The Norwegian breweries used to have a very lucrative market. The mediums sized ones gobbled up the smaller ones, and we ended up with half a dozen regional breweries in the Seventies. They whimpered a bit about the ban on strong beers, the phasing out of ads for alcohol and other government regulations, but at the same time they laughed all the way to the bank. They had, with the blessing of the government, a monopoly in their region. Add the distribution rights to Coca-Cola, and we were talking serious money.
And monopolies promote laziness. Instead of looking for new beers to put into production, they fell back on their core lagers. Even their dark lagers, Bokk and Bayer, were slowly dying, it is much more convenient to make bigger quantities of the bland pale lager that was unlikely to offend anyone, but is unlikely to enthuse anyone but the hardcore soccer fans from the same town as the brewery. But that is history. All relics of regional beer identity were wiped away, just the Christmas beers were a ghost of the old times, and they were also watered down compared to the real stuff.
That was the situation in Year Zero. About ten years ago. When Nøgne Ø started the first serious micro brewery in Norway in the modern age. And the rest is history.
The Norwegian Government tries to make up its mind about the micro breweries. One of the parties in the current coalition government is linked to agricultural interests, and they would like to let farmhouse breweries sell their beers in limited quantities directly to the consumers, even if they are above the magic 4.7% ABV limit. Their social democratic partners are afraid this would undermine the state alcohol monopoly, so nothing will happen in the short run.
The most puzzling is the way the way Matmerk – The Norwegian Agricultural Quality System and Food Branding Foundation – quite a mouthful -approaches this. They want to make Norwegian Beer a sort of protected species, a promotional tool inspired by European labels for wine, cheese and meat products. This may work well for spinning tales about fish and cheese specialties. When it comes to beer, I feel they miss the point totally.
The important dimension of the craft beer revolution is not tradition.
What matters is innovation.
A willingness to challenge the concept of what beer can possibly be. To bring home ingredients from around the globe. To go for bold and daring flavors to educate the palates who have been dulled down during long sessions of boring lagers. To cooperate with the mavericks of the industry around the globe. To barrel age, to bottle age, to oxidize, to try to go where no beers have gone before. To build alliances and friendships with home brewers, pubs and restaurants, adventurous beer drinkers and enthusiastic beer bloggers.
By all means protect all the varieties of potatoes, gooseberries and fermented fish you can lay your hands on. But stay away from the beer!