Archive for March, 2023

Credit where credit is due. Thanks to Vinmonopolet for their efforts to revive old lager styles.

We have splendid access to NEIPA in all its incarnations here in Norway. We also have a very fine range of classic Belgian beers, including trappists and lambics.

The best sellers in Vinmonopolet are mostly stronger versions of the pilsners totally dominating the market, with some German wheat beers that also have respectable volumes.

The traditional Norwegian strong beer, the Bock, had a comfortable niche in the market before strong beer was transefered to Vinmonopolet about forty years ago. The legislators had some hope to kill off strong beer altogether, and they almost succeeded. We were saved by European legislation, opening for imports of more interesting beer.

Vinmonopolet runs a series of tenders for various product groups be it orange wine or miro destilled gin.  So also for beer, and this has currently resulted in a nice bunch of bocks. There are various interpretations of the style,

This beer style has not been totally gone. A few of the traditional lager breweries keep their beers in production. Ayinger Celebrator is readily available. And every year there are Christmas beers brewed true to style. On occasion, there is even some barrel aged stuff.

Now it is up to the drinkers. If we want to have this style regularly available, we need to buy it. Repeatedly. These beers may not taste like Black Forest Gateau – but you could actually serve it with your favorite cake or dessert instead.

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A cold winter

The last two decades have given us a large number of breweries in Norway, peaking at almost two hundred. Some hobby projects have come and gone; but now the number of quality brewers is dwindling. Let’s look at some of the reasons.

Vinter landscape

Energy bills.

While the energy prices have hit all across Europe, we were probably taken more by surprise than most.  Our hydroelectric power plants have traditionally given us plenty of cheap electricity, now we face prices on the European level in most of the country. This has been a blow for many industries, but some of the breweries were hit really hard.

Falling demand

Some of the breweries did very well during year one of the pandemic, particularly the ones selling bottled and canned beers. The border to Sweden was more or less closed, so the consumers had to buy what was available on the domestic market. This surge in demand did not last, and it is hard to scale down again.

The big ones strike back

We still have some traditional lager breweries in Norway, and they dominate the market completely. They supply fridges and other equipment, they service tap lines etc. And while they were slow adapters, they have become more innovative over the years. This means that they brew a fair number of beer styles, including hazy IPAs, wheat beers and beers with fruit (or, usually, fruit aromas.) This means that they can deliver a more or less full range of beers, both for supermarkets and for the more general restaurant, bar and hotel market. Hansa Borg, one of the major lager breweries, has acquired Nøgne Ø, meaning they can offer genuine craft beer to their customers. Carlsberg has developed E C Dahls as their craft beer brewery in Norway, and they also import Brooklyn beers as well as other storing brands from the Carlsberg group.

Lack of retail outlets

We have a total of three supermarket groups in Norway, all with Norwegian owners. If you can get national distribution for your beers in one of them, you can get some sales volume, but the shelf space has dwindled. Beer has given way to other types of beverages such as cider, hard seltzer and pre-mixed drinks. Alcoholic beverages in supermarkets have a limit of 4,7% ABV, the rest is sold by the state alcohol monopoly.

The chain of beer stores called Gulating went bankrupt last year. It is up and running with new owners, but very few of the stores make a profit. And breweries are hesitant of delivering beer to them, there is a risk of not getting paid.

National legislation

Other Nordic countries have adjusted their alcohol monopolies to make it easier for small producers. In Sweden, you are allotted shelf space in the shops closest to the brewery. Finland has opened up for direct sales from the breweries and takeaway beer from bars. In the Faroe Islands, the breweries are allowed to run their own retail outlets for beer under 7%.

There are occasionally attempts to liberalize the policy in Norway, but we seem to be stuck with the present legislation for the time being. A recent proposal was voted down in the parliament just a few days ago.

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