Posts Tagged ‘Nøgne Ø’

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 are (far too) many books, museum exhibitions, concerts and performances connected to the bicentenary of the Norwegian constitution this year, a process that led to our total independence – if there is such a thing – in 1905.

The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History has a temporary exhibition in cooperation with Frederiksborg Slot in Denmark, compact enough to walk through in an hour or two, focusing on how Denmark and Norway was interwoven until the Napoleonic wars split the union.  The exhibition will also be shown in Copenhagen in the autumn, it is very much recommended, even if the web page in English tell next to nothing about it. Try a google translation of the Norwegian text  instead.

A traditional item at all Norwegian farms around 1800 was the beer bowl, passed around from man to man as they sat by the table. This one was painted by one of the members of the constitutional assembly, Eivind Lande, who represented Råbygdelaget in Aust-Agder, not far away from the present location of Nøgne Ø.


beer bowl

Cheers for the constitution!

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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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The Grand Old Man of the Norwegian micro brewers is doing well. But that does not mean that Nøgne Ø slow down their innovation.

Nøgne Ø has been through some tough times during their ten years of existence, but at last they are enjoying the fruit of their labors. They have actually reduced their exports, and no longer have the capacity of brewing for Mikkeller.

This could mean leaning back a bit, concentrating on their core of commercial successes. But that would not be Nøgne Ø.

There is a steady trickle of new beers arriving on the market now, I got some samples recently which really show the range they are operating in.

Well, one of them is not brewed at Nøgne Ø, it is a collaboration between them and the Saint-Germain brewery in France. The Rhub’IPA is brewed with rhubarb, a frist one for me. Incredible floral and fruity nose. Hazy yellow, do not go for this because of the looks. Light beer base, wonderful rhubarb flavour, refreshing.

Horizon Tokyo Black is another collaboration, this time with BrewDog and Mikkeller. An imperial stout based on their extreme beers with the same names, this one is many steps removed from your everyday session beer. Black, some fizz when you open, then an oily feel. Very inviting complex aroma, tar, treacle, wood, smoke and coffee. Warming alcohol. Somehow, they have managed to make a bittersweet balance, this is drinkable and not overpowering. But it is to be taken seriously.
The Kriek of Telemark is a sour beer with sour cherries from the county of Telemark. It pours a glowing read with a pink head. Sour and sweet aroma, lovely fresh cherry favour.

Almonds, cherries, it balances on the fine line between fruity and sour. The fresh cherry juice comes through in an amazing way. There is much to be said about the aged krieks of Belgium – but this interpretation has really won me over. I find it hard to believe that this will improve with time.

To celebrate the brewing of batch # 1000, they have brewed not one, but two beers.
Both with 10 percent alcohol, both brewed with spices. The beers are sold in sets of two, meaning you get a lovely little box including #1000 and #1001, both inspired by One Thousand and One Nights.

#1000 has a warm, spicy nose. It is dark gold, and has lazy bubbles. Cinnamon and ginger. Apricots and sweet apples. Sweet, but well-balanced, mature. The alcohol is well hidden. Elegant, but it lacks a wow factor. It leaves a dry mouth feel, probably a combination of the spices and hops.

#1001, though, is the one they need to launch on its own. Dark, soft, inviting. Cinnamon, cardamom, feels like the Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout as a starting point, with some extra sweetness this is a splendid host for the spices. Coffee, molasses, tar, oreo biscuits, To be served at midnight by the fire with some home-made gingerbread.

Not enough?

This year’s Christmas beers have been released, too.

For the record, I bought the rhubarb IPA myself, the other beers I got from the brewery.

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Summary in English at the end

Så var det Nøgne Ø, da. Det kompromissløse bryggeriet, kaller de seg. En pionér blant de norske mikrobryggeriene, selv om de bare har vært i aktivitet i ti år.

Det hele er veldokumentert, og historien sin forteller de selv på sine nettsider. Ikke bare har man klart å få til bred distribusjon, godt salg og terningkast seks i Norge, det er også et internasjonalt fenomen, med samarbeid med de fremste håndverksbryggeriene i verden og med bred distribusjon både i Europa og i USA.

Selv om jeg har hatt god kontakt med de kompromissløse i alle år, har jeg faktisk ikke besøkt Nøgne Ø før i forrige uke. Et heldig sammentreff gjorde at jeg befant meg på Sørlandet samme dag som den årlige juleølfesten på bryggeriet, så da benyttet jeg selfølgelig anledningen.

Det var utrolig hvor mange sitteplasser man hadde klart å rigge til mellom bryggekar og gjæringstanker i den gamle kraftstasjonen. Tore og Kjetil kunne fortelle om et nytt år med gode resultater,og om det møysommelige arbeidet med å jobbe med nyanser og små endringer for å gjøre de 20 øltypene stadig bedre. og årets tre typer juleøl ble servert med nøtter, pepperkaker og juletallerken til.

Det var selvfølgelig ikke noe feil på juleølene i år heller, og i baren var det Sunturnbrew på fat etterpå, min favoritt blant alle de typene de brygger.

Hva er så hemmeligheten bak suksessen? Hardt arbeid, selvfølgelig. Men de har også lyktes i å sette sammen en internasjonal gjeng med entusiaster som ikke går for det tradisjonelle og trygge, men som hele tiden sprenger grenser.

Det var spesielt interessant å få en prat med Brock Bennet , en kanadier som har ansvaret for Nøgne Øs sakeproduksjon. Som eneste bryggeri i Europa har man satt i gang produksjon av denne risbaserte drikken, et produkt det knapt fantes noe marked for i Norge det hele tatt før de satte i gang. Og kompromissløsheten vises ikke minst ved at de så langt har fokusert på upasteurisert sake – en nisje i en nisje.

Ris for sakebrygging

Den vakre gamle kraftstasjonen er allerede for liten, men det er etter det jeg forstår ikke tatt noen beslutning om hvor man skal ha tilhold i fremtiden. Det ser i alle fall ikke ut som om beliggenheten i Grimstad er til hinder for suksess.

Nøgne Ø nyter som andre bryggerier godt av den ølbølgen som nå har nådd Norge et par år etter våre naboland. De har også hatt en viss suksess med en kresent utvalgt liste av importerte øl som de har distribuert i Norge. Det er stadig flere konkurrenter på importmarkedet, og man ønsker i tiden fremover å ha mer fokus på egne øl, da det ligger store utfordringer i å få forsynt det norske markedet med nok.  Men ikke fortvil – de vil fortsette samarbeidet med de som virkelig er enere på verdensbasis, f eks Cantillion.

Det finnes muligheter for omvisning og smaking på Nøgne Ø, men det stilles nok visse krav til størrelsen på gruppen. Er du virkelig interessert, finnes det en vennegruppe, som blant annet har en Facebookprofil. Følger du med der, holder du deg informert, for eksempel om et arrangement til sommeren som skal markere tiårsjubileet.

I tillegg til informasjon på Nøgne Øs nettsider, på engelsk på grunn av norsk regelverk, vil jeg også anbefale Kjempetorskens bloggpost om Nøgne Ø.

After all these years, I finally got my act together and visited Nøgne Ø, the giant among the Norwegian craft breweries. Under Head Brewer Kjetil Jikiun they are finally enjoying domestic success, after being a household name for craft beer drinkers around the globe for a long time. I joined their annual Christmas beer tasting, and had a jolly good time. The key to the success is, of course, hard work, but also the unique international staff they have recruited, including the only sake brewer on this side of the Urals.

There is comprehensive information in English on their web site.

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Bioforsk , the Norwegian Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research, has taken an initiative to involve Norwegian micro breweries in a project focusing on the use of domestic ingredients. There will be a meeting next week, I hope to be able to report on the results.

Of course there are traditions going back for centuries, but these have to a large extent died out. Combining the remains of those with modern knowledge og all aspect of the brewing process should open up a a wide range of possibilities.

Bioforsk og flere norske mikrobryggerier med Nøgne Ø i spissen står bak et initiativ om å søke om midler til et forskningsprosjekt der man skal se på bruk av norske råvarer i øl. Det skal avholdes et møte på Sundbytunet i neste uke for å se om det er grunnlag for å gå videre med prosjektet og søke midler fra Norges forskningsråd.

Det er flere norske bryggerier som har tatt i bruk lokale ingredienser som bar, urter og granskudd. Det finnes dessuten levende tradisjoner for egen malting, selv om det er få som driver med det i dag.

Jeg håper det er nok interesse til å gå videre med prosjektet. Jeg tror nok ikke det vil bli så store volumer av dette, men det er likevel et spennende felt å utforske. Lokalt øl kan jo gjerne bety at det er andre ingredienser enn vann som er lokalt produserte.


Til øl eller fôr?

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In a nation in a bubble outside most effects of the crisis in Europe, the Norwegian micro breweries also enjoy the general affluence. Articles in several newspapers shows good figures for most of the professional micro breweries.

Nøgne Ø is, of course, the most important, with a significant part of their turnover from exports. They sold 700 000 liters of beer last year, and expect a 40% increase in 2012.
Their success does not make them go just for the safe and profitable, Nøgne Ø keeps on experimenting and collaborating around the globe. Some of the projects, like brewing a range of sake, show that there still is passion and innovation.

Haandbryggeriet and Ægir are not quite as big, but they are also doing fine, according to the accounts for 2011. Ægir expects a deficit in 2012 due to their building a new brewery and distillery, on the other hand it gives them a capacity of brewing 2 million liters per year. Haandbryggeriet moved and expanded earlier this year, and expect to brew 400 000 liters this year. They both have a broad range of beers, and Haandbryggeriet exports a significant part of their output.

Kinn is a relative newcomer that also is doing well. Their distribution is growing steadily, and they expect to double their turnover in 2012.

Lervig is also growing, but they have been losing money every year since they were established eight years ago. They started as a lager brewery, challenging Carlsberg who closed down their  local brewery in Stavanger. With star brewer Mike Murphy in residence, they deliver both more challenging beers as well as session beers in supermarket strength that hopefully can find their niche in the market.

Another brewery to watch out for is Union. They reestablished themselves a few years ago in Skien, offering a few boring pale lagers. There are good reasons to hope that this will change for the better, as they have recruited Anders Kissmeyer, one of the real innovators behind the Danish beer revolution, as their head brewer.

All of the above mainly bottle their beers, and have something resembling a national distribution. The same, obviously, goes for the industrial players. Carlsberg, Hansa/Borg, Aass and Mack. They share the main bulk of the market, but I won’t bother you with any analysis of their products.

But there is also an undergrowth of smaller micro breweries that is below any radar showing market shares. I’ll try to cover them all over the coming months. I just have to figure out how to do that.

Beer barrels

Barrel aging at Haandbryggeriet

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I am very happy to report that the Haandbryggeriet festival last weekend was a success – and it looked to me that this applied to everyone involved.

Some parts of the concept seemed to work particularly well:

  • Getting to meet the brewers. For most of the dozen breweries attending, there were you actually got to meet several people actually  involved in the brewing process and in developing the brands. We are talking small-scale enterprises here,  meaning you get intelligent conversations, getting to sample various editions of the same brew etc. I think there were the precisely right people to guide the visitors to try beers that were challenging, but not necessarily extreme while also having something for the hardcore geeks.
  • Having the event in the brewery was also a good choice. While it is 15 or 20 minutes by foot from downtown Drammen, they were still able to draw a crowd from near and far. Having the festival within an operating brewery environment added a dimension that would have been absent in a congress centre or in a hotel function room.
  • Diversity – geographically and by style. Breweries from England, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Norway plus bottled stuff from across the pond. Cask session ales. Festival one offs like the Nøgne Ø Oaked Sunturnbrew. Flemish red ales. Barrel aged imperial stouts. Most important: Breweries with splendid beers.
  • Having the breweries present their beers meant you got a proper pour and presentation. Preferable to both enthusiastic CAMRA lads (no offense intended!) and blondes with dirdls (did I really mean that?)
  • Good no-nonsense food – the artisanal sausages I had were splendid value for money.

What do I want next year? More seating and some nice t-shirts, nothing more than that, really.

I’ll get back to you about some of the beers I enjoyed.

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Way before I started ticking tasting beers, I collected comic books. Beatles records. Science Fiction books.

But first of all, stamps. My younger readers probably don’t know what I’m talking about. Buy me a beer, and I’ll explain.


I never had much money, so all the rare misprints eluded me. I always hoped they would turn up. In my grandparent’s attic. On a Christmas card.

But they never did.

But what did I spot today?

A Nøgne Ø label misprint. Same batch number, two label variations.

See you on eBay when I find out which one is the regular and which is the rarity.

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