The image of the Vikings stood for centuries as seafaring warriors who spread terror along the coasts of Europe. Their reputation as pirates wearing horned helmets overshadows their skills as storytellers, craftsmen, traders and beer brewers.
History recalls that the Vikings had a great love for drinking and crafting fine ales, according to the owners of Upland’s newest craft brewery, The Rök House, which opened this past June.
Weaving the Viking theme throughout their brewery and beers, owners Mark and Sue Heffernan, Lars Bennett and Brandy Friday are determined to recreate their ancestors’ brewing standards with a variety of unique brews.
The brewery’s Rök House name comes from the stone structures where the Vikings brewed their beer.
“Rök is Old Norse for a type of stone that was used in Scandinavian culture to build brew houses,” said Bennett. “One of their only stone structures was a brew house to help keep the temperature in and make a more consistent brew. This is our Rök House.”
Bennett, who was born and raised in Upland, says the roots trace back to when he attended the annual Stone Brewing Co. Anniversary Beer Festival in San Marcos several years ago. He noticed attendees with Stone gargoyle tattoos and admired the marketing approach. Then the idea struck.
“I thought, I’m half Viking, so I should open up a Viking brewery,” he said, just joking at the time. That escalated his interest in home brewing under the tutelage of Mark Heffernan, who had been home brewing since 1985 and selling home brewing supplies at Pacific Wine Merchants in Upland since 1996.
Although brewing separately, Heffernan and Bennett realized they were both creating some very good beers. “So we decided to combine forces and see what would happen,” Bennett said. “We got that much better and we joked about opening up a brewery. Now here we are.”
“We each had some recipes that we had perfected and that’s what we started with,” said Heffernan. “We really wanted to bring back the original styles of beers. A lot of people have lost sight of where the beers come from, and so we stick with the American and European styles – Kolsh, Wit, a good Brown and definitely an IPA. It’s not a traditional West Coast style and it’s not an East Coast style. We call it the Rök House style. People who don’t like IPAs like it and people who like IPAs like it.”
“It is fun to experiment,” Heffernan said. “You can’t do that if you’re a winery. But beer is a canvas for anything. One of my customers makes a sauerkraut beer. Whatever fruit is out there, or nut, berry or twig – just throw it in a beer.”
“The Vikings didn’t know anything about hops, but they had laurel. We found a source for laurel tips, which is how they bitter up their beers.”
As for their future goals, Heffernan says they are already on target.
“We’ve already passed one, at least for me, and that was to quit my day job, which I had been doing for 18 years. We’re doing well enough that both of us get paid. We just want to continue to expand. We have started distribution and our beer is at The Junction (in Claremont) and doing very well. I hope we’ll soon be bottling … And then it’s the world.”
Said like your typical Viking.