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Dogfish Head's Ancient Ale Kvasir revives hybrid Scandinavian grog

Wed, 03/27/2013 - 2:50pm

In ancient Europe, before wine arrived from the Near East, alcoholic beverages were cocktails of sugar-rich ingredients like honey, fruit and grain.

With the help of biomolecular archaeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern and Swedish brewer Lasse Ericsson, Dogfish Head is re-creating another ancient hybrid ale, this time from the Nordic climes of Scandinavia. 

"Last year, we brewed an Ancient Ale from southern Europe," says Dogfish Head Founder and President Sam Calagione, "so it's been interesting to see the differences driven by the Scandinavian climate and terroir."

KvasirSam and Dr. Pat share a laugh while brewing a test batch of Kvasir in Delaware.

The recipe for Kvasir, which clocks in at 10% ABV, was developed with the help of chemical, botanical and pollen evidence taken from a 3,500-year-old Danish drinking vessel. The vessel, made of birch bark, was found in the tomb of a leather-clad woman who Dr. Pat says was probably an upper-class dancer or priestess.

The analysis pointed to the ingredients Dogfish and friends are using in this unique new brew: wheat, lingonberries, cranberries, myrica gale, yarrow, honey and birch syrup.

The base of Kvasir is a toasty red winter wheat, and the bog-grown berries will deliver a pungent tartness. While a handful of hops will be used, the earthy, bitter counterpunch to the sweet honey and birch syrup will come from the herbs.

"I'm psyched about doing this Nordic grog," says Dr. Pat. "We're bringing back to life an innovation of our prehistoric ancestors at the most northerly limits of the planet."

In early April, Sam and Dr. Pat will fly to Sweden to brew a batch of Kvasir at Ericsson's brewery, Nynashamna Ångbryggeri, which will handle European distribution.

"This beer is something no one has done here in Scandinavia for thousands of years," says Ericsson. "We are super stoked to be trusted to be part of bringing it back alive."

Dogfish Head's version of Kvasir will debut in July in 750-ml bottles. It will be available throughout Dogfish's 27-state distribution network, pending local approval.