About four hours north of Oslo, at least if you stop once to stretch you legs, you’ll find Ruten Fjellstue. You follow the main road north to Lillehammer, then on a scenic side road climbing slowly towards the northwest. As the evergreen forest thins out a little, you find a number of small hotels. These are not four star establishments, but more down to earth family run hotels where people come to enjoy the outdoors, cross country skiing in the winter, hiking in the summer.
When you climb the nearest peaks, you have the most fantastic view towards the Jotunheimen range, the highest mountains in Norway. At the same time, being situated just below the treeline makes the ski tracks more comfortable on cold and windy days when you want to avoid the most extreme weather.
This area has been popular with both Norwegians and foreign visitors since the 1930’s, with the more basic accommodation getting more comfortable over the years.
Ruten Fjellstue, 870 meters above sea level, is in the middle of this area, and four of us went up for an overnight visit . Not primarily for getting back to nature, because this place has an added attraction – a micro brewery, Espedalen Fjellbryggeri.
We arrived at six, and dinner was served at seven. Home cooked food at a very reasonable price, and the portions would have been ample even if we had walked most of the way. With the food we enjoyed some of the home brew – I’ll get back to that in a minute.
We had an appointment with Arthur, who is both the owner of the hotel and the brewer, after dinner. He showed us the brewery set up. He brews batches of about 120 liters, and the range available depends very much on what he has the time to brew. On our visit, he had three beers available, but he hopes to find the time to brew the following before Christmas:
- Brown Ale
- Porter from Hell #2 (“Black as hell and heavenly good”)
- Cotopaxi Stout (The Gateway to Heaven)
- Petsiko tribute (smoked beer)
- Pale Ale
- Jul på setra (Christmas brew, a sweet amber ale)
- Cask matured Barley Wine
And, this being Norway, there will probably be a pils, too!
The beers on tap when we visited was the Porter from Hell, a Birch Sap Ale and a Pale Ale.
The Porter from Hell has its name from a steep canyon close by which is actually called Helvete, which means Hell. Some of the water in the beer is hauled up from there.
The porter is as dark as they come, we tried to find a glimpse of brown or ruby without success. It has a thin milk chocolate head. This is not a flavour bomb, but a moreish subtle beer. It is fruity, with a fine taste of roasted malt and a delicate element of smoke or charcoal. A little sour smoke in the finish, too, but without being extreme in any way. Very good with food.
The Birch Sap Ale is brewed with no other liquid. He has two tall birches, and each of them delivered 30 liters of sap per day in early spring, easily giving him the necessary 150 liters to start brewing. This is hazy brown with a frothy head. IPA-like with flowery hops. Sweet body, a bit herbal. A bit oaky, with a dry finish.
It is hard to tell how the sap contributes to the flavour, it would have been fun to test two brews with the same recipe, one brewed with water, the other with sap!
The IPA was a hazy amber beer, with a lovely candyfloss head. Lots of hoppy goodness, dust, flowers. Some fruit – peaches, maybe, but more the dry skin of the peaches than the really sweet flesh. Some lemon bite in the tail. Caramel sweetness underneath, but it is not allowed to really surface.
We had rented a cabin across the yard from the hotel, which could have slept six. This meant that we had our own room for tasting afterwards, as we had all brought some hand picked stuff to share. An evening well spent.
If you avoid the high seasons, you can get a nice deal for one of the cabins, where you may also do your own cooking – though I really recommend having at least one proper dinner at the hotel. During summer there are Sunday buffet lunches, focusing on food from the region.
Three beers not enough? There is a splendid beer list, including most of the Nøgne ø beers, Haandbryggeriet and Ægir as well as imports.
So, is it a matter of waiting until these beers have a broader distribution? No. Arthur does this for pleasure, it is not what he does for a living. He has a hotel to run, and takes pleasure in serving this to his guests. He has a local licence for brewing and selling on the premises, and will not bother to apply for a national licence to distribute it any further.
A few notes:
Arthur has a blog (in Norwegian). It is not updated too often, but if you all visit, maybe that will help?
You can drive from Copenhagen to Ruten in less than 12 hours, according to this regular visitor.