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There is no lack of beer books, even in Norwegian. Some retell the old tales, some are national versions of multilingual books. But, once in a while, something genuinely unique comes along.

Author Lars Marius Garshol (disclaimer: I am proud to call him my friend, even though I have not been involved in this project) is a well-known name in beer circles. He has been blogging in English for a dozen years, illustrated with his excellent photos, sharing intelligent journalism and analysis.

He has also done an amazing job documenting Lithuanian traditional brewing, in spite of linguistic challenges, resulting in a self-published book in English – Lithuanian Beer – A Rough Guide.

But now he has looked closer to home, where there are other treasures to be documented. The result is just out: the book Gårdsøl –literally Farmhouse Ale.

Some of his source material has been published before, but mostly in obscure and long out of print publications. More important, he manages to tell the story both on the micro and the macro level. This is done by alternating the style of the chapters of the book between journalism/participant observation and historical or other scientific overviews.

Lars Marius manages to convey his great enthusiasm for the brewers he meets and the traditions they share with him. And while the broader picture is well written and educational, it is the living tradition, often spiced with local dialect words that illustrate the process, that makes this book really shine.

The book gives an overview of brewing in various parts of the country, climatic conditions and traditions vary widely. Norway has a tough climate, and wheat was never an important crop until very recently. That means that barley and oats were important for food in most of the country, and in lean times there was not much left for brewing.

The book is richly illustrated, both by diagrams of brewing processes and the author’s photographs. This visualizes both what he observes today and it gives the opportunity to show old brew houses, beautiful drinking vessels and more.

If you want to try brewing in the traditional way, or at least get inspired by it, there is plenty of documentation for that as well.

Two important aspects of Norwegian traditional brewing have been kept alive in different parts of the country, both described in detail in the book.

One of them can be found in the fjords and valleys of the Western coast, with a epicenter at Voss – kveik. These are local yeast strains, some of them in symbiosis with bacteria, which behave in mysterious ways. They work at high temperatures and give complex aromas in the beer.

The other is the malt of the Stjørdal region. Farmers grow their own barley and malt them in small scale malt houses. The malting takes place using smoke and heat from local alder wood, giving a pronounced smoky flavor to the beer.

Could I ask for more? The original manuscript was much longer than the published book, so perhaps a directors cut as an e-book sometime in the future?

And yes, this important part of the Norwegian brewing heritage also calls for an English edition. But, knowing the author, he probably wouldn’t want anyone else to translate it. We’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, check out his blog, where there is a lot of information to be found in English.

And maybe we’ll do a blog collab about the commercially available beers using stjørdalsmalt or kveik, Lars Marius?

Back to Berlin

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I have visited Berlin repeatedly over the last decade, and there has been interesting beers to seek out, particularly among the brewpubs scattered around the city. At the same time, the industrial brews generally available are not all that interesting, and there are juste echoes of the old brewing heritage of the city. The Berliner Weisse that the waiter poured over syrup in your glass now comes pre-blended in bottles. But while the old is not very present, the new is moving in, and things are happening fast.

Sometimes I travel primarily for beer (and beer writing), sometimes it’s business or family holidays. This time it was the latter, meaning limited time to seek out new bars and new breweries. But I still have a few nuggets to share with you, and even a suggestion for a day out.

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While Berlin has not yet seen the staggering number of breweries you can find in London, the number has been growing fast. Ratebeer lists a bewildering number of contract breweries, but there are still a few dozen bricks and mortar operations scattered around the city. Some of them have their won brewery taps, others are to be found in specialist beer bars and shops – or just in restaurants  and shops where they have managed to get in. The most concrete example of small scale – well, they call it craft in German as well, they are surprisingly eager to adapt English words – beer finding new markets is in the restaurant and bar of one of the Berlin landmarks – the TV Tower at Alexanderplatz. Three beers from contract brewery BrewfactuM are not only listed, but they are given a whole page of descriptions in the menu, a bit inaccurately identified as a Berlin brewery, but you can’t get it all right the first time. Pity I was there having breakfast…

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One place close to Alexanderplatz to have a beer is Kaschk.  I’m pretty sure there is Norwegian ownership here, they have a strong selection of Scandinavian beer, and the name is a phonetic spelling of the nickname of the staple drink of Norwegians – coffee, sugar and home distilled alcohol. Never mind, they are open at lunchtime, and there are always some local beers on tap, too. Very studenty at midday, taking advantage of free wifi and decently priced coffee.

Ten minutes away is a charming second hand bookshop, dedicated to cookery books and related items. Bibliotheca Culinaria, but it is far more gemütlich than its pretentious name. It’s an Aladdin’s cave of food books,  including publications from the DDR. Some shelves of beer and brewery books, too, well worth browsing into.

And a piece of advice if you want to open a pub: Instead of buying the interior from someone who makes replicas of English or Oirish pubs, go here and buy their selection of original beer mugs. There were at least fifty different ones on display, including a number of fine ones with pewter lids on sale for ten Euro a piece. I am sure this is a good place if you are looking for more rare beer books, too. Thanks a lot to Micromaid for the tip!

That’s all for to today. But stay tuned. There is a side street beer shop with friendly natives, Stone Berlin – and a 30 liter beer glass coming up.

berlin-seidler

The reluctant brewer

I’ve been seeking out small scale breweries across Northern Europe for a dozen years. Most of them are happy to open their doors, give me samples from their tanks and send me home with a bag of goodies. Sometimes we don’t find the time to meet, but we have a Messenger chat, exchange e-mails or have phone conversations.

I use the opportunities I have when I travel for business or leisure, and with close to 200 Norwegian breweries, there is a long list of microbreweries I want to visit in all parts of the country.

This summer I was able to seek out a few of them, and found eager brewers happy to tell me about their beers and how they fit in with food and other ways of making money.

But there is always a first. In Sømna, the gateway to Northern Norway, father and son Trond and Bård have started Nordgården Gårdsbryggeri. I get in touch with Bård, and he tells me his father is at the brewery the day we are driving by.

It’s a beautiful summer day, the brewery is located on an idyllic farm a few kilometers away from the main road, there is a nice beer garden in front of the house.

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I get a rather lukewarm greeting. I explain what I am doing, show a copy of my book, and tell him I try to keep a total overview of all Norwegian breweries, and I’d like to have photos and descriptions of his beers in my book.

  • I’d don’t want to be a part of your book, Trond tells me.
  • -But you have a license to brew, you sell your beers here and elsewhere, and even have a pub in your garden?
  • Sure. But the beers are not where I want them to be yet. If you print descriptions, they will be out of date too soon.
  • But this is an opportunity for publicity and I’m not charging you for this?

Trond makes it perfectly clear that he is in no way ready to present his beers in any book project in the foreseeable future. There is no point in stretching out my visit, he makes no gesture of putting the kettle on. He is in no way comfortable about my visit. But he allows me to take a few photos for web use. And I persuade him to trade a few bottles for a copy of last year’s book.

I’ve later tasted the beers, and I have to admit he has a point. The beers taste like home brew. Perfectly drinkable home brew, but nothing outstanding compared to other beers you find in Norwegian supermarkets. Maybe it’s right to wait a few years before I get back to him. Or at least until next summer…

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milan-2

 

The big events you plan for might turn out splendid. But it’s the beer bars you stumble upon that are some of the real gems. Here is one in Milan.

 

The day before had been very eventful. I had been up bright and early, caught a flight to Milan and attending the opening of the new Baladin brewery. The next day involved transport back to Milan before we went home, but some of us had time to spare.

We started off with lunch at an offshoot of the Birrificio Lambrate, their Golgi restaurant. It is similar to their brewpub I visited some years ago, for lunch there are good rustic dishes, and they have a good selection of tasty beers on tap as well as some bottles. With me for this session were two proper beer writers, Adrian Tierney-Jones and Martyn Cornell, as well as fellow Norwegian beer writer Ove Haugland Jakobsen, who has a day job as I do. We had a merry time sampling some of the beers available, including a very tasty bock and their Quarantot Double IPA.

Beer writers

The merry beer writers enjoying a liquid lunch at Lambrate.

By 2:30, the restaurant was closing for the afternoon and Adrian and Martyn were off to the airport. Ove had the sense to ask the waiter if there was another bar in the neighborhood that might be open.

  • Sure, just continue down the main street, and there is one on your right.

Six hundred meters or so along the boulevard we found the place, Au Vieux Strasbourg. What looked like a pleasant beer bar when we looked at the beers on tap turned into an excellent beer bar when we looked through the bottle list. An well curated range of Belgian beers is the theme here, they could have named the place after a Belgian city instead. From the beer mats and glasses, there seems to be a wholesaler/importer involved here, meaning there could be similar places across Italy.

Never mind.  We got through quite a few in a few hours’ time, and while the barman had limited knowledge of English, a lady who seemed to be a regular helped with the translation.  A highlight for me was a bottle of Biere de Beloeil from Dupont. Fruity and funky, it had the splendid Belgian blend of fruit and stable, with tones of oranges and apricots.

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We were way behind schedule when we arrived at the airport for the check in. After all, we couldn’t possibly turn down the offer of a final glass of beer on the house. Sometimes, very rarely for me, you’re lucky your plane is delayed. This was one of those times.

If you are in the area and feels the urge to imbimbe, you are lucky. Au Vieux Strasbourg is open 07-02, which is more user friendly than most Italian places. More user friendly than most places in the known universe, come to think of it.

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teo

Thirty years ago, Teo had a dream. A dream that slowly would give birth the the Italian beer revolution. A dream that has grown into a giant brewery, but is much more than that.

Thirty years ago, Teo Musso started a beer bar in his home village Piozzo. He was tired of the bland industrial pilsners on offer, and he knew there were some interesting beers out there that he could sell. His bar soon featured 200 beers, mostly imported, many of them Belgian. Hoegaarden was an early favourite.

For ten years, the bar grew in reputation and scope – and then Teo created his Baladin brewery.  The rest is history.

Piozzo is one of thousands of sleepy Italian villages, among the hills in the Northwestern corner of the country. It’s lush and green here, the Alps make sure there is enough water both as rain and as rivers. The crops here are barley and maize – but mostly grapes.  Alba 20, Barolo 7, the signposts say as we approach.

I was one of a selected few beer writers invited to mark the anniversary of Baladin and the opening of the brand new brewery. Which is much more than a brewery.

The new brewery is situated on a sizeable area of land, with possibilities of growing ingredients, brewing beer with state of the art technology and the aging of beer in 14 century cellars. There is no real threshold for production here. The new brewery does not start out with a capacity far beyond the old one, but the possibilities for expanding are endless.

The bar turned into a brewpub in 1996, and the first bottled beers were sold one year later. Since then there has been a slow expansion, until this year’s move to fantastic facilities outside the village.

baladin-1

The investment is sizeable, 12,5 million Euro plus VAT, but then everything should be in place. Some of this is crowdfunding. This is not only for the financial aspect, it is also a way of getting the local community seriously involved.

The most impressive is the automated bottle maturing process. This is bacically a closed box. The beer is matured for various lengths of time at three different temperatures, and a robot makes sure it is moved to the correct place at the correct time. Groundbreaking beer technology, with a potential in other fields like winemaking or cheese production if you ask me. This was intended as a Horizon 2020 project, but a Spanish partner had to resign, and Baladin lost 1.5 million Euros because of that.

There is more. There is land set aside for growing barley, other grains and hops. There is a drying area for hops, and they plan to build maltings. They are establishing a magnificent garden open for the public, with stone mills, and old communal oven and cheese makers and butchers invited in. The craft of barrel making had almost died out, Baladin uses Japanese craftsmanship to build new ones and to take care of old ones. There is education, too, with a small brewery set up for students at the nearby Gastronomical University to acquire brewing skills.

Baladin is no longer one of a handful of Italian craft breweries. There are now one thousand Italian breweries – yet the growth potential is big. Craft beer still account for just 3% of the Italian market. Baladin sells half of its production abroad, and ten percent in their own bars and restaurants. There are Baladin bars in a number of Italian cities, as well as in New York.

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Teo is proud of what he has managed to achieve. I have moved mammoths, he says, and points out that the Italian beer revoulution is also a cultural revolution. What is important is the next stage is to watch out for the big industrial players making beer they pretend to be craft.

I admire people who set u a goal and then work towards it for decades. Some have to throw in the towel, but Teo did not. His contribution to the European ber scene should not be underestimated.

I had expected a range of inventive beers for this launch, but I assume we will have to wait until the products from the new brewing plant have been allowed to mature, be it in the old cellars or in the new warehouse with temperature zones. One beer to look out for is a light, hoppy blonde simply called POP. Available in brightly colored cans, ask at your local beer shop wherever you live. Of course you should enquire about the Xyauyu range of beers too, aimed for a more discerning public. And there are lots of beers in between to explore, too.

And if you are in the area, there are tours of the brewery. A gallery going through the building gives good Access. There is even a shop selling souvernirs and beer.

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Check out Martyn’s report on the event as well.

Disclaimer: I was invited to the opening of the new Baladin brewery as a guest, and they paid my travel expenses.

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I often sing the praises of the tiniest breweries, and of course they make good stories. But the ones capable of taking a significant bite of the Norwegian market are the medium sized breweries, often with a strong regional standing. In Oslo there are now several breweries to be taken seriously – one of them is St. Hallvards Bryggeri.

A trio of beer enthusiasts with Anders Rohde as the key figure started brewing in 2015, just in time to get featured in my book. They have listed 17 beers available for a beer event next week – when you add special beers for restaurants and supermarkets and three new Christmas beers, the total adds up to about 25.

Several restaurants in Oslo are shareholders in St. Hallvards. The brewery was crowd funded, and they have 450 shareholders.

St Hallvards. does not aim for the extreme ends of the market, the focus is on high drinkability and lots of flavor. They have the usual range of British, Belgian and American styles. What has impressed me most are the beers brewed at 4,7%, allowing them under Norwegian legislation to be sold in supermarkets. There are lots of dull beers on the market because of this limit, St. Hallvards is one of the exceptions. Look out for their saisons and brown ales of various strength.

St. Hallvards Bryggeri is named after the patron saint of Oslo, and their beers are named after various colorful characters from the city’s history.

Look for their beers in the Meny supermarkets and in Vinmonopolet as well as well stocked bars and pubs and beer festivals. The last project they are involved in is a series of beer and aquavit glasses in cooperation with  Magnor Glassverk, Arcus and Sentralen restaurant.

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Furuhaugli 1

Visiting Norwegian breweries does not only mean downtown brewpubs and drab industrial areas. Some of them are in idyllic surroundings – and the smallest ones combine brewing with rather exotic activities. I wanted to visit Furuhaugli Turisthytter this summer, and sent off an e-mail. The reply came fast, asking me to please call ahead, as the owner might be out guiding on a muskox safari.

My wife and I were in the Dovre National Park last year, and got quite close to the animals. We saw the through a bus window, but this safari offered a chance to get closer to them. So we decided that  instead of just stopping for a few beers, we included dinner, a night in one of their cabins and a muskox safari the next day.

When we checked in, we were made very welcome.

  • So, you are the author? We have your book right here!

Inger-Lise and Stein runs the establishment now, they are the third generation to rent out cabins in the mountains – Inger-Lise’s grandmother started this in 1930.

You can make your own meals in the cabins, but you should really try their food. Excellent home cooking, we had pan-fried Arctic char, which Stein and their children had caught themselves, but there are other options as well.

Furuhaugli 4

Stein claims to have the smallest commercial brewery in Norway, and I am sure he is right, his 25 and 50 liter batches are unlikely to wipe out the competition. He likes to brew a wider range of beers and to keep them fresh. The beers are not for sale off the premises, they are only available in the restaurant.

I try the Blonde at 4.5 % ABV. It is dry and fruity. Light and drinkable, with moderate amounts of American hops. The Red Ale is stronger, at 5.9%. It is a rich, malty beer, with just enough hop bitterness to make a pleasant balance.  A true to type Wit (5%) has lemon, camomille and coriander, while the Amber X at 5.8% is malty with notes of nuts, toffee and roasted grain.

The beer labels do not hide the inspiration for the brews, Stein has used several of the recipes from Gahr Smith-Gahrsen, which are freely shared both through 7 Fjell Bryggeri and via the book Den norske ølrevolusjonen.

This is not the place to go for extreme beers – but for beers to enjoy after a day’s hike in the mountains and to go with the wholesome food.

Furu

In addition to large mammals like muskox and elk, the Fokstumyra nature reserve is very close, giving excellent opportunities for birdwatching if that is your thing.

The muskox safari takes place on foot in the Dovre National Park, a short drive from Furuhaugli Turisthytter.

We were in a group with various nationalities setting out on the safari the next morning. Expect a hike of about five hours – obviously depending on where the animals are. They tend to be closer to the road and railway in spring and autumn. The guides are experienced, and as these walks are arranged every day in the summer, they know the animals well, know where to find them – and know how close to them you can get and still be on the safe side.  They are big enough to be dangerous if you provoke them.

We were able to get very close to a young bull, who did not seem to mind us watching while he was grazing. An experience well worth the time and money involved.

Noet that you are free to hike in these mountains on your own, a guide is not required. There is a network of well-marked trails and a number of hostels within a day’s walk of each other. In the winter you can go skiing instead. But if you do this on your own, you should be careful to stay well away from the animals.

Furuhuagli Turisthytter and the muskox safari are easy to access – both just off the main road – E6 – between Oslo and Trondheim. You could make arrangements to be picked up at Dombås or Hjerkinn Railway station as well.

Thanks to my wife Astrid for the photo below!

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Furuhaugli is not the only Norwegian micro-brewery to offer a good combo with outdoor activities.Here are some more:

At Ansnes Brygger, Hitra, you can go hunting, diving or fishing.

You can bike the spectacular road along the railway line from the 1223 Micro Brewery at DNT Finsehytta (at 1223 meters above sea level) to the Ægir brewpub in Flåm (at the end of a fjord offering boat connections.)

You can go rafting, explore glaciers or do some serious mountaineering at Espedalen Mikrobryggeri, which is located in Ruten Fjellstue.

You can hunt for small game, go skiing or fishing at Tuddal Høyfjellshotel, the new home of Fjellbryggeriet.