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A global guide to indigenous ales

CATEGORIES: Beer   International Feature   Travel  



From: Russia
What it is: A low-alcohol, sodalike, slightly sour beer commonly sold by street vendors
What it’s made with: Rye flour, plus mint or fruits like lemons, raisins or strawberries to balance the beer’s acidity
Flavor: Moderately acidic and often bready
ABV: 0.5-2%
Examples: East End Kvass, Fonta Flora Farm and Sparrow


From: Central and South America
What it is: A slightly sour, milky beverage usually imbibed in a state of active fermentation
What it’s made with: Traditionally, chewed maize (enzymes in saliva break down the starches into fermentable sugars)
Flavor: Slightly sour, almost ciderlike
ABV: 1-3%
Examples: Off Color Wari, Dogfish Head Chicha


From: Finland
What is is: Unfiltered, unpasteurized ale traditionally brewed to be consumed at weddings and other festivities
What it’s made with: A combination of grains (usually malted barley and malted rye) plus hops and juniper in the boil; the wort is commonly filtered through juniper boughs
Flavor: Slightly sweet, with low hop character and a pronounced banana aroma
ABV: 6-11%
Examples: Ale Apothecary Sahati, Dogfish Head Sahtea


From: Gotland, Sweden
What it is: A strong ale closely related to Sahti and commonly believed to have been drunk by Vikings
What it’s made with: Beechwood-smoked barley malt and juniper—the brewing water is often boiled with juniper berries and, as in sahti, the lauter tun is lined with juniper twigs
Flavor: Smoky and spicy, with powerful juniper flavors
ABV: 5-9%
Examples: Jester King Viking Metal, Off Color Class War


From: West Africa
What it is: Cloudy, yeasty, brownish-pink wild ale traditionally brewed at home by women
What it’s made with: Sorghum and millet—cereal grains related to grass that are naturally gluten-free
Flavor: Fruity, with mild yogurtlike acidity and some graininess
ABV: 1-8%
Examples: Sprecher Shakparo


From: East Africa
What it is: The traditional drink of the Chagga, an ethnic group native to Tanzania
What it’s made with: Bananas, mashed and cooked in a pot for several hours, plus millet flour and quinine-laced bark from the msesewe tree for bittering
Flavor: Sweet and sour, with a bananalike finish
ABV: 0.4-5%
Examples: None


From: Nepal, Tibet
What it is: A milky white beer consumed both hot and cold (and, according to legend, very popular with yetis)
What it’s made with: Barley, millet or rice, which is boiled, fermented warm with yeast for 2 to 3 days, then strained and mixed with water
Flavor: Sour, fruity and yeasty; somewhat similar to unfiltered sake
ABV: < 5%
Examples: None


From: Lithuania
What it is: Dark, bready, unboiled beer made with baked malts usually formed into cakes
What it’s made with: Malted barley or oats that have been baked (keptinis actually means “baked”), plus hops and, sometimes, flowers or tree bark
Flavor: Sweet and toasty, full-bodied, and possibly slightly sour
ABV: 5-6%
Examples: None


From: Central Asia
What it is: A beverage closer to wine than beer made with fermented milk (the distilled version is called arkhi)
What it’s made with: Raw, unpasteurized mare’s milk fermented over the course of hours or days by yeast and souring bacteria
Flavor: Sour, milky and subtly cheesy
ABV: 1-2.5%
Examples: Reverend Nat’s Kumiss Mongolian Milkwine


Zach Fowle is DRAFT's beer editor. Reach him at zach@draftmag.com.


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One Comment

  • Most of these styles are actually farmhouse ales, so “indigenous ales” is a bit of a strange category for them.

    Chicha is usually made from malted, sun-dried maize.

    Sahti is usually unboiled, so hops and juniper are *not* usually in the boil. Dogfish Head Sahtea is obviously not like Finnish sahti.

    Gotlandsdricke is related to sahti in that both are farmhouse ales from the same part of the world, but not really beyond that. The brewing water is not boiled with juniper berries, but with juniper branches. The beer was (and is) not necessarily smoked, and I’ve seen no evidence that it was ever smoked with beech, which in any case does not grow on the island. Alder and birch seem to have been the common choices.

    And the Jester King Viking Metal is very unlikely to resemble real gotlandsdricke.

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