Food by VICE

Whale Balls Don't Belong in Beer

In early March, I flew into Reykjavík with my friends from Connecticut's Two Roads Brewing Co. to make an Icelandic beer. I quickly learned that fermented shark meat does not belong in beer, and that hot springs should be avoided altogether.

by Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø
Jun 3 2015, 7:00pm

I read about an Icelandic brewery that's making a smoked beer full of whale balls. When I researched further, I learned that the oceanic testicles were smoked with sheep shit. Brewing with outrageous ingredients is a thing of late. You could even call it gimmicky. I haven't had the chance to smoke any whale balls as a gypsy brewer, so I have no idea if it would taste weird.

I myself have made gimmicks, like beer made with frozen pizza and money. I knew the cash wasn't going to contribute anything to the flavor, so it wasn't like we added anything that might have fucked up the beer.

I like gimmicks, but don't do a gimmick and make a beer that ends up not being good because of the gimmick. But if you know it might actually taste good, why not smoke your ingredients with sheep shit? Nobody has tried that before. It could be a good thing.

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Smoked whale balls and rotten shark from a local Icelandic supermarket.

I recently spent some time freezing my ass off in Iceland for the sake of making an Icelandic beer.

Here's how it all started: I brew a lot of my beers at Two Roads Brewing Co. in Connecticut. We have a very close relationship, and we've been talking about doing a collaboration since we've got so much going on together. Since I'm originally from Denmark, and since Two Roads is native to the USA, what would happen if we met geographically in the middle in a place to brew beer together? When you place your finger on the map, it perfectly lands on Iceland. Plus, none of us had ever been to Iceland before, and I had always wanted to go, so it made perfect sense.

In early March, we flew into Reykjavík and got picked up by the lovely brewers from Gæðingur Brugghús, a local Icelandic brewery in the north where we would be making our beer. After driving for four hours through the craziest snowstorm I've ever witnessed, we came upon a little village and stayed at Hótel Tindastóll, a very old hotel that's got a geothermal outdoor hot tub in the courtyard. The guys from Gæðingur Brugghús became the third-party brewer for our batch of beer. But where to begin making an Icelandic beer?

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The dangerous drive to Northern Iceland

When most foreigners think of Iceland, we consider the fermented shark first. There's also Icelandic lamb's heads, whale, and sheep's balls. We went to various supermarkets and picked up balls, frozen lamb's head, and fermented shark. I quickly realized that even Björk probably sits down for the occasional lunch of fermented shark meat.

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Frozen lambs heads

But when we started speaking with the local brewer about potentially including the aforementioned ingredients, without hesitation he said, "That's a really bad idea. You should taste it first. You do not want to put that in a beer." I sampled the fermented shark anyway, and it's the worst thing I have ever tasted. The flavors were like the strongest blue cheese that's been left to float in ammonia. I was very close to throwing up.

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We ended up making a German gose, a sour, German-style beer made with geothermic Icelandic salt. Typically, gose is an unfiltered wheat beer made with malted wheat, which creates a cloudy yellow color and gives off a tang. You also typically use ground coriander seeds and salt, which gives it a great sharpness. Lactic acid is also added, which gives it a sour taste.

And since we were so intent on utilizing Icelandic ingredients, we added skyr, an Icelandic yogurt that contains lactic acid to keep the sour notes, along with Icelandic moss, smoked geothermal salt from Saltverks, and kelp. It's a very old style that has been brewed in Germany forever, but it never really gained any interest in the beer community outside of Germany until this recent sour beer craze. For me, it's cool to go back and make old-school beer styles like old English porters, old English IPAs, goses, and lambics. It's a style that has gained insane popularity in the last two years and now everybody makes gose, which is kind of cool. The refreshing sourness and the salt make it a very refreshing beer.

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The brewery

We concocted our recipe in the USA before we came over, but we had to get all these ingredients. Sourcing them in the dead of Icelandic winter was intense, to say the least. We were in the middle of the mountains that have only one road. It took a long-ass time to get anywhere, and the road actually disappeared at one point. Arnie, the local head brewer, is used to it because he does the trip two times a week from Reykjavík to where he lives. Between the weather conditions and the lack of sunlight, it got dark every day very quickly—it was very intense. Since I'm from Denmark, I'm used to the lack of sunlight, but I was hoping to see the Northern Lights.

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icelandic-brewers-taking-a-break Phil, the head brewer from Two Roads Brewing Company.

Our Icelandic gose is, by definition, a sour, salty beer. The kelp is going to give it some earthiness and herbal characteristics, and the little bit of smoke from the salt will round it out and make it very refreshing. We haven't tasted it yet, but I think it's going to be a very interesting, very wild-tasting beer.

Since Iceland isn't just famous for its fermented shark, but also its hot springs, we had to test some of them out before we left. So we went to the Blue Lagoon, one of the biggest tourist attractions in the entire country.

Picture one big giant hot spring where you go and hang out all day: there are changing rooms, showers, restaurants, bars, and everything. It felt like the entire nation of Iceland was bathing with me in the warm waters. It was absolutely disgusting.

I sat inside the hot waters and realized that I was floating in a pool full of people pissing and having sex. I was also told that there is a nearby grotto where young Icelandic people make out, but I didn't go anywhere near it.