Saturday, June 18, 2011

"Viking" Flavored Liquor?

 Let's face it, Vikings attract almost as much attention (and money) as pirates (Caribbean-style) and zombies. So I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised to learn that a Scandinavian vendor, Arcus, is using an herb, supposedly favored by the Vikings, to flavor liquor. According to this article from the Norway Post:
Pors is the name of the herb that apparently had such a strong effect on King Harald Hårfagre that he simply forgot to rain [sic] the country for about three years, according to the Snorre Saga. Now, a bus load of Arcus employees find the plant so fascinating that they want to produce liquor with it.
Pors (Wikimedia Commons)
Hope (Wikimedia Commons)
Wondering what a beverage flavored with pors would taste like, I turned to Google seeking answers. I didn't have much luck at first. PORS is an acronym for an American health care insurance benefits program. Adding the word "herb" made Google insist that I was looking for a recipe for herb-crusted pork.  Adding the word "Norwegian"  got me back into the realm of herbs, but only turned up the brief news articles about Arcus. So I tried plugging "pors" into Google Translate. The answer came back, "lane."

Continued searching turned up a reference--without a recipe, alas--to "Søgaard Randy’s Pors", a beer brewed by a man in Denmark. That started me wondering; is "pors" at all like hops, either biologically or in flavor? The Norway Post article has a picture of pors, which I was reluctant to use here because of copyright considerations. I figured it would be easy to find pictures of both pors and hops on Wikimedia Commons, and so it proved; the photographs appear with this post.

Though hops and pors look a little alike, they apparently have different flavors.  I could only find a Wikipedia article about pors in Swedish, but Google Translate worked well enough for me to learn the answer to my question about the taste of pors: "[T]he gray-green and vice versa oval leaves have a strong aromatic smell coming from the substances secreted by the small yellow resin dots (this is quite similar to black currant...") According to the Swedish Wikipedia article, pors, also known in English as bog myrtle, grows wild in swamps in Sweden.

I also learned that the use of herbs like pors harked back to a much earlier stage in the development of alcoholic beverages.   Before hops came to be used to make beer (a development that began shortly after the Viking era), herb mixtures now referred to as gruit were used for flavoring alcoholic brews. The idea was to balance the sweetness provided by the wort, the mashed grains used to ferment and generate alcohol for the beverage. Depending on the herbs used, the gruit could help preserve the beer or add a hallucinogenic quality in addition to affecting its flavor.

So the Vikings liked black currant flavor? I do too. Though I generally avoid alcoholic beverages, I would love to have just a taste of Arcus's new product, just to experience a taste that a Viking might have achieved.

EDIT: Today I found an article on Viking drinking customs that mentions the use of herbs like bog-myrtle in gruit. Go here to download and read it.

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