It is funny. I manage to get myself, usually on time, to meetings and leisure activities, all across Europe. I can figure out rather cryptic airline timetables, matching decent prices with convenient schedules. But when I try to organise an excursion to Drammen, forty minutes from Oslo by train, I manage to arrive at the station just as the train departs the platform.
Luckily, this is commuterland, so there is a new train in 20 minutes, and a short taxi ride brings me to my destination.
A bit in the shadow of the success of Nøgne ø, Haandbryggeriet has established itself as a innovative micro brewery with a commitment to quality. They struggle with the same distribution problems as everyone else, particularly when it comes to their stronger beer types. When news leaked out that they had two new beers which would hardly have any national distribution, I rounded up a dozen beer hounds and booked us a guided tour of the brewery and a tasting.
So, the rest of the guys were already there when I arrived, and they had started the programme. I will not get into the technical details here, but it is worth mentioning that they are still expanding their capacity – and they have beer maturing which will enhance their status even more.
On to the tasting, some of the highlights were:
Norwegian wood – trying several batches and comparing how aging and freshness plays a role. This is a beer made with juniper twigs, giving a wooden dryness and smokiness.
We had some lovely samples of experimental brews, too. Miklagard is brewed with figs. The highlight for me was the lingonberry porter, with a magnificent interplay between the beer base and the berries. Sadly, the cost of the berries makes the beer to expensive to brew commercially.
They have two beers on their way, the Dobble Dose IPA, which will be renamed for the North American market combines lots of flowery, dusty hops and plenty of malty sweetness.
They were a bit disappointed with their Haandbak, their version of a Rodenbach-style Belgian sour ale. This has been aged two years in oak casks, and you have wonderful wood aroma and a lingering dryness. They felt, however, that they had not achieved the carbonation level they wanted in the final product – in my opinion the beer was splendid.
There are more interesting brews on their way – one is a beer maturing in old aquavit casks which I will be happy to help them test if so required.
It was a great evening out, chatting with the brewery guys and developing the camaraderie between the visitors. It is nice that we have established a loose community that is big enough to arrange events like this – and we must have manage to fool the brewers to think that we know what we are talking about, as we have been asked to come back later to give our views on forthcoming beers.