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Making of beer

To find out how the beer, that our ancestors drank in Midsommer, is made, we went to the Gāčas farmstead to visit Pēteris and Lidija Jansoni. Pēteris refused the offer to imitate the brewing process and the beer was brewed for real.

You need good barley

Pēteris takes about 50 kilograms of barley. From them about 35 kilograms of malt can obtained. Seed barley is said to be the best. The grains are soaked in cold water for a day, then germinated in a cool room on the floor, covered with a plastic film. The most suitable is a concrete floor. The piled layer should not be thicker than the width of the hand – about 10-12 centimeters. In cold weather, malt must be covered. It should be germinated for 5-6 days until large sprouts appear. They give the beer that milky color, so it should not be over-sprouted. Barley that has sprouted too much sticks together. Pēteris adds: It grows together like a thick blanket. All this should then be rubbed with the hands so that the sprouts fall off.

So that there is no smoke taste

Malt is then dried on top of the sauna floor. In a special frame with a metal wire screen bottom. Pēteris remembers: My father had hazel wicker woven into the basket, then there were no such screens. The sauna is fired up, the smoke is vented out so that the beer does not taste smoky, hatches are opened in the ceiling, through which the warm air goes under the frame and dries the malt. Heat doesn’t affect anything, just don’t burn the malt. Then the dried malt is ground. Coarse grinding is said to be the best – too fine will cause stickiness.

Beer barrels are desinfected with juniper. Boil it in water, pour the boiling water into a barrel and cover with a sheet to disinfect. At the bottom of the barrels, put an assortment of birch branches, which are obtained from dried birch trees (used sauna brooms can be utilised) and straw. Peter uses oat straw, but rye also works. First, sticks are placed in the bottom of the barrel, with slits cut in the bottom – so that the wort can flow under them. Twigs are placed on the sticks, then straw. Pour hot water over everything to rinse and sit. Special care must be taken not to close the hole with the malt. For this reason, a bundle of cut straw is placed around it.

A white linen sheet is required

The ground malt is put into a barrel, poured over with boiling water – about 100 liters per 35 kg of malt – and mixed until there is a uniform mass. Pēteris explains: When mixing you must not make clapping noises, so that the men do not fight while drinking beer. Lidia’s mother used to heat stones on a stove that were thrown into the mixture, the beer then tasted like bread. When this is done, barrel is covered with a white linen sheet and left for about three to four hours to infuse. Boil a couple of handfuls of hops, which are then added to the drained wort. Hops prevent the beer from going sour.

Children like wort

When the malt has been sitting there long enogh, it is poured into the second barrel. Little by little, the malt settles and liquid appears on the surface. After about half an hour, the big bung is moved and the wort is drained out in a bucket placed under the tub. The so-called first or strong beer is made from the wort drained in the first pass, which has collected most of the sugar in the malt. The second beer is obtained by pouring boiling water over the wort, or malt, a second time. The third beer is also obtained. A couple of soup ladles with hops and their decoction are added to each bucket of wort. This is done carefully, because the beer should not be too sweet or bitter. Be sure to give children a taste of wort – it is sweet and delicious.

Ferment slowly

The wort is cooled in a water bath. When the wort, as Peter says, is at the temperature of summer water, pour it into a clean barrel and add the yeast, crushing it with your hands. While doing this, you have to shout so that the beer rages. Peter puts the small packet or 100 grams of yeast on 40 liters. The slower it ferments, the better, says Peter. Fermenting rapidly, strength running out. Beer should be kept in a cool place for about 24 hours during fermentation. How to tell when ready? Peter grinds the barrel with a cup. The real readiness is said to be when the hops that have formed on the surface do not immediately come together again. Nice thing! The finished beer is strained and poured into an oak barrel. A proper beer keg has a spigot on the top (in the modern version – a tap), a spigot in the middle of the side, and a spigot or small spigot above, through which air is let out when filling beer. Fermentation also continues in the barrel. Many stories and folk songs have been heard about how beer kicks a bung.

How to know a good beer

When you tilt a glass of beer, the foam should stay on the glass. Pēteris adds: Jūrkalne Priedoliņš says this: A real beer should be such that after peeing, the foam is knee-deep. But a decent man is said to be one who can keep fire in his fist and hops in his head.

Text and photo by Juris Lipsnis.


A couple of cups of hop decoction is added to each bucket of wort.
When the liquid starts to appear above the thickets, you can start pouring the wort.
After a day-long fermentation, the beer is filtered and bottled.
A variety of birch branches and straw is placed at the bottom of the barrel or tub.
The strained beer is carefully poured into an oak barrel.