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Lucy Saunders
4230 N. Oakland #178
Shorewood WI
53211 USA
@ site name

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Across the Julebord

Winter ales - Juleol - sparkle on Norway's holiday tables

All across Norway - and indeed most of Scandinavia - people celebrate the Christmas from early November on through the New Year.

It's a monumental labor to prepare for the holidays in Norway, perhaps because there are so many parties. Some families go to three or four Julebord parties in a night, just to satisfy their social duties.

What makes it all the more sociable is the traditional Juleol, the winter ale rolled out in honor of the season's solstice.

Long before the current craft brewing movement inaugurated the calendar of seasonal brews, Norwegians celebrated the solstice with special winter warmers.

Such dark ales, brewed with extra malts for sheer alcohol strength, were first brewed by pagans. The Gulatingslov, one of the first Norse legal codes written in the 8th century, included a chapter on brewing beer for the midwinter festivities in January. Norse gods such as Odin, Frey and Njord, received their due revelries in the form of beery bacchanalia.

By the Middle Ages, the brewing business became more tightly regulated - as the Church gained its ascendency. For example, a farmer who did not set aside his very best grain to make the Juleol could lose his farm to the king and the Church. Now, since Norwegian law links taxation to the strength of the alcohol, the most robust of the Juleol ales command up to 30 percent in taxation.

One of the best-known breweries in Norway, the Aass Brewery of Drammen, exports its Juleol. Terje Aass, the managing director and sixth generation family to represent the brewery, explains that the dark Juleol is brewed according to strict lagering - and in fact lagers for a full three months for its smooth, rich flavor.

Try an old-fashioned Norwegian herring salad with an Aass Juleol -

1 jar (8 ounces) prepared cream and onion herring
1/2 teaspoon powdered mustard
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup finely minced red onion
Fresh ground pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a glass bowl and refrigerate for 2 hours before serving. Good with crispy onion flatbreads.

A longer version of this article first appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 12/27/98.

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