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Winter is Coming…

Winter is Coming…

… Or perhaps it’s already here. (yay snow and 20-degree temps in mid-November …) Either way, as I was getting ready to write December’s article, I thought about winter, Christmas and had a VERY random passing thought about St. Lucia. (Any Swedes here?) I personally am not Swedish, nor Scandinavian, but during 4th grade (I think it was) we learned all about different Christmas and winter traditions around the world, and for whatever reason, my class project involved the Swedish tradition of St. Lucia’s Day that included wearing a white robe and a crown of evergreens with candles. (Thanks for putting that costume together, Mom!) And those random thoughts naturally led into my thinking about traditional winter beers from that region. (No, I was not drinking in 4th grade … I waited until 7th grade at a slumber party to sneak my first beer, ha!) But, call the thoughts a divine intervention from the heavens above for this month’s article, perhaps even from St. Arnold, the patron saint of hop-picking and brewing!


any years ago, the Norse people & Vikings who occupied the Scandinavian countryside celebrated their own winter solstice traditions and festivals, which comprised of bonfires to ward off evil spirits. Eventually the Norse people were exposed to Christianity and the celebration of St. Lucia was adopted into the winter festivals. Today’s St. Lucia’s Day, on December 13, a “festival of lights”, is comprised of both early Norse pagan traditions and Christianity that is celebrated in Sweden, Norway and Finland. St. Lucia (St. Lucy) was one of the earliest Christian martyrs to be killed for her beliefs in 304 CE by the Romans. St. Lucia was also the patron saint of Syracuse, (Sicily) and of virgins.

Just before the actual St. Lucia festival, every town elects a girl or adolescent “St. Lucia,” who parades through each town in the traditional outfit described above as other children follow in procession singing traditional Scandinavian songs. It is meant to bring hope and light during the darkest period of the year. Families also celebrate individually, having the eldest daughter in each household dress in white and serve coffee, tea, traditional baked goods and sweets to members of her family.

In addition to the St. Lucia festival the Scandinavian countries celebrate Christmas and enjoy many good strong “winter” brews to accompany their holiday season during the month of December. Since most Scandinavians are descendants of the Viking and Norse people, they continue to celebrate the pagan traditions that have been accepted into current culture and this includes the brewing of celebratory beers. During the winter months, Vikings in particular brewed a strong and malty beer known as “Jul” or “Yule” (not to be confused with that weird log thing), that they produced as an offering to their Norse gods.

These old, pagan traditions were so ingrained into the region that by the time Christianity came to Scandinavia, even the religious elite, kings, priests – right down to the common folk, continued many of the same practices, including brewing said beer. In Norway, King Haakon I, mandated every household in his kingdom to brew Jul in the Christmas season. The Norwegian Gulathing Laws, in the 13th century required that every home must brew beer AND host a “party” of sorts or else be punished by said law, up to and including loss of property and/or incurring fines. These Scandinavian traditions did not just stay in Scandinavia either, when people from Europe started to emigrate en masse to America, they brought their traditions and recipes along with them.

One of the most renowned Scandinavian beers is Juleøl, a brew that grew out of the Vikings form of Jul. Juleøl is closely associated with Norway and is touted as a Christmas beer. Juleøl is dark, rich, and strong, even though it only clocks in at about 4.5% ABV. The dark colored beer is from the caramel malts used in the brewing process, with most brews boasting roasted-or spiced-notes on the sweeter side. Today, many of the large brewing companies dominate the market with their versions. One has to look no further than the Carlsberg conglomerate website where many of these said winter beers can be found. Kongen Bryghus Julemumme out of Denmark, a seasonal brew at 6.6% is brewed according to a 200-year-old recipe and is associated with all the spices and sweetness associated with the Christmas season. KB Juleøl is brewed in Denmark with an ABV of only 1.7%, but still has tasty roasted caramel notes. Nordlands Juleøl, at 4.5% touts itself as a “modern version” of the Viking version, mahogany in color, and slightly more bitter than a traditional version complete with malty notes of bread, nuts, caramel and toffee, and they suggest pairing this beer with lamb, pork, and fish.

Lucky as I would have it, I’ll be getting as close to Scandinavia as Cologne, Germany and Bruges, Belgium at the end of November. I’ll be on the lookout for these beers and I hope that they’re available for me to sample in the regions I’ll be visiting! I also have yet to peruse the aisles of Wegmans in search of these imported goodies. So, if any of these beers pique your interest, hop on an impromptu flight to Scandinavia, (I mean is it really any colder or snowier than Syracuse in the winter? No doubt you’ll feel right at home …), or connect with your overseas friends to perhaps pack some in their luggage on their next trip back to the states! & Cheers to expanding our brains with knowledge and our ever-growing palates this winter with some interestingly traditional beers!

(Information gleaned from: www.carlsberggroup.com, https://drinks.seriouseats. com/2011/12/beer-history-christmas-beers-samiclaus-stella-artois-youngs-winter-warmer.html, https://www.lifeinnorway.net/christmas-beer/, and www.britannica.com)

Kristin Merritt
Just your average craft-brew loving gal slinging your monthly pour of beer education and the low-down on all things beer related in the immediate CNY area and beyond. Along the way I hope to give a few recommendations for your grocery list, events to attend, and local hotspots to hit-up for shenanigans with friends, ideas for date night, or at the very least enlighten you with a bit of random knowledge to use towards trivia night or simply give you and your teammates a suggestion on what to drink at the bar! Cheers!