary beard beer yeast. He told me that yeast was a bear to work with. Really difficult to get it to attenuate properly. Here’s to trying my own attempt at a beard beer!
The Oregon Coast
On the way back to Seattle, we decided to head to the Oregon coast so Mika could get his first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. Cannon Beach was as beautiful and touristy as ever. We stopped at a couple of breweries in Astoria, including Buoy Beer Company, which had some fine traditional American ales.
The Book Larder
The Skal Beer Hall
Our final event was at the amazing Skal Beer Hall in the Ballard region of Seattle, an area that has deep Scandinavian heritage. The food, drink and atmosphere are everything one could hope for in a modern-day mead hall. It was an ideal venue for Mika and I to close out our tour. After the event, much imbibing and camaraderie ensued, as folks we had met earlier in our trip returned to show their support, and to have some good old-fashioned fun. We even managed to get in a bit of gameplay with the Viking Nerds game Don’t Fall in the Mead Hall. I’ll close this out with a photo taken with Mika’s camera that demonstrates the spirit of the evening. Thanks to the good folks from Matchless Brewing and Mirage Brewing for getting wacky and geeking out about beer with us. Skal to all!
(I have no idea what we were doing here. An Instagram user stated that we look like the Spice Girls of the Viking Age…)