Saturday, May 18, 2013

Brewing the Viking Whey: Blaand

This weekend is Syttende Mai, which commemorates Norway's independence from Denmark in 1814. There are impressive Styyende Mai celebrations happening in Norwegian neighborhoods throughout the state but, if you happen to be in southern Wisconsin, the city of Stoughton throws an awesome Syttende Mai shindig that dates back to 1868. Skal, y'all!

In honor of Syttende Mai, and our state's reputation for fabulous cheese, my Norwegian-American fiancé and I are brewing a couple batches of a lesser-known Viking beverage. Sure, almost everyone has heard of, or sampled, mead. But very few people know about blaand, and I have yet to find anyone (in Wisconsin, at least) who has ever sampled the beverage. Perhaps for good reason-- blaand is made from fermented whey. Yes, the byproduct of cheese making! As the story goes, Vikings would bring casks full of whey on their voyages at sea. By the time they reached their destination, the Vikings would have a fermented, boozy beverage. Unfortunately for the modern day brewer, there isn't much written about blaand. And there certainly isn't any recipe to follow. So. We're blazing new frontier here. After pillaging the local homebrew store for a few simple ingredients, our mission to brew a contemporary approximation of Viking blaand was underwhey. (see what I did just there? :D)
For our four test batches, we used a few strains of brewer's yeast, hops, and various grain blends. We purchased these supplies at the Wine and Hop Shop on Monroe Street in Madison, WI.

This morning at 6am, we drove up to Willow Creek Cheese in Berlin, WI. The owners generously donated two, five-gallon buckets of fresh goat's milk whey for our Viking blaand experiment. Thanks, Willow Creek Cheese! The whey doesn't look like much. Two big buckets of glossy white liquid. If you have cats, watch your back when the lids come off of the whey buckets. We managed to snap this shot without any feline tampering, but it must smell like cat ambrosia. 
Two buckets of fresh goat's milk whey from Willow Creek Cheese in Berlin, WI.

We reduced the whey in a propane powered turkey fryer.

We're brewing four, 1-gallon test batches in various styles. Because most brewing yeast cannot digest lactose, we decided to make one standard blaand and a couple of blaand/beer hybrids in order to see which variety will be 1) most successful--read: most fermented, and 2) most flavorful. Here's the line-up:
1) Straight-up blaand: Containing only reduced whey and lambic blend yeasts.
2) Milk Stout: Traditional recipe with reduced whey substituted for brew water.
3) Milk Stout with lambic yeasts: Traditional recipe with reduced whey substituted for brew water, plus the addition of lambic yeasts.
4) Scotch Ale: Traditional recipe with unreduced whey substituted for brew water.
After a day of brewing, all of the batches are in the fermenters and ready to go. Friends who've heard about this project have joked that we should take the fermenters on a canoe trip in order to add extra authenticity but, for now, they're stashed safely in the basement. Some of the lambic batches will age for close to a year and we'll uncork them during Syttende Mai 2014. The hybrid batches will be ready to sample in a few short weeks. If there are any brave Madison-based readers who want to give this stuff a whirl, let me know in the comments! 

Stay tuned for more adventures in Wisconsin whey brewing later this summer...


  1. I'd like to hear how these turn out.

  2. I would love to know how your various blaands turned out. Also are you familiar with the Carbery process?

  3. Hey yeah, how did this turn out in the end. I want to brew milk stout with whey. Would love the recipe


  4. I'm guessing they died from food poisoning.

  5. Haha, Nate! Alas, the Blaand was a bust because we used goat milk whey. Turns out that goat milk doesn't have much lactose, so the blaand fermented, but the end product tasted SUPER salty because it lacked the sweetness of the lactose. Later, my husband (who is a professional brewer at Karben4 brewery in Madison, WI) made a limited release beer that was part stout and part cow's milk whey blaand. It was pretty awesome!

    Here's the description of that beer:
    A taste straight from the age of conquest, this whey stout is a weird, historically-inspired, Viking beer. This beer exclusively uses whey from a local, Wisconsin creamery during the mashing process of a hearty oatmeal stout. This brew's formidable mouth feel is rich and silky with a chocolate roast and slightly sour "twang" that carries over from the whey.

  6. Thanks for posting this project Erin! When I followed your link for lambic yeast, the site did not show anything "lambic". Would you be willing to share what yeast strain you pitched for this process? Looking to find healthy strains that thrive in a whey/lactose environment, that are readily available. Thanks again, cheers!

  7. Hi. Do you have a recipe link for the straight-up blaand? I'm trying with standard beer yeast, but notice you mentioned lambic, so interested to hear what you think works best. And did you have to add lots of sugar or could you get the yeasts to ferment the lactose somehow? I'm trying with some Lactese tablets (for dairy intolerant people) to try get the lactose accessible to the yeasts.

  8. I'm actually in the process of experimenting with my own take on blaand as I produce a lot of whey from yogurt making. My thought is to convert the lactose into galactose and glucose by using over the counter lactase tablets. I believe brewer's yeast will than convert these fermentable sugars into alcohol. Whey is only about 5% lactose by weight, however, so even after the enzymes convert the lactose, the whey will need to be greatly reduced in order to achieve any appreciable alcohol content once fermentation is complete. This has me concerned, however, as I'm not sure what off-flavors may be produced by concentrating the whey and/or as a by product of fermentation. Worse case scenario, I suppose the resultant blaand could be distilled and filtered, as I knwo some small distillers are producing vodka-like spirits from sheep's milk whey.


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