The Mounds of Bjørnkær Castle

Two kilometres west of the town of Hou lies the "Bjørnkær" castle mounds in excellent condition. They consist of two banks which are protected by twin ramparts as well as a moat of water and a dry moat. Circa 1300, a substantial fortress stood at this place.

During an excavation conducted by the Danish National Museum of Cultural History in 1930 to 1935, the remains of a strong fortress tower, built of granite and large medieval bricks, was unearthed on the east bank.

In the tower basement a 2-meter deep well was found to contain numerous pieces of earthenware vessels. These were put together to form 35 almost complete vessels, which turned out to be the necessary equipment for making alcohol. The equipment is the oldest distillery equipment in Scandinavia.

In addition to the "Bjørnkjær" castle mounds, the Odder Museum has excavated medieval castle mounds at another site, the "Kjærsgård" castle mounds, which are situated near the village of Hundslund. The excavation of "Kjærsgård" took place in 1947, and here a stronghold, which in many respects resembled the one at "Bjørnkjær", was found.

In the fortress tower basement a number of iron artefacts and some coins were founds, indicating that the stronghold was used until the mid-15th century.

This is how distilled spirits were made from grain in the fortress tower at "Bjørnkær" around 1300:

1. The process of making distilled spirits began by roasting the grain lightly in one of the large earthenware pans.

2. The grain was then crushed and placed in one of the large covered dishes with some water.

3. The gap between the lid and the base was sealed using clay, and then the crushed grain was boiled at high pressure. During this process the grain changed into starch paste.

4. The starch paste was then poured through one of the large earthenware funnels and mixed with green malt. Here the mixture was left to brew for 24 hours during which time the starch paste transformed into sugar with raising properties.

5. Yeast was then added to the mixture after which it was left standing to complete the fermentation process which resulted in a product containing 1.5 to 2.5 % alcohol.

Finally it was time for the actual distilling process:

The thin alcoholic fluid in the fermentation hopper was now poured into the vat to the right, and on top of the vat one of the large earthenware funnels was attached by means of clay. At the top of the funnel a cork was inserted through which a lead pipe had been fitted. This pipe was routed through a small funnel to the left and further down into the grey hard-fired distillery keg.

A fire was then lit under the large vat in order to make the alcohol vapours rise through the large funnel and further on through the lead pipe where the vapours were cooled and condensed into alcohol which flowed down and filled the grey keg. In order to keep the lead pipe cool, a constant flow of cold water was added to the small funnel from where it flowed slowly into the flat bowl.

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