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The New Nordic Drinks!

Eivind Sætre
We must become more aware that we can create new Nordic brands with drinks too.

Joel Lindholm

Microbreweries in the Nordic Region are beginning to get a good reputation worldwide as many people are becoming more fussy when it come to their choice of beer. This is just a small part of what we can create with the raw materials we have in our countries.  Nordic cider is slowly but surely gaining a foothold with the general public but we still have a long way to go if we want to see quality cider in our restaurants and in selected retailers.  Other more unusual products are Nordic wine, mead and even naturally fermented lemonades.  These drinks can be produced locally today, and we can reduce the long transport miles and import from other countries as a result.

After ten years with New Nordic Food, I must say that I am delighted that our food culture is being taken care of by farmers, food producers and consumers. Together you have addressed this legacy which was disappearing and have highlighted it again. Today you can be really proud of the work we have achieved together for the Nordic food culture.

I have followed this collaboration over the last five years and am really looking forward to keeping up with these issues over the next decade. During this period, I have also considered questions around the preservation and improvement of the Nordic food culture in the future, and my focus has been primarily on our restaurant culture. The restaurant culture is an extremely broad topic so I will limit it to a few specific issues which are of particular interest to me; drink, edible plants and herbs in our Nordic fauna, and sustainable, organic farming for restaurants and small kitchens. These form a whole that I am trying to tie together into a sustainable drink and food culture.

Drink is something that has been somewhat overshadowed in the discussions about the new Nordic food culture. We drink mostly wine with our food when we go out to a restaurant or when we choose drinks to accompany dinner at the weekend at home. As a result, drinks to accompany Nordic food are not particularly locally produced, with the exception of beer and some smaller drink manufactures, and it is a burning issue that we must take up for discussion if we want to improve the Nordic food culture.

Beer has, however, been around for hundreds of years and has in recent years become more complex and developed in many different tastes, which appeal to more and more consumers in the Nordic countries. Microbreweries are on the increase and we should take advantage of the breweries that choose to focus on Nordic beer. We hope that in the future there will be a microbrewery in every town which produces 'the beer typical of that city'.

Cider is also beginning to gain a foothold in the Nordic drink culture but we are still a long way from having a Nordic cider culture such as exists in the UK, for example, where cider is often taken as a complementary drink with food. This is something we need to build on because our Nordic climate provides good conditions for apples, and with cider we have also the opportunity to control the sweetness from a very dry sweet cider and make it sparkling or a more still wine.

Nordic wine on the other hand is very difficult to find these days and there is room for a lot of improvement. Why not make a cloudberry wine especially for Norrland or a sea-buckthorn wine specially for Åland, not to mention the names of all the flowers, herbs, berries, fruits and other plants which we can be used to make wine? In winemaking we can follow the seasons, so why not produce a birch sap wine in April and a rose hip in October? Wine doesn't only have to be an alcoholic drink made from grapes. We must really start to look at the different ingredients we have in our surroundings and begin to make locally produced drinks to go with food, instead of importing it with long transport miles.

One tradition that has gone by the wayside, on the other hand, is mead production. Our ancestors, the Vikings, brewed mead from honey, water and the natural yeast strains that are found in the raw materials and in the air. Today mead is seldom mentioned in talk of Nordic drinks, other than as 'svagdricka', a small ale, on the first of May. Since the ingredients can still be found relatively locally in the entire Nordic Region, we could also start a collaboration with beekeepers and brewers to reach out with the products to a broader target group resulting in increased profitability and creativity. Mead is first and foremost an authentic Nordic brew that we can revive, the raw materials are to be found all around us and the flavours can be varied to the same extent as a Nordic wine, not to mention the new combinations we can create in keeping with our meals.

Another option is to begin producing lemonade or low-alcohol drinks made from the plants we have in the north of the Region. For many decades now we have associated soft drinks with cola or citrus drinks from the large corporations. It is not sustainable in the future to have these as non-alcoholic alternatives in restaurants or in convenience stores, when we could just as easily take advantage of the plants that grow around us and produce an elderflower lemonade in July, a ligonberry lemonade in September and a berry lemonade in December. We could also follow the seasons in the drinks production instead of having the same drink all year round. It is time to accept that our drinks should also follow the seasons, which would mean that as a consumer we would look forward to elderflower lemonade in July just as much as we look forward to the asparagus season in May and June.

I thought, therefore, that I would conclude with an example of the possibilities and applications we have with regard to drinks made from plants, fruit, berries and roots.

Let's say that it is July and many have a problem with the so-called weed, dandelion. For those who choose to make a drink from it, it is not a weed but instead an ingredient found in abundance. If I pick the yellow petals I have the following options for drinks: juice, syrup, lemonade, small ale, mead, wine, sparkling wine, fortified wine, liqueur, distilled dandelion, vinegar, or why not combine it with other berries or seasonal fruits and the possibilities begin to be relatively great.

It is time to take the Nordic drink a step forward in our food culture and to do this we need to collaborate again to bring about a change in our drinking habits. It is a challenge, but as we have seen in these last ten years, it is no longer impossible when you consider the success that New Nordic Food has achieved.

In the autumn of 2014, the Nordic Council of Ministers invited a group of leading players from across the Nordic Region to discuss their visions for the future of Nordic food. This essay formed part of this initiative #Nordicfood2024