Gotlandsdricka – Review

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Juniperus virginiana

There is now absolutely no doubt in my mind as to why this is one of the most famous of old European beer recipes. The adaptive recipe that I followed to produce my own take on this profoundly flavored and legendary beer noted that the finished beer would take about a month to fully carbonate in the bottles. Despite this obvious instruction, I couldn’t help but sample this beer early, and to be honest it was carbonated enough. There wasn’t much of a head, but I’m sure this will improve over time. I also wanted to know if this was going to turn out to be another one of my sweeter recipes (which isn’t bad but on many occasions I was hoping for something bitter) or whether I had indeed added a sufficient amount of non-hop ingredients to sufficiently bitter and flavor the beer.

Turns out I was well rewarded for my impatience, more than rewarded in fact. The 1.3 pounds of freshly harvested juniper (from less than 1.5km away I might add), boiled and then steeped in the fermenting wort have imparted an enormous and completely crazy flavor profile. I’ll try to do my best to describe it.. but you had better swing by and grab yourself a bottle or two to truly appreciated it.

The aroma of this specialty herbal dark ale invigorates with sweet evergreen resins, turpentines and hits of wintergreen, peat and oranges. The flavor is lush with fragrant citrus, accompanied by the almost overwhelming and entirely unique coniferous complexity of juniper. It is overall pleasantly bitter with a lingering, tannin-rich and menthol-like aftertaste.

Considering the purity of this recipe (there are no other ingredients other than malt extract and yeast) this beverage can also be considered a medicinal tonic, as the amounts of juniper distilled into this beer are strong enough to effectively transmit its therapeutic properties. I would consider this recipe an effective digestive stimulant, urinary tract-antiseptic and astringent. Juniper possess potent anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties that cleanse the urinary system and also rid the intestines and colon of undesirable bacteria. The astringency aids in digestion by stimulating the liver and gall-bladder to produce digestive enzymes and also reduces inflammation and swelling.

You can bet that I am going to be re-visiting this recipe. I was having an internal conflict about what I thought my favorite home brew recipes were in my previous post involving the making of Gotlandsdricka but I’m convinced that this recipe trumps them all. Something cleansing, woodsy, wild and untamable. A few bottles are definitely going to be aged for the cold months to come, inevitably, in the future. Might be fun to hop this buddy up and try to convert it into an IPA, but I love it de-hopped, just over-the-top pure juniper; savory and delightfully rich. I wouldn’t change a thing to this base-line recipe.

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Gotlandsdricka

Juniperus communis

Gotlandsdricka is a traditional ale that was brewed almost exclusively on the island of Gotland which lies off the coast of Sweden. The recipe included smoked barely malt extract and the boughs or berries of juniper (Juniperus spp.) trees which proliferated on the island. Juniper species are found throughout the north and south temperate world and also on any existing mountains in tropical regions. The common juniper, Juniperus communis, was the preferred species used in brewing Gotlandsdricka likely because it was abundant in the north temperate region of northeastern Europe where this recipe and many similar ones began being practiced.

For all intents and purposes, the majority if not all Juniperus species can be used to produce beer because, at least for me, they all tend to have a similar scents, flavor and medicinal properties. Juniper boughs and particularly the berries impart a citrus-like resiny flavour to the beer, as well as supplying plenty of tannins to bitter it. The plant also possesses strong anti-bacterial and anti-septic properties, and has long been used to help fight respiratory infections and cleanse the urinary tract.

Ironically, the common juniper is anything but common where I live in southern Onatrio. The species tolerates colder conditions further north with less biological diversity and therefore less of an opportunity for other species to occupy its preferred habitat. Instead, the pencil-cedar or eastern red-cedar, Juniperus virginiana, (despite being called ‘cedar’ it is in fact a true juniper) is quite locally abundant in open fields, fencerows and meadows. This species grows to a larger stature than the often squat J. communis, which provides more foliage to harvest with a decreased risk of over-harvesting and weakening the plant. I have however, included a small amount of J. communis berries in order to supplement the authenticity of this recipe.

Freshly collected Juniperus virginiana boughs & berries

Freshly collected Juniperus virginiana boughs & berries

I would definitely like to revisit this recipe by using fresh smoked malt and not malt extract which I have been using entirely up to this point. I did happen upon some darker malt than usual, so I’m going to interpret that as I was supposed to make this recipe now. So it isn’t entirely traditional, but the juniper is in there and that’s pretty much the point from what I understand.

Ingredients:

4 gallons water
3 litres dark amber liquid barley malt extract
1.3 pounds fresh juniper boughs with berries – Juniperus virginiana
1 ounce dried juniper berries – Juniperus communis
7 grams brewing yeast

Instructions:

1. Boil juniper boughs, berries and malt extract for 60 minutes.
2. Allow wort to cool to at least 75-80 degrees F
3. Pour into fermenter (including juniper boughs / berries) and add yeast.
4. Strain and bottle when fermentation is complete.
5. Age one month before consuming.