If I wanted water, I would have asked for water.


Monday, January 25, 2010

A Trip to Denmark

[Note: In an inexcusable gaffe, in the original version of this post, I had called the island of Bornholm Norwegian. It's actually a part of Denmark. Sorry to all Scandinavians, Scandinavian Americans, and those even passingly familiar with geography; I'm a bonehead.]

Off the Southern coast of Sweden in the Baltic Sea is the island of Bornholm, which is actually a part of Denmark. On this island lives a woman named Anita, who is a friend of my friend Joe, who visited the US last summer. Also on this island is a brewery called Svaneke Bryghus, which makes an impressive range of beers. And one of these beers, Den Udødelige Hest ("The Immortal Horse" vintage porter), came in Anita's luggage to Oregon. Last night we cracked it open.

Beer is local. Even as Google Earth and globalization shrink the planet, beer remains local. It is brewed of ingredients familiar to locals, in styles palatable to locals and appropriate to the weather of local areas. When you hold a bottle of beer in your hand, you may well hold a map that tells you about the agriculture, history, and beer culture of the country where it was brewed. Last night, when I inhaled the peaty rich aroma of Bornholmian porter, I tried to imagine the island. The beer itself is smoky and thick, a hearty stew to fortify one over long, cold Denmark winters.

Nothing on the bottle was written in English, and as we drank the beer, we could only judge it by what was in our glasses. I imagined the icy Baltic Sea and seaports and the chill made me want something warming--with the scent and resonance of fire. I could imagine settling down with a pint of Den Udødelige Hest after a day in this cold, and it seemed like the perfect beer.

Of course, thanks to the wonder of the internet, I didn't have to wonder too long about the beer:
Based on a Swedish folk song about stonemason Kalle Wahlgren who has to get drunk in order to kill his horse to put it out of its misery. But he doesn’t succeed: the next morning the horse is still there – alive and well. In a similar, manner our Vintage Porter is hard to put down. Well-hopped, a high alcohol content and unpasteurised, it will keep till well beyond the beyond. It’s got “whinny”. Bottom-fermented. 7.2% by volume.
I couldn't taste this myth in Den Udødelige Hest--not quite. But I could taste something foreign, something unlike I've tried in the US. It was a place beyond my ken, a place that has already fired my wanderlust. I hope to someday try the Immortal Horse in situ and see how well it suits me there.

Thanks, Anita!

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3 comments:

willamette wanker said...

That's mighty pretty, but was the beer any good or just peat smokey and thick?

Smokey and thick do remind me of my homeland, but I'd really like to know how the beer tasted.

Jeff Alworth said...

It was a marvelous beer. I should have reviewed it more fully, but I'm not sure it's available in the US, and so it seemed a little beside the point.

The nose was roasty and peaty. It had a distinct Islay-malt quality. The palate continued in this vein, though the roast came forward and the peat was more like smoke. A hearty porter, it could be called a baltic porter, but it was softer and more ale-y. The mouthfeel was thick and chewy, concealing the decent strength (7.2%).

Strangely, despite all the strong notes, it was gentle and easy drinking--a lowland malt with an Islay nose. You could easily drink a few in session--though of course there would be a terrible price to pay for such folly.

Anonymous said...

Just a small error:
Bornholm belongs to Denmark, not Norway.

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