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Archive for November 6th, 2007

As cruel as always, this is an extract from his new book, Table Talk: Sweet and Sour, Salt and Bitter:

What is it with dirty jokes and country hostelries? I’m talking about those “fine dining” pubs, where “Dennis and Fiona welcome discerning travellers to relax, revive, savour and marvel in an atmosphere of timeless rustic elegance. No children, no smoking, no proles’ overalls. Dogs by prior arrangement”. In short, the sort of place that makes you fervently wish it were possible to order up bulldozers like minicabs.

Why is it that these places invariably have smutty cartoons in the men’s lavatory, involving badly drawn big breasts, a shooting double entendre and talking foxes? The prudish, leering hypocrisy of these men-only gags is an endearing staple of country hospitality, and I don’t want to be implicated in it when I’ve got my flies undone.

It goes on, of course..

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Some of my newer readers may wonder why I keep blogging about beer around the world, but there is little about the scene in Norway.

There are several reasons for that.

Norway has among the highest beer prices in the world, and consumers are not allowed to import their own beer except when travelling.

The market is dominated by four brewery groups, and they make their money brewing pale lagers. The biggest of the is Ringnes, owned by Carlsberg. They have gobbled up most of the regional brewers and closed them down, one by one. The others are Hansa Borg, Aass and Mack. You will find a decent bock or Münchener brewed by these breweries, and they manage to make some decent copper colored Christmas beers, too, but they lack any desire for innovation.

In most shops, pubs and bars, you will generally find beers from these major players, supplemented by boring imports like Heineken, Corona and canned Guinness.

Beer stronger than 4.7% can only be bought in bars and in special government monopoly stores. This has more or less killed the sales of stronger beers, it has been an uphill struggle for many years to get this market going. It is also very cosy for the domestic brewers, as it keeps the sales of, say, Belgian premium beer down.

There has been some positive changes over the last decade. There used to be brew pubs only in Oslo and Trondheim, but there are now new ones established around the country. It is interesting to see things happening in tourist places like Flåm. Among the ones I have tried, the best brewpub is the innovative Møllebyen Mikrobryggeri in Moss, a short train ride from Oslo. I blogged about this a few weeks ago.

There are also innovative breweries that bottle their beers, and the most daring of these has already gotten some international fame. Nøgne ø is located in Grimstad on the southern coast, and they brew beers in Belgian, British and American styles – no time wasted on bland pilseners here. (Have a look at their web site, is says something about the obstacles to setting up a business here.)

Håndbryggeriet in Drammen also has a decent range of beers, and they have become more experimental over the last year or so, for example with an ale inspired by Norwegian home brewing traditions and a wheat stout.

There are a few more small scale brewers who bottle their beers. Atna has six regular beers plus a few seasonals, but they do not stand out in any particular way. Smaa vesen started earlier this year, but so far they have struggled to get constant quality when upgrading from home brewing to a more commercial scale. I expect their Christmas beers will show if they manage to break into the market.

When visiting Norway, the bigger supermarkets like Centra or ICA Maxi will have beers from Atna, Nøgne ø and Håndbryggeriet, while the Vinmonopolet stores will have some of the premium beers from the same brewers plus a selection of imports.

What you will not find are the best beers from Denmark or Sweden, which have no distribution here. I hope that will change for the better.

The lovely samples below are from Trondhjem Mikrobryggeri.

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