I had the pleasure of attending a beer event earlier this week – another case showing how much the scene has developed and matured. This was held at Cafe Sara, which has established itself as one of the very best beer bars in Oslo. The promotion had been fairly low-key, you are not supposed to do much in the way of beer promotion around here. I was really surprised that there was a long line outside when the door opened, and they managed to squeeze in about eighty of us. And we’re not talking big national or global names in the beer world. On the opposite, we were invited to a tasting with two fairly new breweries, who do not even have bottling plants, Voss Bryggeri and Lindheim Ølkompani.
Picking these two was a very good choice, as they both have stories to tell – and the voices to tell those stories. They both brew on a fairly modest scale – around 1000-1100 liter batches, and they are situated in rural areas with small local markets.
Ingeborg Lindheim told the story of how she went to San Diego to buy their brewing plant, and how she was told by those who sold it to get in touch with a restaurant owner. This turned out to be one of the owners of the Lost Abbey/Pizza Port group of breweries. They struck up a friendship, and they have been doing collaborations with their brewers ever since. Not bad midwives for a small Norwegian company!
Lindheim is a family farm with fruit-growing as its main income. The turnover is too small to give an income for two people, so they came up with the idea of starting a brewery as a sideline.
This has been very successful, and their most interesting beers use fruit from the farm. They have a Gose brewed with plums, but the most interesting beer of the evening was their Surt Jubileum. Jubileum is a type of plums, and the beer is a Berliner Weisse. Sort of. There is a fresh, clean sourness laced with the plums. Stronger than the usual Berliner Weisse at about 4.5%, yet a feathery light body. They didn’t just buy lactic bacteria from a brewery supply shop, they used live yogurt as a starter.
Voss was represented by Jeanette Lillås and Dag Jørgensen, two fo the three who run the brewery. They have kept their day jobs, meaning they have hired people to do the brewing. They are still very much hands on, however, developing new beers and marketing what they have to offer. Voss is one of the rural communities where home brewing has been kept alive, and they use the local yeast kveik in several of their beers. The yeast has been tweaked a bit, and it now gives a more flavourful beer than when they first tried it out. Their Vossing beer has even more of the traditional, it is brewed with an infusion of juniper twigs, adding a wooden dryness to the beer. (For more on kveik and traditional brewing in Voss, check out Lars Marius Garshol’s fantastic blog. )
Voss also have an Eldhus series of beers. Eldhus are small buildings used for smoking meat, sausages etc, particularly mutton. Dag has another use for the Eldhus, he smokes hops. To make this even more exotic, they pick wild hops for this. A delicate smoky aroma is then transferred to the beer, much more discreet than when the malt is given the same treatment.
The beers from Lindheim and Voss are hard to find, in Oslo Cafe Sara is the most likely place, but Grünerløkka Brygghus or Crowbar have also had their beers. They do not bottle any of their beers today, Lindheim plan to start bottling next year. But they both have been successful in introducing growlers, meaning you can pop in on thursday or friday afternoon and have your growler filled with beers blow 4.7%, fresh from the tank. The rest of the beer is kegged, and this has turned out to be a good format for distribution.
The second wave of Norwegian craft brewing is starting to come of age. I’m happy to see that some of them develop a clear profile. I think that will be needed in a market when everyone with a garage move from home brewing to selling their IPAs. You need a clear identity to survive. And I hope this identity will be mostly connected to unique beers, not just graphic profiles and good networking abilities.
And watch out for a Voss beer brewed with smalahove next year. That is cured and smoked sheep’s head. Extreme beers just got a new dimension.