I recently started paying more attention to local breweries and beer in general (I am from Wisconsin, after all) and saw for the first time Capital Brewery’s Winter Skål at my grocery store. I was immediately curious because when you’re a Swede, what better name could a beer have?

I did a little research and found out Winter Skål isn’t a new brew; Capital Brewery (of Wisconsin’s state capital city, Madison) has been selling the seasonal beer since the 1990s. In 1986, while established breweries were calling their specialties “micro brews,” Capital Brewery opened as the first significant craft brewer in the state. Their Winterfest craft beer wasn’t welcomed by the bigger brewer’s micro brew with the same name, so Capital Brewery brainstormed for a new name. Of course they sipped the amber lager as they considered new names, and as they considered new names they sipped a little more. Soon they were cheering for the good ideas, maybe even singing, and raising their glasses to “skål” each other — and low and behold someone realized THAT could be its name. After all, didn’t skål mean skull, and didn’t the Vikings used to drink from the skulls of their enemies when they celebrated a success?

Well, no, probably not — that’s really the stuff of legend. And skål actually means "bowl" (which comes from "skal" meaning "shell"), and supposedly the word is meant to encourage people to empty a bowl in somebody's name — just as we "toast" jolly good fellows in this country. But since the ancient Nordics had a passion for beer, Capital Brewery knew they had a good name for this amber lager.

The Viking drinking heritage is reflected in "the badass nature of what the craft beer industry is,” said Giotto Troia, with apologies for his language. Troia is the marketing and communications coordinator of Capital Brewery Co., Inc. He was eager to tell me about Winter Skål’s story, admitting there was nothing else Scandinavian about the beer but its name.

I assured him that didn’t really matter much, that though the German-American community is a lot bigger than ours (at least in southeast Wisconsin), we live peacefully together and respect that the Germans can take credit for much of the beer culture — and Winter Skål itself (its rich malt heritage is a German process). Winter Skål is what it needs to be: a really delicious medium amber lager that happens to have a Swedish name. And in case you haven’t (yet) tried it yourself, the answer is no, it’s not a replacement for your Christmas glögg, nor is it Julmust, but it is a really smooth amber lager that’s been featured at beer festivals and won enough awards to keep the brewery brewing it year after year. So pour yourself a tall, blonde Swedish beer this holiday season, give it as a gift or share it at the next smörgåsbord. It’s only available through January.

~Amanda Olson Robison