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Posts Tagged ‘Aegir’

I’ve lost count. We all have. There are new Norwegian breweries popping up every week or so, in the most unlikely places. The beers? The good, the bad and the bland. Don’t get me wrong, there is room for both the good and the bland.

I rarely write about the truly bad breweries. There are a few, usually there are people who wanted a novelty for their pub without any interest, let alone passion, for the styles, the nuances and the flavors of beer. This is a place where your are likely to find someone behind the bar who do not actually like beer, but they would happily down a Kopparberg alcopop or two.

Then you have breweries who aim for a local market, and who don’t want to alienate their public. But that is no excuse for being lazy. You can still aim for flavourful and balanced beers with more character than the industrials, who taste of summer meadows and amber grain. Beers that leave refreshment at the bottom of your half liter glass, yet leaves enough bitterness on your tongue to make you consider another round.

And I have respect for those who have ambitions. Who dare to take up a second mortgage on their house to expand production, who dare to quit their day job to follow their dream. There are a few in the second tier of the Norwegian craft breweries. Not up to the volume and experience of Nøgne Ø and Haandbryggeriet, Ægir, Kinn or Lervig. But some of them will soon be snapping at their heels.

Austmann, Lindheim, Nøisom, Ego, Balder, Voss, 7 Fjell and Veholt are the names I want to mention. Scattered around the coast, each with their own profile, which I hope they will continue to develop. Right now the supermarkets are eager for local beers, I also hope there will be enough outlets in pubs, bars and restaurants for these quality brews. It would probably make sense for some of them to cooperate on distribution,

Then we have another category where I find it hard to have much enthusiasm. These are beers that claim to have local or national identity, but where, like the industrial giants, the marketing is more important than the beer and the brewing. I have no membership in any nostalgic organisations condemning giant corporations, and I have no ill feelings towards those who drink their Stellas (as long as they don’t beat their wives). But I have some resentment towards those who take me for a fool.

There are several companies who are riding the crest of the beer boom right now who claim to be breweries, but are not. Local journalists write, starry-eyed, about local lads make good without asking where the beers actually come from. One of these companies was launched in the summer of 2012. The uncompromised nature of Norway in a bottle is their slogan. The problem? The beers are brewed in England.

Then there is a newcomer claiming allegiance to a gentrified but traditional industrial area of Oslo, launching industrial lagers in supermarkets and aiming for a slice of Carlsberg’s market. At last, Oslo gets its own beer, they boast. Christmas beer brewed with local ingredients, says one of the local newspapers.

Two problems. One: There are several breweries in Oslo, two of them have bottling lines and already distribute a range of beers. Two: They beers are, for the time being, not brewed in Oslo, but in Arendal, on the southern coast. Sure, they are building a brewery. But if they are half as successful as they hope to, they will not have the capacity to brew on a large-scale on the premises. So the local connection is dubious.

Carlsberg has a half-hearted attempt to cash in on the local card as well. They bought up a number of breweries around the country decades ago and closed them down, while keeping some of the brand names. They have the nerve to market beers like Nordlandspils or Tou as ”local beers”, overlooking the fact that they are all brewed in Oslo.

I don’t mind contract brewing. I don’t mind gypsy brewers. But when I buy food and drink I want honesty about where it is produced. Particularly when geography is a major part of the marketing campaign.

Bu maybe I’m old fashioned.

The real thing (at Austmann)

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As well as blogging, I also hang around various other beer sites. In Scandinavia, we tend to go for RateBeer rather than Beer Advocate, and I am approaching Norwegian beer rating number 1000 on RB. I am not much of a ticker any more, but I enjoy following the Norwegian scene.

There are new beers every week now, and I do not pay good money for beers from breweries that tend to let me down. So I could have reached this milestone before.

But which one to pick for the big number?

It could have been a beer from one of the forerunners of the Norwegian craft scene. Nøgne Ø, Haandbryggeriet, Ægir, Kinn or Lervig. One of the stars rapidly building a name like Austmann, Voss or Lindheim. A beer from one of my favourite brewpubs, Trondhjems Mikrobryggeri, Crowbar or Schouskjelleren.

But I picked Fjellbryggeriet Lun, a brown ale from a newcomer. They have made things even more difficult by going for the supermarket segment, staying below 4.7% ABV.

Lovely notes of roasted grain. Nuts, malt, coffee and chocolate. Clean and elegant. A most impressive beer from a new kid on the block. Well, they are new as commercial brewers. But their home page tells the story – 13 years as home brewers. So this is probably more than just beginner’s luck…

And located in the middle of the moutnains of Southern Norway, they also  fill in one of the blanks of the Norwegian beer map.

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There have been some newspaper reports lately about the beer prices at Oslo airport, which are the highest in the land. This should not coame as a surprise to anyone. The beer prices at the airport is always more expensive than in town. A plass of Pilsener Urquell at Prague airport is astronomical if you compare it to a baskstreet cafe in town.

The Director General of the Norwegian Competition Authority is interviewed in the major business daily Dagens Næringsliv. She, unsurprisingly, wants more competition.  

I wrote a letter to the editor in Dagens Næringsliv, quoting Evan Lewis, forunder and head brewer at Ægir brewery. He sais a few days ago that there is one term in the Norwegian language he strongly dislikes. It is en halvliter, literally half a liter. (The English equivalent  obviously a pint. In Sweden they call it en stor stark, a big strong)

It is the generic term for a beer. If you walk into a pub, you traditionally ask for en halvliter. What you get is the standard pale lager available on tap in the establishment. (If it is noisy, you just signal with your fingers how many halvlitere you want, so no conversation need to take place.

Evan asked the question: Would you go into a restaurant and ask for one food?

His point is that things are changing. Many consumers go for quality, not for quantity.

When the Director General of the Competiton Authority raises the question of  how to increase competiton to get lower beer prices, what she discusses is wether we sould pay niney or one hundred kroner for a halvliter of Carlsberg. Real competiton would mean that we could choose between a broad range of beers, domestic and imported.

And if the beer is good, we don’t mind paying premium prices.

You know what? They printed it yesterday.

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Håndverkerstuene has gone through some changes of management, but the kitchen is still very good – and the beer range is better than ever. Some of the imports, particularly the Belgians and Americans, are gone, what you find is an outstanding range of Norwegian and Nordic beers. 12 craft beers on tap a few days ago, 10 of them Norwegian, the other two also Scandinavian.

Handverkerstuene taps

This year they are challenging Norwegian breweries to come up with the best beer matches for various menus. Eight breweries are taking part in the quarter finals, Austmann vs Aass, Ringnes vs Nøgne Ø, Lervig vs Haandbryggeriet and Ægir vs Kinn. 

 

The two best meet in the final 22 September. The juries are the paying guests on the evening of each round. The loser of the final will brew a special brew for the winner.

Details about the challenge, the menus and tickets at the Bryggeribråk web site.

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If I were to dream up a perfect location for a brew pub, it would probably be where the Ægir brewery is already located. At the end of one of the most picturesque fjords in Norway. The last stop an a narrow gauge railway packed with tourists during the saison season. At the end of scenic walks and a mountain-to-fjord cycle route that gets more popular every year. At the core of the Norway in a nutshell concept, where you get what you came for crammed into a day or two. To have a brewpub, a restaurant and a hotel in such a spot sounds sensible.

They are now an integrated part of the marketing towards active tourism. If you have walked through the mountains for some days, the thought of high quality session beers on tap at the end of the trail is highly motivating. Visitrallarvegen, which, despite it’s name is in Norwegian only, shows how they are an integrated part. And they get a nice writeup in the last issue of Fjell og Vidde (not online), the magazine of the Norwegian Trekking Association, which has hundreds of thousands of members in Norway and abroad.

Sales of the Ægir beers were up 115% in 2010 compared to the previous year, which was far beyond their capacity. Most of the bottled beers are currently produced in Belgium. This is soon to change, a new brewery is under construction, meaning that they will brew all their beers in Flåm from January 2012. The present equipment will be used for one offs and special beers like today. The new facilities will even include a distillery, so a Ægir whiskey is probably being planned.

If you pass through Flåm, make sure you quench your thirst with a Rallar Amber Aleor one of the other session beers first. Then try a glass of the superb IPA. For the grand finale, you could do worse than the Natt Imperial Porter. Ask if they have any left of their limited edition that has been aged in bourbon barrels. You won’t regret it!

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Norwegian micro Ægir – named after the brewer of the Norse Gods, has an excellent writeup in the Dagbladet newspaper today. Available online, too, and the photos are even better in the web version.

The coverage is enthusiastic, and the journalist seems to have gotten the facts right, too. Looks like he spent some time on the web researching.

I really hope to make a visit to Flåm this year. While Evan’s beers are avaialble bottled, I’d like to try them on the spot – on tap.

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