Until now, the spokesmen of the beer renaissance in Norway have been mostly the brewers and the drinkers, with very few bars, pubs and restaurants bothering to enter the field.
The reason this is taking off now is that there are a few bars who take beer seriously, and who are willing to order something new and even are willing to give advice to their customers on which beers to try. I had a bottle of the Haandbryggeriet Haandbakk at Parkteatret some weeks ago, a Rodenbach-like sour ale, and the bar person politely asked me if I knew what I was ordering. That’s the way to do it.
But the place to go for beer at the moment is Olympen Mat & Vinhus. Situated in the old working class, now multi-ethnic-but-not-quite-on-the way-to-gentrified Grønland area of Oslo, it has been a no frills place for eating, drinking and dancing for many decades. It was quite run down, you had the feeling that the nicotine patina covering walls and ceiling were the main factor holding it together. The restaurant goes back to 1892, and I think most of us expected a fast food emporium when they closed a few years ago.
For once, that did not happened. It reopened in time for the Christmas season in 2007, and what a comeback. Old wall paintings are carefully restored, large chandeliers give a civilized feeling, long benches invite parties large and small to sit down. Gemütlich.
I must admit I haven’t tried their food so far, I’ll have to get back to you on that.
Now for the beer.
They were among the very first to offer Nøgne ø beers on tap, and they have a hand picked list of bottled beers. Some nice imports, but also a strong commitment to the Norwegian micros, including seasonals.
Last week, they went even further. Nøgne ø has imported about a dozen of the Mikkeller beers for the Norwegian market, in small quantities. Those are spread over a few selected bars around the country, and rumour is spreading fast on the online forums.
If you don’t know Mikkeller, I’ll give a brief outline. These beers are brewed by Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, a Danish school teacher who is doing this on the side. He does not have his own brewery, meaning he does guest brewing or hires the facilities of other craft breweries – in Denmark, Norway, England, Belgium and the US. He calls himself a nomad brewer.
We’re talking the extreme end of the market, it is fitting that several of the brews have Beer Geek in their name. Super-hopped IPAs, enamel-eroding sour beers, barley wines packed with the sweet, the dry and the strong.
Olympen had nine of their bottled beers on Sunday, and Geir Ove, Lars Marius and I happily indulged in a rare opportunity of trying this on our home turf. I will not go into the details of each beer here, the quality is outstanding, so it is more a question of which beer style you prefer. I found it quite interesting to try two beers from their single hop series, which share the same malt and yeast base as far as I know, but they are then liberally hopped with respectively Cascade and Warrior. This gives a fine opportunity to get the aroma and flavour of various hop varieties, I’d like more breweries to do the same. A slight letdown was the Alesmith/Mikkeller/Stone collaboration, where these breweries have joined forces to make a Belgian ale. This was nice enough, but you get spoiled looking for a wow factor in each and every beer from those guys.
A splendid time, and this would usually be enough for a very satisfying Sunday evening. But there was more to come…