#387: Öl the Young Dudes: The Swedish Beer Scene Hits Chicago

October 17th, 2014

Tiny souvenir glasses in hand, the crowd joked, laughed, flirted, mingled and networked over herring and little meatballs.

And beer.

On Thursday in the Swedish-turned-lesbian-turned-yuppie haven of Andersonville, attendees got a crash course in Swedish drinking history — from Heiðrún the mead-titted goat to British trade relations to disturbingly restrictive ABV regulations considering they used to be Vikings.

Sweden had to loosen several of their booze laws when they entered the EU in 1995, leading to a slow but ramping interest in that most American of pastimes, fancy-ass craft beer.

The joking, laughing, flirting crowd sampled the wares of Swedish breweries like Nils Oscar, Carnegie and Omnipollo (which I kept calling the every-chicken) along with beers from Iceland, Denmark and Chicago.

The celebration of beer (in Swedish, öl) was the brainchild of Jenny Pfäfflin. Frequent readers of this site last saw JP searching for Americana and fried fish in a Lakeview church’s gymnasium.

Now she was in Andersonville’s Swedish American Museum, teaching the history of Swedish craft beer.

The event raised money to restore the Andersonville Water Tower, a Swede-themed neighborhood landmark that went up in 1927 and came down in 2014 due to damage from the “polar vortex” hell-winter.

But anyway, that’s not Heiðrún, the mead-titted goat.

Heiðrún was a goat of Viking legend. Warriors who died in battle went to either one of two heavens: Valhalla, which is sort of an eternal party, or Fólkvangr, which, as near as I can tell from a quick Wikipedia, involves hanging out in a field forever with Odin’s wife Freyja.

Choose Valhalla.

In ‘halla, as I choose to call it at this moment, warriors partied hearty on wild boar as they got blasted on mead. On Earth, mead is made from honey. In Valhalla, it runs from the goat Heiðrún’s teats, forever filling a caldron from which all the warriors drink.

Maybe Fólkvangr isn’t that bad a choice after all.

A culture whose heaven had a goat leaking booze spent a disturbing amount of the 20th century holding the maximum legal alcohol content to 2.25 percent.

Miller Lite’s is 4.5 percent. The former Viking hordes maxed out at half a Miller Lite.

The point’s not to mock Sweden or Swedish beer — the öl presented at the event were clearly crafted with skill, taste, precision and the high alcohol contents the EU allows. Plus, who says that a beer has to knock you down with ethanol to be good?

The point is culture.

Chicago bars wouldn’t be loaded with fancy-ass crafts today if Jimmy Carter hadn’t legalized home brewing in the ’70s. Swedish bars wouldn’t be filled with porter if the trade winds from Britain hadn’t been just right in the 1700s.

Heck, the crowd at the Swedish American Museum wouldn’t have been sampling the every-chicken’s “new school” brews if the EU hadn’t thought Sweden was too fussy with the booze laws. For as much as people talk about will to power or the influence of great leaders, a lot of culture seems to be based on just dumb luck.

I guess you could explore the ever-shifting dynamics of a culture by tracking its art, literature, philosophy or social movements. Jenny Pfäfflin chooses to explore it through beer. And isn’t that the tastier option?

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Donate to help restore the water tower

Download JP’s history of Swedish beer

Download the program from the event (includes list of Swedish microbrews)

Read about JP’s search for Americana and fish

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