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I am still an optimist. I think there is room for more breweries in Norway. But most of the should be brewpubs. Like the one in Horten.

On Saturday, I was home alone, except for the cat. Nothing wrong with the cat, but as I have ambitions about visiting a fair number of Norwegian micro breweries this year, I looked at my list. One town stood out, with two breweries, and as they both responded positively to my e-mails, I set out.

The old naval town Horten is not far from Oslo as the crow flies. There is no railway station in town, but a short ferry ride from Moss gets you there comfortably.

Horten is no metropolis, it has around 25 000 inhabitants, including the rural areas and smaller towns in the municipality.

Horten Mikrobryggeri is a newcomer, it opened in October 2015. The story is fairly typical – some home brewing friends deciding to go professional. This is done in close cooperation with BorreBrygg, a homebrewing supplier that’s been around for some years.

Horten Mikrobryggeri is a brewpub. I met up with Elisabeth, who is the Manager of the place, who found time for a chat, despite this being her day off.

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This place has become very popular over its six months of operation. There were the usual startup challenges of having the right amount of beer at the right time, but the timing must have been just right. When I visited, they had eight of their own beers on tap at the same time, a first, they usually have one or two guest beers. They have a kitchen, although it’s not a full scale restaurant – excpect upmarket pub Food with ingredients from small  local producers.

This is no replica of a British pub, there is a modern interior playing on the maritime history of the town with a lot of wood and brass.

The beers on tap were a wheat beer, two pale ales (one of which I’d call a bitter), a pils, an IPA, an amber, a blonde and a stout. The overall quality was fine. Of course there are low treshold beers to appeal to a broad public, and there is nothing wrong with that.But there were Three beers that stood out. The Torpedo Stout, with fine notes of coffee and roasted grain. The Løs Kanon Pale Ale, with liberal amounts of Citra hops. And my favourite, the Fulle Seil Amber, with a nice malty body and sweetness properly balanced by a piney bitterness.

They have applied for a national licence, meaning that there will be a few bottled beers available in the shop they run in cooperation with BorreBrygg just around the corner. But to get the full range, you’ll have to go to the brewpub. Which is well worth the effort. If you plan to go on a Friday or Saturday evening, you should probably book a table. Best of all, go when the weather gets warmer and get a table on the pavement outside.

But, as readers of my book will know, there is another brewery in town as well. More about that next time.

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Borg Brygghus brweres

Oli Runar and Valgeir from Borg Brugghus presenting their beers

 

The Icelandic brewery Borg Brugghus is looking for export markets, and they had an event at Haandverkerstuene here in Oslo just before Easter. Hans,  the manager of the restaurant, is also Icelandic, so he had them bring along some traditional Icelandic food to go with the beer.

Borg Brygghus har been around since 2010, and have brewed around 50 beer since then, of which six or seven are regulars. They have very decent IPAs of various strenght, but I’d like to pick out some of their more excotic stuff.

Leifur is what they call a Nordic Saison at 6.8% ABV. This is brewet With local heather and thyme, which blend well in without getting in the way. Fruity, Rich aroma, a little funk that should be present in all saisons. Fine beer.

Smugan is a 10% Wheat Wine, brewed with kaffir lime leaves, Norwegian salted and dried cod and juniper berries. Despite all this, it’s a very drinkable beer, the amount of fish involved must be very moderate.

The highlight was the Surtur, a 9% smoked imperial stout. It’s not just smoked. Iceland is a country withou any forests, so wood was hard to find. You could smoke your food over peat – or you could use sheep droppings as fuel. The beer has a smoky character, all right, but the shit does not give any pronounced flavor.

To go with these beverages, we were also served Icelandic food. Lovely tender smoked lamb. Ram testicles pickled in sour milk. And their famous raw shark, buried in the sand for months to be slightly more edible. I thought someone at my table had problems with their personal hygiene. I was wrong. It was the shark. Luckily we got a shot of Icelandic aquavit, affectionally called Black Death, to go with that.

Haikjøtt

The lamb and the shark.

 

Th

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I had planned to visit 50 Norwegian micro breweries in 2016. I havent’t told you before now, and I’ve decided to modify the aim slightly.

Because there are people brewing without having the bricks, mortar and brewing vessels. And talking to these breweries is also important. I’ll come back to Cerivisam later, today I look at Kolonihagen.

Kolonihagen is a brand that includes home delivery of organic food, a bakery, cafes/restaurants and beer. And we are talking serious food here, the three-Michelin-star Maaemo has the partly the same ownership.

They use to have a very small brewery in their restaurant at Grünerløkka in Oslo, which has later closed down. The beers, however, live on.

Brewer Arnt Ove Dalebø has moved the production to Færder Mikrobryggeri in Tønsberg, but he is still in charge of the beers. What’s new is that he has secured national distribution of the beers through the Meny supermarket chain.

 

There are so far two beers available, an IPA and a Hefeweissen, both at 4.7% ABV.

The IPA is a Cascade single hop. The aroma has apricots, blood oranges and grapefruit. The body is light. A little malt, tones of mango. The finish is dry and refreshing without going to extremes. A great session beer.

The Weissbier is also a single hop beer with Bavarian Tetnanger. It is soft and sweet, with a lot of banana. Proper soft mouth fee, a little citrus. This is not my favorite beer style, but it is true to type, and many wil welcome a good Norwegian Hefeweisse.

I only have one objection: The place of brewing should be printed clearly at the labels. There is full disclosure on the Kolonihagen web page, but the consumers are unlikely to look it up.

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When I was invited to do a few promotional events for my book in Bergen, I welcomed the opportunity. This meant some hours in a shopping mall signing books, but also taking part in a beer tasting with an additional opportunity for book sales.

Arriving at Bergen airport, I was picked up by Sammy, who kindly drove me to my first stop, the Gulating beer shop, located in a shopping mall some distance from the city center. But we made a short detour, allowing me a brief visit to 7 Fjell, one of the craft breweries being successful, also on a national scale. No price for the scenery, they are located on a no nonsense industrial estate, but the beer they brew is impeccable. They are taking over a larger slice of the building than they are using today, so there will be a tasting room and other facilities in the future.

Helge gave me the ten minute tour. 7 Fjell is doing very well, right now the fermentation tanks are the bottlenecks of the brewing.

Helge at 7 Fjell

Helge at 7 Fjell

Onwards to Gulating, where I spent three hours signing books. Not a huge success, but a trickle of customers. The shop, however, sold a respectable amount of beer  while I was there. The emergence of at first good beer shelves in Norwegian supermarkets and then specialist beer shops selling beers below the legal limit of 4.7% is way beyond what I had expected a few years ago. The Gulating shops buy their beers directly from the breweries, meaning they can offer lower prices to the customer than supermarkets. They also have a great range of beers from the smallest breweries, which are hard to find without extensive travelling.

Gulating bottle shop

Gulating Bergen

A quick check in at my hotel before arrival at UNA bar and restaurant, where I was invited to present my book at a tasting of vintage Christmas beers. This was hosted by Stefan, who has a good routine of doing events like this, I tried to add my bit to the proceedings.

UNA is the place with the most impressive tap list in Bergen, of particular interest when I visited was that they had a home brew on tap. They have their own brewing permit, but so far they just have a tiny setup in the basement. Their first beer is a Light Stout – as opposed to a Dark Stout. Highly drinkable with some coffee and cocoa notes, slightly sweet. Brewed to have a broad appeal, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Across the street to the next brewpub, Bryggeriet, a part of the huge bar/restaurant complex Zachariasbryggen.  I was visiting briefly this summer, with a serious case of bad timing, it was a week before the first beers were due to be released, and none of them were ready.  I had better luck this time, even finding brewer Gareth behind the bar and ready for a chat.

Juleøl tap

Bryggeriets Christmas beer

The original idea was to have a range of four fairly standard regular beers, this has evolved into six of their own beers on tap most of the time, and a wish to be more playful. I sampled Snøwit, a fairly strong wit, which I enjoyed, particularly since it was low on the coriander scale. Their Juleøl is a spiced porter.  My favourite was the Flagship IPA -a great allrounder that would work well both with food and as refreshment.  Grass, citrus and discreet maltiness.

My last stop was the third brewpub, Baran Café, where I had a nice chat with Ali. Well, technically it is not a brewpub, since the brewing is done elsewhere, but he brews his own beer and sells it in his café.  I had a beer, but I’m afraid there are no notes from its consumption. It is a quiet place to hang out, make sure you visit if you are in town.

These rambling notes do not do justice to the Bergen beer scene, but I hope it might inspire tickers and drinkers to make a visit. Bergen has established itself firmly on the Norwegian beer map.

Note: The trip was paid by my publisher, and I did not receive any compensation from the establishments mentioned apart from some beer samples.

Baran sign

A logo appropriate for Bergen

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Life in a city bordering on the icy northern ocean can be tough. A main street with a brewery at each end makes things more cheerful.

It’s not pitch dark in Tromsø during the last days of November. But when my plane lands slightly after noon, it is already dusk. The cold winds from the Arctic bring sleet and snow. The sensible locals wear sturdy boots with spices to navigate the icy pavements. –I suspect most shops and restaurants will have to replace their flooring every spring. There is a crunchy sound when the metal spikes meet the parquet floor.

Tromsø used to be the last outpost of civilization. A base for the trappers and explorers, traders in timer, pelts and fish. Now it is a sizeable town – for Norway – with a fair number of hotels. The locals are fond of the nickname The Paris of the North.

Among the attractions of today, there is a brewery at both ends of the main street, Storgata. One is a reborn old-timer, the other is spanking new.

Mack is the established one, with a history going back to 1877. As with many in the industry, the inner city location became too cramped, so they moved the main brewery out of town a few years ago. At the same time, they established a micro-brewery in the historical building, well integrated with a bottle/souvenir shop and next to the traditional beer hall.

The beer hall – Ølhallen – is a story in itself. This was the brewery tap, open only during the daytime. This was not for recreational drinking for the chattering classes, rather a place where seal hunters, fishermen and explorers came when they went ashore, rubbing shoulders with locals who took their noontime pint seriously.

Ølhallen still popular

The interior is still like in a time warp, with a stuffed polar beer greeting you at the entrance. The floor is tiled, easy to hose down at the end of the day. There are still a number of tables for drinking standing up. But they have put in more comfortable seating. The clientele dropping in on a Friday at the end of the office week seem to be office workers and academians, no sign of knitted pullovers and sou’westers today.

And the beer range is fantastic. The full range of Mack beers, obviously. But, in addition, fifty taps of Norwegian micro brews. Five from their own micro, the rest from Røros, Lervig, St Hallvard, Austmann, 7 Fjell, Nøgne Ø, Kinn, Ægir, Amundsen, Voss, Grünerløkka Brygghus – and local newcomers Graff Brygghus, more about them shortly.

This is one of the best tap lists in Norway, I sincerely hope they have a turnover that is good enough to keep this going. I limit myself to a glass of the saison brewed in-house. True to type, a beer properly characterized by the yeast, and where the hops and malt are firmly but politely pushed into the background.

Ølhallen is filling up as I leave, most of the locals seem to go for the Mack Christmas beer.

Marius at work

My reason for visiting Tromsø is the other brewery, Graff Brygghus. They launched their first beers just a few weeks ago, but they have been very well received. They did not have their bottling line set up when I visited, but they have a good alternative – selling growlers. When I walked by, there were 15 persons patiently waiting in line to fill up their two liter glass kegs. They filled 150 kegs on a Friday afternoon, most of them with new glassware. They have four of their own beers available, and from what I observed, the customers come back to try them all. This is a way of distributing beer which is fairly well spread in North America, in Norway there are just a few others – Lindheim, Voss and Northern are the ones I know of. It is a good way to get your beers out of the brewery and into peoples’ homes – but they also make great gifts and, most important, they make people talk about the brewery.

Line for growler fill

Lining up for the growler fill

I come back a few hours later, when there is a pub night at the brewery with yours truly invited to talk about my book and do some signing. I was very happy to get an invite from Graff, as they were one of the spanking new breweries included in the book. In fact they were not actually brewing when the book went to print – but I took the chance to give them a two page spread.

Graff Brygghus is run by two young men, Martin Amundsen and Marius Graff. Marius is barely in his twenties, but he has won homebrewing competitions well before he was of legal drinking age. They have set up their brewery in an old wooden house that has been used for various workshops for a century or so. Into this they have set up brand new brewing equipment from Portland Kettleworks.

The beers get their inspiration from the US West Coast, too, hop forward brews without going to extremes. My favourites of the evening were a grapefruity red ale and the seasonal Advent, brewed with just the right amount for rye malt.

These two guys really impressed me. They have attention to detail, they have the technological know-how – and they brew great beers from batch number one. While some of the founders of the Norwegian craft beer movement may be stepping down, there are new ones ready to fill their shoes. I think I have seen the future of Norwegian brewing. His name is Marius Graff. Remember I told you so when his beers turn up in Stockholm, Berlin or London.

 

A few words from the author

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TrondhjemsamplesBeer blogging and beer book writing are two different worlds. When I blog, I write, find an appropriate photo, run the spell checker, do some metatagging and push the publish button. There is even an automatic tweet function.

Book writing has a number of different stages. Fact finding, the actual typing, finding illustrations, proofreading, page proofs etc.

And then the promotional stunts.

The book is due from the printers Friday 23 October. The same day I will be on stage at the What’s Brewing Festival in Stavanger. I am trying to figure out what to say to the crowd that afternoon, I hope to make this a conversation between me and somebody else, I’m not very good at standing up talking.

Thursday the following week has the Christmas beer launch of the Norwegian Brewer’s Association, where my publisher has a stand among the beer stalls. Then the last plane of the evening to Trondheim, where I am due in a radio studio the next morning at eight, talking about the beers of the region. I hope to fit in a newspaper journalist at lunchtime (though he doesn’t know it yet). Onwards to the Trondheim Public Library, where I give them a copy of my book. Good for Facebook, hopefully for their Facebook page as well.

A tasting in the evening with breweries and beers from the local area at Mathallen Trondheim and a signing session at the Gulating beer shop the next morning.

The week following I’ll have an event at Verkstedet in Oslo, with a capacity of 50-60. This will be a combined book launch and tasting with five breweries presenting one beer each and joining me on stage to talk about them.

I hope I will convince a few confused souls to buy the book after all this. But what do I know about publishing, marketing and what have you. I’m just a beer drinker.

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A number of universities and research institutes in Norway has an annual event to promote research. It’s a challenge to find new ways to present what’s going on. This year the University of Oslo has the food and drinking habits of the Vikings as one of the topics.

Botanist Anneleen Kool at the Museum of Natural History has studied the plants and herbs found in the preserved Viking ships. She is also a home brewer, and in cooperation with Kjetil Johnsen at Grünerløkka Brygghus, just a stone’s throw from the museum, she has recreated a Viking beer. The beer is brewed with smoked malt, juniper twigs and yarrow. There is also hops in the beer – archeological finds dating back to AD 800 shows that hops were in use – presumably in beer.

Anneleen

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