Whether the holidays make you think of Christmas trees, snowmen or a nice roast cooking in the oven, there is still one thing that seems to draw people together like nothing else this time of year... beer!
Scandinavians have a long standing tradition of brewing specialty beers for Christmas. And the Norwegian vikings enjoyed a strong, malty beer around Winter solstice, which was called 'jul' or 'yule' (which translates into Christmas).
The vikings from Sweden and Denmark were equally enthusiastic about their Winter solstice brews. Later in the 17th century, the Swedes were among the first Europeans to bring the Christmas beer tradition to North America. In Denmark, the release of Tuborg Julebryg (Tuborg's Christmas brew) on the first Friday of November has even given name to a Christmas tradition in Denmark, called J-day. The release of Tuborg Julebryg is a clear sign for the Danes that Christmas is around the corner.
But the specialty beers for Christmas were not only for drinking back in the days. Beer was also part of cooking and other nowadays forgotten Christmas traditions.
We asked Bjarke Bundgaard, a Danish beer historian, if he could name traditions where beer originally played an important role during the holidays.
Bjarke Bundgaard points out that festive meals remain a perfect opportunity for cracking open some specialty brews or a good lager in the company of friends and family. But there are indeed several Christmas traditions that included beer, which one could consider reviving.
“Until last century, it was common among Scandinavians to bring beer to the so-called 'nisse', or Christmas elf. Either to befriend him or at least to keep him at peace. The Christmas elf is a mythological little human with great magical powers that could kill off stock and spoil the grain. Better keep him happy,” says Bjarke Bundgaard.
The beer served for the Christmas elfs was usually brewed on white malt and records show that the beer was originally called white beer. It is a low-alcohol sweet beer brewed on caramel and chocolate malt. All ancient breweries used to have white beer as their main production. The oldest white beer still available in Denmark is from 1924, and is called KB Hvidtøl (the King’s Brewhouse White Beer).
Bjarke Bundgaard also says that a forgotten tradition in most countries is to fill the house with Christmas 'hygge' on Christmas morning by serving up platters of pancakes with a small twist of beer in them. Bjarke Bundgaard recommends alcohol-free lager or traditional lager like Carlsberg that is not too hoppy.
Glühwein, mulled wine or gløgg also used to contain beer. Bjarke Bundgaard says that it is quite easy to add.
“In all of Northern Europe, it was quite common to use dark ales as a base in a spiced concoction that brought life to the heart, bones and souls. This concoction were even served hot, making it fairly similar to the all-time Christmas Market favorite, Glühwein, mulled wine or gløgg, as it is also called in some places. Together with our head chef at the Bar Jacobsen, situated at the old Carlsberg site in Copenhagen, we revived that recipe for everyone to follow,” says Bjarke Bundgaard.