There are normally no murders in Sweden in midsummer, not even ones for Wallander to solve, but it is a time for beer. And even if there is no tradition for special midsummer brews, it is expected that beer is served with the midsummer lunch. I do wish we had a festival in the UK that had the same attitude.
Midsommar, to give it its Swedish name is probably the second most important holiday celebration in the calendar after Christmas. The celebration is midsummer night’s eve, a movable feast set to the Friday closest to the Summer solstice. It’s a day off work, although the official holiday is the Saturday: midsummer’s day. The Swedes are canny, celebrating events on the eve, allowing time for reflection/recovery on the actual day. Even Twelfth Night is called “Thirteenth Day Eve”.
Pickled herring, cheese, ice-cold “snaps” – and beer
The food for midsommar lunch makes beer the obvious choice: gravad lax, smoked salmon, pickled herring (sill) of various flavours from mustard to curry, crispbread with hard, salty cheese, dill potatoes… The other accompaniment is snaps (equivalent to the Germanic “Schnapps”). Vodka infused with herbs and spices, often caraway, and for the real deal, wormwood herb, for a mouth-puckering bitterness that would be a joy to any hophead.
And what beer style to choose? Dry lagers like Czech or German Pilsners are great: their sharp, dryness stands up to the strong flavours, and cuts through the oiliness. There are a good few Swedish craft breweries from which to choose: Nynäshamns Landsort Lager, Nils Oscar God Lager… Or perhaps cuckoo brewery Mohawk‘s oddly named Unfiltered Lager. A devious beer, starting out being brewed as a Vienna-style lager and finishing up hopped like an American pale ale.
You’ll be lucky to find any of those brews in the UK, but you might find an English beer that would be an even better match. Meantime Brewing‘s latest seasonal: Friesian Pilsener. Yes, I know, “Friesian” is not in the neighbourhood of Lewisham, but this does North German pilsener better than the beer it was inspired by. This is so staggeringly refreshing and brimful of dry herbal aromas (sage? rosemary?) from haywains full of German hops that it will make you think June was a complete washout. See? it works!
In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a magical juice painted on sleeping eyelids turns the dreamer into a lover of whatever living thing they first see on awakening. A few drops of some of these special pilsners and you’ll never look the same way at a herring again.
Link and suggestions
Meantime Brewing’s beer range. Scroll right down to see the Friesian Pilsener. Marks and Spencer did stock own-brand bottles of the previous Meantime seasonal. Maybe they will this. You might try their London Lager, but it’s quite a different beast.
Pilsner Urquell and Jever are Czech and German pils(e)ners respectively, and more widely available.
If you have a beer pairing suggestion that is widely available in the UK, do let me know.