Friday, February 02, 2007


The Cardinal of Norway

Trondheim may protest, but the cardinal seat of Norway would have to be Stavanger. Beside the fact that religion stands stronger in the Stavanger region than elsewhere in this secular country, it may easily be argued that the city already has the grandest temple in the country, at least for those of us who believe in redemption by craft beer.

It is not a place for monotheism, though- as many as 250 different craft beers can be worshipped at the Cardinal Pub & Bar, a shining light in the middle of Stavanger's "lysløype"-literally the lighted trail- as the nightlife strip of the city is called.

His Excellency, the Cardinal, is strong not only in numbers, but also in the Spirit. For instance, January saw a number of great new British craft beers, imported by the bar itself. So when the state liquor store fails to widen their beer selection, there is still a place called Hope for the citizens of Stavanger. Few other beer bars in this country venture outside the safe(and easily available) lists of the state liquor store- there stops the dedication to the cause...

Cask ale is another rarity I have yet to enjoy at a bar in the nation's capital. In fact, I have a strong suspicion that many bar owners do not even know the concept- they are used to getting some carbonated golden liquid pumped from a tank truck into their cellar tanks on Monday mornings- it seems easier that way, does it not?

And then there is the Book- the menu with detailed descriptions of each beer on offer, well written and organised, on par with the best in Europe, as far as I can tell. For groups of believers (Doubting Thomases are probably welcome, too) the Cardinal also offers "pilgrimages" to the Holy Beer Lands, represented by among others a Rch Ale Mary, a St Georgen Kellerbier or the dark secrets of a heavyweight trappist, the Rochefort 10.

So how come Stavanger is the location of the best beer bar in Norway, being only the fourth biggest city and a fifth of the size of Oslo? Is it the influence of the big expat Anglo-Saxon population in Norway's oil capital? The ferry connections and traditional ties with Denmark and England? The general interest in gastronomy as cultivated by The Culinary Institute at the University of Stavanger and manifested by being the host city for the first Bocuse d'Or Europe, taking place next year? The general drive of its people (at this stage readers be warned that this beer tourist may be somewhat partial!) ?

Whatever the reason, the European City of Culture 2008 can, thanks to the Cardinal, also offer some beer culture.

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