Burdisson’s “Original” Dwarven Ale

A Primer to Boran Coalbeard’s upcoming release: Boran Coalbeard’s Gazetteer of Beers, Ales, and Brewed Beverages

Before writing my upcoming book, I resolved to take a trek to one of the most hallowed places in all of the brewing community. As all journeys must have a beginning, I decided to begin mine with an old favorite. My purpose was simple. I wanted to once again taste the beer that started it all for me. The day I tasted Burdisson’s ale for the first time was the day that I knew I wanted my life to be all about beer. The Burdissons have been brewing in their mountainside valley for centuries, perfecting every step of their process. From the water used to irrigate their farms to new and wondrous innovations that have revolutionized the brewing industry, the Burdissons have helped create the gold standard for what beer making should be.

As I journeyed to the hold, I was fortunate enough to have as my traveling companion a Burdisson who was returning home from a sales expedition, and he was keen to fill me in on the workings and history of his clan's land. He explained how the old patriarch of the clan, Borrdar Burdisson, long ago set out to find the perfect location to create the perfect brew. Over four centuries ago, Borrdar purchased a seemingly useless piece of land from a local dwarf lord, located in the lowlands of the Northpeak Mountain range. The story goes that the dwarf lord thought the land useless, as there were no rich mineral or gem veins in the cave of the lowland hills, and the lord's clan had abandoned the land many years before. Borrdar Burdisson was already a master brewer at this time, and what he saw in the land was a gold mine of beer that would be unmatched in all the kingdom, perhaps even the world. Today the thriving industry of Burdisson Brewery is a lasting testament to the old dwarf's vision and tenacity.

As he spoke further about the land surrounding the hold, I was surprised by the ingenuity of these dwarves and proud I could call myself one of their race. He pointed out that the lowlands surrounding the hold had been judged poor for farming, and that it took Borrdar almost a decade of research, land forming, and trial and error to get the farmlands working. Once the aqueducts were in place though, and the minerals were given a chance to seep into the soil they became very fruitful. The farms receive fresh nutrients from higher up in the mountains every year, as the mountain streams bring fresh minerals to the reservoir which is then piped down into the lowland farms.

We came to the Great Hall as the sun was setting. Looking back down the hill and into the valley, I could see the entire valley, bathed in the warm glow of the light. It was a brewer’s paradise of golden, waving grain that beckoned for the end of a hard but satisfying day, a good meal, and a tankard of ale. My guide, Noran, stared and took in the sight with me. “It never gets old,” he said with a slight bow as he bid me farewell, and I turned to enter the guest and receiving foyer to garner me evening’s lodgings. A refreshing meal closed off the night, and I retired to my lodgings, weary from the road and ready for rest.

 


 

The next morning I was greeted at the bottom of the stairs by my companion from the previous day. I dare say my reputation must have played no small part as he informed me of his intention to accompany me throughout my stay in the hold and to offer me any additional information I required. Impressed by his assertiveness, I could not refuse, and we soon found ourselves enjoying a proper dwarven breakfast of lamb, toast, and potatoes, finished off with fine pale ale that was flawlessly designed to leave one refreshed and clear headed for the day ahead.

During breakfast, Noran explained that the Great Hall is actually a more recent addition for visitors and followers of the ever growing and popular Burdisson legend. The entrance to the Great Hall itself is known for its massive waterwheel cut into the mountainside, framed by the head of a dwarven warrior chiseled into the stone close to 100’ tall. The waterwheel powers much of the hold’s machinery and is fed by the aqueducts which have also been piped into the mountains for brewing, cooking, and cleaning.

The foyer of the Great Hall is a favorite spot among guests, and the atmosphere of the room warms the soul like a strong barley wine. The walls are lined with rich wood panels set within intricately carved stone. The room is centered around a large fireplace, every bit of 10’ tall. To the side, behind a glass wall, and set down a step or two is an ornate copper brewing system gleaming in the torch and firelight. All of this, of course, is more for show than anything else as the brewery proper is actually located discreetly in the lower hills of the region.

Behind the Great Hall is a larger hold, converted out of what used to be mine works and ore refining facilities. I was told that the Burdissons still make limited use of the metal working parts of the old facility; a throwback to the days when the Burdisson clan was famous only for its forging and smithing trade. In the present day they are much more brewers than they are forgers, but staying true to their ancient heritage, the Burdissons still make finely forged goods that not only help the brewery but are also coveted in distant markets.

We finished our breakfast and continued our talk as Noran showed me the way to the Master Brewer's station, deep in the brewery proper. The journey was not long, and I was soon in the company of some of the greatest brewing minds of my time. The current Master Brewer, Gloni Burdisson, was honored that I would take the time to visit his brewery, and quickly welcomed me into his confidence as we spoke openly while touring the brewery.

The marvel of the technological engineering to be found in Burdisson Brewery is almost beyond belief. I have seen steam powered brewing machines before, but what I saw in Burdisson Hold made everything I had seen previously look like children's toys. The sheer magnitude of some of the machines took me a long time to comprehend, and the multitude of pressure gauges, measuring devices, and other tools were beyond my ken to decipher. Even the mechanical platforms that transported dwarves all over the brewery on a floating rail system, which they called "The Line," defied most of what I had ever seen or heard of in regard to the limits of dwarven engineering.

The Line traversed a vast corridor starting at the foothills brewery, working it’s way past various fermenting, clarifying, and conditioning vessels, and through the kegging and packaging area. We were then transported through the storage cellars before finally coming to an end at the staging and shipping area. The staging area exits out through a opening in the cliff along the east side of the harbor. This is where many thousand kegs of Burdisson Brewery beer is shipped out every year. Today’s shipments were mostly bound for the dwarven kingdoms to the east, by way of the underground Dwarven Highway. There was also a large shipment being loaded at the docks, on it’s way to Westfallen. Late in the afternoon we broke for lunch and discussed some of the comings and going of the dwarf world as well as Gloni’s dream plans to build a “beer beacon” on top of one of the northern peaks that would shine a light clear out to the Icy Ocean.

On our way back, Gloni led me through some of the doors that were locked, even guarded at times, to show me some of the experimental brewing areas. Here engineers and brewers were testing new brewing recipes, new technology meant to make brewing on such a large scale a more manageable task, and other various devices for which I could not immediately discern an application to brewing. This, I realized, was where the future of Burdisson brewing was under development.

I was sworn to secrecy concerning some of the proprietary methods that I witnessed, and I can assure the Burdissons that their secrets have no safer abode than my stubborn dwarf skull. Out of respect for the friendship I now share with Gloni, I will not divulge any of the brewing secrets that were revealed to me. When the tour was finally over, Gloni brought me back to the Great Hall and left me in the capable hands of my guide.

Still in awe of all I had heard and seen, I insisted that we take a meal and let me collect my thoughts. I scribbled furious notes over a simple dinner meal of cold meats and cheese. The two of us spent the rest of the evening in the foyer of the Great Hall to the pleasure of good brews, fine pipes, and a fireside discussion on the history of the Burdisson clan. After retiring for the evening, I spent an hour or so more detailing in my notes the information I had acquired, writing late into the night.

 


 

The next morning, my guide and I set out for a tour of the countryside and a first hand look at the Malthouse. The Burdissons grow a variety of grains for use in their recipes, and see them through the malting process and into the brew kettle. As we visited the grain fields, the farmers were happy to answer any of my questions about their growing methods. One thing that very much amazed me about the Burdisson clan is that the farmers appeared to be just as important to the process as the Master Brewer. I am under no delusion that I stumbled into any sort of utopia, but as far as I can tell, every member of the clan, from the coal miners to the caravan traders to the farmers, believes whole heartedly in the mission of Burdisson Brewery.

It is rare treat, even for myself, to see the malting process in action. Located in an outlying mountain overlooking the harbor, the malthouse is a bit of an unsung hero of the land. A massive operation by itself, the malthouse is the destination for grain that is to be prepared for the brewing process. Here the aqueducts are piped in to provide water for germination and to power the mechanics for machinery and the billows that circulate the hot air for kilning. Multiple roasting barrels are used to provide the various specialty malts needed to achieve the depth and character in Burddison’s brews.

As we circled back around, we visited the hop fields where the smell of Noble, Fuggle, and Goldings hops permeated the air. With hop vines growing over 30’ tall, the Burdissons developed a system of  stepped fields for easy harvesting. Using the natural slope of the hills, they are able to work at virtually the same level relative to the hop vines no matter where the dwarfs are in the fields. This makes for faster harvests and, according to some, less disparity between the first of a crop and the last of it. Here the aqueducts pour out into an underground piping system which prevents over watering by evenly distributing the water throughout the field. These types of innovative details only reinforce the fact that old Borrdar Burdisson was a genius and a visionary as much as a brewer and businessman.

I returned to my quarters an hour before sunset to make sure I was prepared for the feast that my guide had promised would be a singularly wondrous event. My hope at this point was to be able to hear more from Gloni Burdisson about the brewery and the beers themselves. I was also quite convinced that many important members of the Burdisson clan wanted to be present when I had my official tasting of Burdisson's Dwarven Ale the following morning. This feast would give me a chance to meet them and they me.

As promised, my guide returned just after sundown, and I met him at the bottom of the stairs to my quarters, dressed in some of my finer garb. A crimson shirt gilded in gold filigree, a cape of rich purple with hues of brown and silver displaying my own clan's crest, boots of black leather, and a large belt with a solid gold buckle made up my appearance for the evening.

When we entered, several groups had already arrived, and the maids and butlers were already bustling to and fro delivering drink orders and appetizer dishes of cheese and bread. The walls were adorned with carvings and shields of the Burdisson clan family crests, and finished in a similar fashion to the foyer below. Several tables lined the room, surrounding two central stages where entertainment could be seen and enjoyed by all, and four large vented fire pits warmed and lighted the room.

Once seated, it was not long before Gloni Burdisson and several other of the head brewers joined us. As the meal progressed, a group of entertainers began setting the main stage for a presentation. Gloni mentioned that his bards had been preparing a special piece for my visit, and I was deeply honored to be, for tonight at least, the center of the Burdissons’ attention.

Soon after the main course was delivered, the play began. For the next hour the stage was transformed into the mythical tale of the first beer, a gift from the Frostpaw to Eithhrim, a dwarf known to all other dwarves as the very first brewer. The performance was moving and full of sentiment. I even found myself emotionally involved in the presentation, a fact not lost on Gloni and others with him. Truly I felt a connection to the Burdissons that is uncommon for me to feel for any but my own kinsmen.

After the presentation we talked for a while about matters concerning the brewery, with Gloni patiently answering my questions and waiting for me to scribble down notes. As the Burdisson clan owns the entire mountain and valley region, encompassing the brewery, docks, mines, forests, and farmlands, they have since the time of Borrdar been involved to some extent with the intrigues of the dwarven lords and King. While it is not wholly pertinent to the tale of my visit to the brewery, I found Gloni’s explanation of their situation to be quite interesting.

Because of the terms by which Borrdar Burdisson purchased the land, centuries ago, the seat of the King in Heimmaerr legally recognized the Burdisson lands as sovereign. When Gloni explained this, I was marveled to realize something that had never occurred to me until that very moment. Burdisson Brewery is, in fact, the first ever recognized nation that is completely driven towards a single industry, brewing beer!

Our conversation continued later into the evening, with many of the brewers staying to take part in a large discussion about their new seasonal beers which they would be shipping out soon, and Gloni was eager to have me taste several of them. I said that during my stay I would be glad to do so and offer my unofficial opinions on the brews.

A few marks past midnight, Gloni reminded an aide to set up the tasting for the morning and excused himself for the night. The other brewers and I stayed for another stein before retiring, and I fell asleep feeling like the Burdisson clan was actually something much more belonging to a faerie tale than a real life people.

 


 

The next morning I awoke early and began wandering the halls, looking at the activity surrounding our tasting. The bustle of the morning preparations for this time honored ritual pleased me greatly. Before long, Gloni and the other brewers met me in the foyer of the Great Hall, and we proceeded to the tasting.

Though I am not writing this to review the beer, I still cannot help but write about the goblet of ale that was sat before me...

“Burdisson's “Original” Dwarven Ale pours a deep, almost opaque brown, with a hint of mahogany where the light tries to break through. It's rocky mocha head likes to linger and grips tightly to the sides of my goblet as it settles. Next, three quick sniffs followed by a long inhale, my nose immediately picks up on the intermingling chocolate and caramel malts bathed in the fruity esters of this perfectly aged brew.

My mouth literally begins to water now as I take in the intricate details of this fine drink. The taste complements the smell, bringing out the depth of the chocolate and caramel malts.  Smooth across the tongue with a nice medium body, ending with a dry but sweet finish and a touch of alcohol warmth on the way down. The palate is left washed in a rich earthiness and a there’s a slight pucker to the back of the throat, begging for more. Burdisson’s Original is a surprisingly easy drinking beer given it's apparent alcohol and dark appearance.”

A smile came to my mouth as I finished the first draught. Gloni and the others at the table joined me now, cheering Borrdar’s name and hailing the Burdisson clan’s brew. What happened later that day and night was mostly a blur, as the beer flowed much more freely after that and I soon put down my pen as my notes became more scrawl than script.

I stayed with the Burdissons for two more weeks, lending my expert palette to a host of new brews at Gloni’s behest. There were several more feasts, and Gloni and I resolved to take a trip together after my new book was finished in order to inspect his supply lines and sample some of the brews in other parts of the land. I would have stayed longer with them, but a baggage train was leaving, headed in the direction of home and the beginning of my journey, and I certainly did not mind traveling in the company of the Burdisson clan. I left my guide Noran with a small gift, a letter of recommendation for his brews signed by none other than myself. What he did not really know is that his product is sold even before he walks in the door, my recommendation or no, for everyone already knows the Burdissons forge mighty good ale.