I’ve told you before about my time in the Science Fiction fan community – fandom. You have mixed feelings when your subculture is enthusiastically embraced by the mainstream. While I have enjoyed the Harry Potter books and movies, and been thrilled by the movie adaptions of the LoTR, the feeling of exclusivity is long gone. The fantasy and SF authors of today are superstars, while in the late Eighties we could get the top names in the field to visit our humble conventions on the Oslo University campus.
The beer community has developed in a similar way. While I have enjoyed craft beer through my adult life, this enjoyment has been limited to travels abroad (or what I managed to drag home in my suitcase). It is just during the last decade that the Norwegian beer market has changed, starting with Nøgne Ø. The feeling of exclusivity has been there over this decade. Sure, I am applauding that there are breweries and bars now making decent money from their efforts, I still know most of the key players in the business and discuss with them as fellow enthusiasts.
But now the analysts and accountants of the Norwegian restaurant industry are linking up with the macro brewers to get a slice of the action. And I can tell you there is little magic about this, it is the muggles moving in.
Let me give you the contrasts.
Last weekend there was a food festival in Oslo. It was professionally arranged, with government promotion funds enabling small scale producers from the whole country to take part. The core was an enlarged farmer’s market, but there were lots of seafood as well. You could buy food to take home, but there were also hot and cold delicacies to be eaten at the spot. And in the central are there was also a beer bar. Five craft breweries were selling a fine range of beers, about 30 in all. The prices were modest, and you could buy samples if you did not want a whole bottle. For legal reasons, the bar was run buy a licensed restaurant, but there were representatives from the breweries present to talk about their beers. The festival closed in the early evening both on Friday and Saturday, so there was no danger that this led to excessive drinking. While I don’t find beer promotion to be a core part of government activities, I found this a fine way of showing craft beer as a part of the artisan food movement and a way of reaching out to new customer groups. This is particularly important when most of these beers are not available in ordinary shops, some are even on special order in the Vinmonopolet stores.
The other way of doing things is the beer festival taking place in two week’s time at Aker Brygge in Oslo. This is a gentrified shipyard in downtown Oslo with lots of bars and restaurants, I’d guess about 20 of them. Only one of them has a decent beer selection, Beer Palace. For some reason they have decided to have a beer festival. Yes, there will be a tent with small glasses of expensive samples, and then there will be events spread across the area. Nice? Let’s look a bit closer at what they are promoting at Facebook:
Druen is a wine bar, and they claim to present the Best of Brooklyn. Well. It’s not. It is Carlsberg importing three of the bestsellers from the Brooklyn Brewery, while avoiding any of the more experimental or challenging beers they make. And those beers are readily available in many places where Carlberg is the sole supplier.
Latter is a venue for stand up comedy, where you may also have dinner before the show. They have decided to host a beer maker’s dinner, featuring beers from Hansa, the Bergen-based Norwegian macro.
The beer list? Hansa wheat beer. Newcastle Brown Ale, Hansa Bayer, Murphy Irish Stout, Borg Bokkøl. All everyday fare which will not challenge anyone’s taste buds.
Yes, of course Hansa is probably the sole beer supplier of this venue. And I am sure they sponsor this dinner as well. And Latter is not a place you’d choose for fine dining anyway. But this is ripping off customers who expect something special.
We have had beer maker’s dinners in Oslo before, particularly at Haandverkerstuene. With craft breweries presenting special beers, showing the true diversity of domestic and imported beers. Let’s hope the coming festival won’t ruin the market for the serious places. You can be sure I won’t be present.