Norwegian micro brewers find inventive ways to promote their beers.
Norwegian alcohol policy is often a puzzle for visitors, while the natives have adjusted in various ways, either by abstaining from the devil’s drink, by smuggling, by (illegal) home distilling or by taking the trouble to find the liquids you want and paying the price they are sold at.
When it comes to beer, this means a rather cozy arrangement for the insiders, especially for the Carlsberg-owned Ringnes, which controls most of the market, and for the few more or less family owned regional brewers still in business like Aass, Hansa-Borg and Mack. They have full exposure in brightly colored six packs in all the supermarkets, and they supply tankloads of lager to pubs and restaurants. They even brew non-alcoholic versions of some of their beers to be able to market them on billboards and in the press. Next year Carlsberg is even expected to get a grip on the import market via their House of Beer company.
If you run a brewery on a smaller scale, you cannot use these methods, so you are forced to use alternative measures to sell your ales. The two most inventive breweries in Norway, Haandbryggeriet and Nøgne ø, have both been clever when it comes to promoting their beers as well.
Along with other brewers, they had to close down their web sites in Norwegian earlier this year. This means they have had to launch web sites in English, aimed at an international market, to be able to expose their beer. As both of them in fact have a growing export, this was not the same obstacle for them as for some of the other small brewers.
Then there is a struggle to get your beers into supermarkets (for beers up to 4.7% ABV) or Vinmonopolet (the state monopoly stores for stronger alcohol). This has been slow work, with lots of setbacks, but they are getting there. More or less all supermarkets in Norway belong to four chains, so you can imagine facing those if you have a niche product.
But there is one thing you can do, which is impossible to stop if you have a legal product – use word of mouth to create a buzz. Nøgne ø did it this summer when they launched their Dark Horizon First Edition, an imperial stout similar to what you find in the more extreme end of the American craft beer scene. By carefully building up the expectations for this, by letting the beer community have a few samples at beer festivals and similar occasions, the demand was high enough for the around 1000 bottles available on the domestic market to be sold out within days. This was despite the fact that they were on special order at Vinmonopolet and were priced far higher than any other beer on the Norwegian market.
Haandbryggeriet is carrying out a similar stunt at the moment, most probably to test the market. They had a new beer, Romjul, entered into a newspaper testing of Christmas beers, a beer brewed at supermarket strength. This beer was not to be seen on any shelves, so I e-mailed them about the distribution. The answer was that this beer is to be found in the ICA supermarkets, but they have only sent one case to each store.
This has meant that all the beer geeks of Norway have been patrolling the ICA shops for the last couple of weeks, waiting for the beers to get distributed. Bulletin boards, e-mails and text messages are used for updates. So far they have been spotted in various locations in Oslo as well as in Trondheim. I won’t tell you where!
What’s next? Nøgne ø has let us now that they have finished brewing Dark Horizon Second Edition. At 18% ABV. But it needs to mature. For a long time. Read their description of the brewing and the ingredients on their web site. Do you think the expectations will build up? As for Haandbryggeriet, they are teasing us with stories of a vintage beer fermented with wild yeast and matured for a year in oak casks….