It’s hard to pin down the essence of gotlandsdricke because the flavor varies from farm to farm and among different regions of Gotland.
However, there are some common features: Usually, it’s strong and sweet with a smoked character from traditionally smoked farmhouse malt, with low bitterness and a distinct woody and herbal presence from juniper, which helps to offset the sweetness. Commonly, in modern days, the use of baker’s yeast also lends a fruity, tart, and somewhat phenolic taste.
Local farmers make the smoked malt of Gotland, drying it with alder or birch smoke. It typically makes up about 50 percent of the grain bill, with commercial base malts making up the rest. There are, however, brewers who use up to 100 percent farmhouse malt—or those who use only base malt.
For our own Dundar Gotlandsdricka, we use Munich and Vienna malts as the base, and only 5 percent is local farmhouse malt. This is because the farmer with whom we work happens to make a really smoky malt—but it’s also because we want Dundar to be an introduction to the style and not too aggressively smoky.
Gotlandsdricke is not hop-driven, and any hops—which often are homegrown—are typically used only for bittering.
We use juniper twigs both in the mash—cut into smaller pieces, so we can stir the mash—and in the boil. We pick the juniper ourselves, and we make sure to remove any green berries because they can contribute a harsh bitterness. If the juniper of the day lacks the ripe, darker berries, we add some extra that we have in store.
When it comes to yeast, we’ve elected to go the more historical route, using Norwegian kveik in place of the now-lost Swedish farmhouse yeasts (known as hemjäst, or “home yeast”). However, it’s not far off from modern gotlandsdricke, since the kveik also shares the tartness and fruitiness of the baker’s yeast now in common use.
Normally, people feed gotlandsdricke with refined sugar throughout the time it is being consumed, to keep it sparkling. This process can go on for weeks, making the beer gradually stronger and sweeter. This active fermentation also lends the beer a heftier mouthfeel. To mimic this sweetness and mouthfeel in a shelf-stable product, we mash at a high temperature, and we supplement the grain bill with plenty of oats and wheat.
Incidentally, we also brew a 3.5 percent ABV table beer from the last runnings of Dundar Gotlandsdricka. It produces a less intense yet still very complex lower-alcohol version.