Sunday, August 28, 2005
Norwegian Beer: Haandbryggeriet (or There IS life in the beer tundra)
The permafrost may be thawing, though it certainly did not feel like that walking through Oslo's street tonight. Every morning on my way to work I pass by several tank lorries pumping Ringnes beer into the tanks at Oslo's bars and nightclubs. This is the Norwegian beer scene anno 2005- light golden alcoholic water from the almost monopolistic beer producer (calling them brewers I would not, since that is a craft profession) makes sure that people get their alcoholic dosage. Beer is what beer does.
But something strange is happening, even in the country that boasts to be different. Brewers are appearing- enthusiasts that have a desire to create craft brews, despite the hurdles imposed by a government obsessed with alcohol taxes and regulation, monopolistic industry practices and the ignorant consumer.
Already the Norwegian microbrewer Den Nøgne Ø (meaning The Naked Island) is making world-class beers, beers that are prominently displayed even in Denmark, an up-and-coming beer heaven. Now a new brewery has been set up in Drammen, a town just west of Oslo and home of the long-standing, independent Aas brewery, which in between the regular lagers also produce a couple of interesting beers.
The new brewery is called Haandbryggeriet, the old-fashioned, but English-compatible spelling of what translates as the Hand Brewery, and the brewers started brewing as a hobby (hobby brewers are also now as hand brewers in Denmark, by the way).
My friend and I had the pleasure of tasting brew nos. 1 and 4, Bavarian Weizen and India Pale Ale, respectively, at a café that looked like a likely Ringnes outlet, cheap and scruffy. The place, Newman's Pub, next to the Eldorado cinema, seemed to be an unlikely outlet for a quality brew, but the place surprised by also housing a huge billiard venue. There may be more to a place than meets the eye from the outside. In this case, the other Drammen beer on tap may easily be the connection to the craft brewers.
The beers were over-carefully poured at almost freezing temperatures, so that the Bavarian Weizen appeared almost without any head, which is rather atypical for the style, to put it mildly. Both were hazy amber, the weizen lightly so. Of the two I would say the India Pale Ale was the more successful. Only 6.5% but with a good citrus aroma from the hops, balanced by some caramel malt flavour. Not bad for the first attempt, though still a long way to go to reach the Nøgne Ø India Pale Ale (both typical US west Coast interpretations of the style). The yeast did not settle very well, though, so the last centimeters of the 77 kroner (equals almost 10 euro) half litre bottle were rather unattractively muddy. The weizen was rather more lightweight at 5.5% alcohol, but with the typical banana and bubblegum aromas. The finish was more bitter than expected.
Despite my reservations this is an exciting new entrant on the Norwegian beer scene. I look forward to serving this beer at home at a more aroma-friendly temperature, literally serving the beers more justice, hopefully before its becoming winter in this lager beer tundra.....