|Oslo Rådhus (the City Hall) in February 2008.|
- at this time Oslo had a no beer scene.
Year Zero: 2007 - a dead cityThough Oslo has witnessed the appearance of a few good beer places earlier, those places were either A) ahead of their time or B) quickly degenerated into boredom. The former was the case with Gambrinus Bar in Prinsens gate which in the 1990s served 35 beers on draft, a lot of it from Belgium, before having to close its doors. An example of the latter is our very first brewpub, Oslo Mikrobryggeri, which opened up at Majorstuen as long ago as 1989. For a few years they provided students and beer interested people with our first taste of Porter, Stout and their take on California Common - the Steamer. But eventually the founding fathers left and their beers lost character - for the last 15 years they have all tasted the same, the only difference being the color. The brewpub is still there, but its ales are just as bland as industrial lagers.
|Christmas beer from E. C. Dahls @ Beer Palace 2008.|
In 2007, the beer scene in Oslo was basically non-existing. You could go to Beer Palace and with some luck convince the bartender that they had a certain beer you wanted to try, and then enjoy that while watching everyone else down their lagers. Or you could hang out at Bar & Cigar, a small place next to the Court House that from time to time would get in something interesting on bottle and at least served fresh Czech pilsner on draft (Urquell for a while, then Budvar). If you craved good beer, the solution was to take a ferry to Copenhagen in Denmark or a train to Gothenburg in Sweden - two cities with a superior beer culture and a number of great beer bars.
In November 2007, something important took place though, something that would take a couple of years to mature and slowly change peoples perception of what was possible, beer wise, in Oslo: Olympen Mat & Vinhus, a restaurant in the Grønland district, opened up after a period of renovations. It had been bought by Nevzat Arikan who owns several restaurants around Oslo.
For the last few decades, Olympen or just Lompa, had been known for its shabby interior and the many alcoholics sitting around in the bar. It was not a place to bring your parents or girlfriend. After re-opening, the place was shiny and clean, with a brand new kitchen and large wooden tables. The alcoholics were gone, replaced by young and cheerful people. The focus of the new Lompa was on rustic, Norwegian food, served in healthy portions and at low prices. With the food, Lompa started out like every other restaurant in Oslo - they served wine. However, Lompa had hired a bright, young sommelier who knew that something was happening in the beer world. He managed to get hold of some quality beer to serve at Lompa.
Year 1: 2008 - something's brewingWhen I made my first visit to the new Lompa, in the fall 2008, the people working there had no clue about beer. They had Nøgne Ø, HaandBryggeriet and some Belgian beers on the menu, but whatever I ordered they would always ask what kind of beer it was and in which type of glass it should be served. In this way, beer knowledgeable customers acted as mentors for the staff. From time to time we would even be asked about particular breweries and which beers they should start importing to Lompa, which gave us beer geeks a sense of influence and a connectedness we hadn't felt with other pubs before.
|Nøgne Ø & Dugges Sahti @ Olympen 2008|
Some time in 2008, the people at Lompa must have realized that there was an untapped market for high quality beer. Thus, Lompa kept expanding its bottled beer selection and started getting in some really interesting stuff, never seen in Norway before, such as beer from Mikkeller, North Coast, Great Divide and Stone. It was still all on bottle though.
Some of the Norwegian brewers I spoke with at the time (other brewers have confirmed this later) talked about going from pub to pub, in the major Norwegian cities, asking in each pub if they would be interested in selling craft beer on draft. But all pub owners replied the same, that they didn't think they would be able to sell enough to keep the beer fresh. A few were brave enough to order a few bottles, to keep in a refrigerator, which could be brought out if asked for. This was a depressing situation, quality beers seemed destined to a future in bottles while the big lager producers controlled all taps.
In May, Bar & Cigar, by the Court House, decided to run a cask event. A cask of Nøgne Ø Saison was untapped and a group of eager beer enthusiasts managed to empty the 40 liter cask that same night. It was a surprising success so Bar & Cigar decided to do it again. However, the next three cask events didn't go that well for Bar & Cigar, who got stuck with old cask ale they couldn't sell. In addtion, the two breweries - Nøgne Ø and HaandBryggeriet - thought it too much work cleaning the returned casks and filling them up again. So, this first attempt at creating a cask ale tradition in Oslo silently died out over the summer.
|HaandBryggeriet founder Jens Maudal serving Dark Force|
- at Grünerløkka Øl & Mat festival in August 2008.
To me, this was the proof that it would now be possible to sell something richer and stronger on draft in Oslo than regular 4.7% lager. I suspect that the brewers, bar owners and other guests at the festival felt much the same way, and a couple of months later, Nøgne Ø managed to convince a couple of pubs - Lompa and Beer Palace - that they should have a dedicated Nøgne Ø beer tower.
Quality craft beer had finally arrived on draft in Oslo!
Year 2: 2009 - the revolution gets underwayAs we entered 2009, I still had the feeling that Oslo was a backwater when it came to beer culture and good beer bars. Yes, I could now enjoy Nøgne Ø on draft in Oslo, but usually the same beer at those places that had the black Nøgne Ø tower. And, yes, I could choose from perhaps a hundred different bottled beers at Lompa. But it still felt very limited, compared to the 30-something beer taps at Café Delirium in Gothenburg or compared to what I experienced on my beer journey to the US in the fall 2008, visiting great beer bars in Chicago, Seattle, Portland (OR) and San Francisco.
Fortunately, the seed for a better beer future had been sown.
In August, two new beer places opened up in Oslo - within a week of each other - the Håndverkerstuene beer restaurant and the beer bar Tilt.
|Entrance to Håndverkerstuene in Oslo|
- a world class beer restaurant.
The man behind this food and beer concept was Amund P Arnesen, a former whisky expert and bartender at Dr Jekyll's Pub. With Håndverkerstuene he was aiming for a more mature audience than regular beer bars in Oslo, in particular people interested in great food combined with equally great beers.
Tilt, located next door to the Rockefeller concert hall, is a bar catering to a younger and more playful audience, with tables made out of old arcade games and an adjoining room full of various games. Like Håndverkerstuene, Tilt sports multiple beer taps, offering both Norwegian and foreign (Danish and Scottish) craft beer. In particular the beers from Ægir has sold really well at Tilt, more or less from day one.
Olympen responded to these challenges by increasing its own number of beer towers and adding even more bottles to the beer menu. Suddenly we had a minor beer war in Oslo, where new and old pubs competed for the attention of beer drinkers!
The beer revolution was finally under way, the Oslo beer scene changing from one month to the next. A year after tasting my first Norwegian craft beer on draft it was possible to go out in Oslo and enjoy half a dozen craft beers on draft, any night!
Year 3: 2010 - beer is the new wine
2010 was the year when I first felt that the emergence of a good beer scene in Oslo was inevitable, it had reached a critical mass and the momentum was high. Every day new people discovered that there were alternatives to lager, and even the old pubs - formerly rejecting craft beer - were coming around and started to sell more than just lager.
Oslo was finally following in the footsteps of cities like Copenhagen - beer was becoming the new wine that everyone was talking about!
|The well stocked bar at Tilt|
I started noticing new people, often young students, appearing in the good beer bars where I had been used to sitting almost alone. They would sit down in small groups, buy a bottle for sharing or ask what was on draft and slowly sip a new beer. Sometimes they would come over and ask what I was having and other times I would hint to them, as they stood at the bar exploring the growing menus, that if they felt brave they could try the Beer Geek Brunch Weasel or perhaps a Cantillon Gueuze.
In April, Håndverkerstuene hosted a beer event where James Watt of BrewDog came over from Scotland to present his brewery and talk the guests through a tasting of some of their beers. It was a huge success and something Håndverkerstuene would do again with other breweries.
That summer Olympen opened up its roof terrace with an additional 5 taps, bringing the total up to 11 craft beers on draft. There they served a number of great Danish micros, including Hornbeer, Beer Here and Amager Bryghus. What a summer that was, sitting out in the open air and enjoying a glass of Hornbeer Blonde or Beer Here Hopfix fresh from draft, before ending the evening with a Hornbeer Black Magic Woman also from draft!
The fall kicked off with a number of exciting beer events and happenings. In August the third Grünerløkka Øl & Mat festival saw the three major Norwegian micros - Nøgne Ø, HaandBryggeriet and Ægir - serve about ten different beers from draft. It was the best beer festival so far, Norwegian beer enthusiasts were overcome with joy.
|Cask Ale Festival 2010 @ Håndverkerstuene|
In September, Håndverkerstuene invited the public to the very first Cask Ale Festival in Oslo. BrewDog, Nøgne Ø, Ægir and HaandBryggeriet were all present with a large number of casks. This 2-day festival attracted both new and old beer lovers and the Beer Maker's Dinner, at the end of the second day, was a resounding success - with great food and beer pairing. It was on this occasion that Ægir first presented their delicious Natt Imperial Porter and its barrel aged sibling, the Lynchburg Natt.
As if this wasn't enough, the year ended with the opening of two great beer places - including the first new brewpub in twenty years - Grünerløkka Brygghus and Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeri.
Despite its name, Grünerløkka Brygghus is not a brewpub, yet, but they have been talking about starting a brewery since before opening in 2010. They have a very good selection of draft beer, including the Kjell Pop single hop IPA house ale brewed for them at Nøgne Ø. They also have a big bottled beer menu and a very decent kitchen.
The other place, Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeri, is a fully fledged brewpub established in the old cellar of Schous brewery, which was closed by Ringnes in 1981. It was bought up by Nevzat Arikan, the man behind Olympen, and beautifully restored with vaulted ceilings of brick stones and a bar which allows its guests a clear view of the brewery tanks. As they brew most weekdays, sweet wort and bitter hops are common smells when you walk down the stairs into the pub a late afternoon.
Year 4: 2011 - a world class beer scene
|Five beer towers with ten taps at Håndverkerstuene in 2011|
- Ægir, HaandBryggeriet, Nøgne Ø and two guest towers.
The dawn of the new year also saw Håndverkerstuene end up on a very respectable 30th place on the list of the world's Best Beer Restaurants 2011, published by RateBeer. It was the first time a place in Oslo had ended up on any kind of top list for beers, it highly deserved so because of its great kitchen and food and beer pairing.
At the same time, Schouskjelleren had expanded its initial draft beer line-up from 8 to 16 taps, which allowed them to always have 8 guest beers on draft in addition to 4-6 of their own. And what a range of guest beers! You would typically find beers from breweries such as Evil Twin, Mikkeller, Southern Tier, Thornbridge and Revelation Cat in addition to the Norwegian micros.
If Håndverkerstuene became a world class beer restaurant the year before, then Schouskjelleren became a world class brewpub in 2011. Headbrewer, John Hudson, would churn out new beers every week, going through fifty different recipes in the first year. Not all were great, but the best ones - such as Thunderbear Stout, Empress of India and Garden of Eden - were all delicious and very drinkable beers that quickly became regular fixtures on the draft menu. In addition to the draft beers, Schouskjelleren also has a very good bottle beer menu, with great sour ales from Cantillon and 3 Fonteinen.
|Headbrewer John Hudson behind his 2 x 8 beer tap bar|
- at Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeri
The start of 2011 also saw the opening of a third brewpub in Oslo. Amundsen Bryggeri & Spiseri opened up in February, close to the City Hall, just off Stortingsgata. It's a spacious pub with a decent kitchen, serving lunch and dinners. Seated at their tables, the guests can enjoy the view of shiny copper tanks and brewing kettles behind glass windows. The pub also has a very good beer "cellar", containing rare bottles of Thomas Hardy's Ale, Rodenbach Grand Cru, Westvleteren 12 and Samuel Adams Utopia, just to mention a few. The bottled beer menu is really impressive, only rivalled by Lompa.
With so many new beer bars appearing on the scene, older places took notice and started shining up their beer menus too. Some places managed to contract the brewing of unique house ales for serving on draft, such as The Nighthawk Diner and Aku Aku Tiki Bar who both get their house ales brewed at Nøgne Ø - the Nighthawk Breakfast Brown and Aku Aku Lemongrass Ale respectively. Grünerløkka Brygghus already had a house ale from Nøgne Ø, but decided to get a second - Løkka Haust, brewed by Kinn.
Café Laundromat, which started up near Bislett sports arena in 2004, took an interest in selling beer to their guests and they now sell more Nøgne Ø on draft than any other pub in Norway! The old pub Den Gamle Major at Majorstuen installed beer towers and started selling Norwegian micros, the same happened at the whisky bar Dr Jekyll's in downtown.
Thus, visitors to Oslo now have a great selection of places and beers they can try.
2011 also witnessed the certification of the first Norwegian cicerone or beer sommelier, when the bar chef at Håndverkerstuene - Amund P Arnesen - returned with his diploma after examinations in England. The downside was that Håndverkerstuene had to make do without him from the autumn. And with him, the vital force that had created the Cask Ale Festival, Beer Maker's Dinner and the beer and food concept of the restaurant was gone. Today, Mr Arnesen makes up one half of the Beer Enthusiasts import company, importing beer to Norway from the US, England, Italy, Belgium and Denmark. The company is very active "spreading the gospel", by hosting beer tastings and dinners around the country.
Back in 2008, three other beer enthusiasts formed Ølakademiet to spread the knowledge of good beer. In the beginning they would run beer tastings at Beer Palace but in 2011 they moved to the newly renovated Akersberget restaurant, next to Gamle Aker Kirke. The growing popularity of their tastings, brew courses and beer dinners is a clear indication that the average Norwegian has discovered that there is more to beer than lager and more to food than wine.
Year 5: 2012 - consolidation
The rapid growth and the appearance of many new beer bars and brewpubs have slowed down slightly in 2012, it feels like a natural consolidation phase where brewers, bar owners and beer enthusiasts alike are trying to take stock of the changed landscape. And changed it is, three years ago you would barely find a good draft beer in Oslo - now you have a number of excellent beer bars, great beer restaurants and several new brewpubs with dozens of great draft beer.
But I don't think we've stopped growing yet. Another beer bar, Gaasa, opened up this May at Grünerløkka with four excellent beers on tap at any time and a nice beer garden out back. And some of the older places is set to rejoin the game, such as Beer Palace who will close their doors on August 1st for a 3 months renovation - when they reopen in November both the downstairs and upstairs bars will have 30 lines of draft beer each!
|View of the bar and brewery in the background|
- at Amundsen Bryggeri & Spiseri
On October 1st the first proper indoor market place, Mathallen, will open up at Vulcan in Oslo. Here visitors will be able to sit down at cafés, to enjoy properly made coffee and cakes, or shop at small artisanal stalls where they can buy farmers produce, cheese or fresh fish. And there will be a microbrewery making and selling beer there. This place could become the start of a food revolutuion too, since nowadays most Norwegians buy pre-packaged industrial processed food items in cheap convenience stores.
In the longer term, the owner of Olympen and Schouskjelleren is working on an idea to revive a proper brewery in Oslo, the last one was Ringnes which closed down and moved out of Oslo in 2001. This will probably take a year or two but will surely enrich the beer scene further.
The beer scene in Oslo has never been this good and the future's looking so bright, you gotta wear shades!
|Home made sausages and Evil Twin Soft Dookie|
- at Håndverkerstuene beer restaurant.
June 2012 - the current beer scene
Here follows my highly subjective list of best beer places in Oslo, listed in alphabetical order (for different views and more places check out RateBeer's Oslo Beer Destinations).
Amundsen Bryggeri & Spiseri
Address: Stortingsgt 20 (entrance from Roald Amundsens gt), near City Hall
Opened: 17 February 2011
Type: Restaurant and brewpub
Amundsen was the third brewpub to open up in Oslo. Located very close to Karl Johan street, it gets its share of tourists so the sales ratio of good beers to bland lagers is very low. It's still a very nice place to visit, especially early in the day when you can sit in the bar. The kitchen is decent (go for the homemade burger), the draft beer selection is nice and the bottled menu great, in league with Olympen and Håndverkerstuene. My main issue with Amundsen is the lack of beer competent waiters, most of the people working there show no interest in the beer they've got and even if you point to the menu they may not be able to find the beer for you.
Bar & Cigar
Address: C. J. Hambros plass 2, near Oslo Tinghus (Court House)
Type: Beer & Whisky Bar
This is without a doubt the most conservative place in Oslo. You will always find the same people, drinking the same beers and talking about the same stuff. The owner, Ole Gunnar Hauso, is a big fan of Cuban Cigars and whisky so expect to find many likeminded out on the back porch, where smoking is allowed. The beer selection is small but decent, with about a twenty types on bottle and usually a good Norwegian craft beer and a Czech pilsner on draft. From time to time they will put on a really rare beer on draft, that nobody else has, and they also do whisky tastings here. Bar & Cigar was also the first place to do cask ales in Oslo, back in 2008. In summers you can enjoy your beer outside.
Address: Holmens gate 3, Aker Brygge
Opened: 6 April 1993
Type: Beer bar
This place, with one bar downstairs and one upstairs, has not changed much in 20 years (except for a modest expansion on the second floor ten years ago). It has a cozy interior with old brick walls (the building used to be an industrial workshop), fitted out with wooden tables and chairs, a few sofas and some heavy leather chairs. Outside one can either sit on a platform above the entrance or on the ground beside the pedestrian street. They still have a decent bottled beer menu and usually a nice draft beer from Nøgne Ø. The rest of the draft selection are industrial lagers or well-known Irish or English ales (Guinness, Red Speckled Hen etc). It can be rather noisy here on Fridays and weekends or when there's a sport event shown on the large screen upstairs. Beer Palace will close for renovations this fall and should open up with a total of 60 beer taps in November!
Address: Underhaugsveien 2, Bislett
Type: Laundromat café
This is a laundromat with a café section where you can sit down to enjoy some good food, coffee or beer as you wait for your clothes to get washed. Many also meet here, without doing laundry, because of the cozy atmosphere and excellent beer selection - especially bottled beers, but also a handful of draft beers, spanning from Nøgne Ø to Sam Adams and BrewDog. They serve breakfast from 7 am and in the summer you can sit outside in view of Bislett sports arena.
Den Gamle Major's Pub
Address: Bogstadveien 66, Majorstuen
Type: Beer bar
Gamle Major ("old major") is an institution at Majorstuen. Located just across Kirkeveien from the metro stop, named after the old major whos cabin once stood here and gave name to the area, this pub has been around since 1921. It used to look brown and dirty, and it still does from the outside, but the total renovation in 1999 has given this place a second life. And now they've also started taking beer seriously, offering good Norwegian craft beer on draft and a decent selection of bottled beers too.
Dr Jekyll's Pub
Address: Klingenberggata 4, by Saga kino
Type: Whisky bar
This is a whisky bar, located next door to Saga Kino. It's decorated like the working room of Dr Jekyll, a bit dark and gloomy, and with weird sounds and gargoyles in toilet stalls, which are hidden behind an artifical bookshelf - always a source of confusion for first-time visitors! This is where Amund P Arnesen first cut his teeth on craft beer before moving on to Håndverkerstuene in 2009. Today, the pub has two decent beer taps - usually one with Weihenstephaner and the other with Nøgne Ø or HaandBryggeriet. They also have a decent selection of bottled beer.
Address: Thorvald Meyers Gate 30 B, Grünerløkka
Opened: 8 October 2010
This is a very popular gastropub at Grünerløkka, perhaps too popular as it can be hard to find a place to sit on most nights. The place sports 15 taps, though about 4-5 are industrial beers, carrying beer from Kinn, Ægir, HaandBryggeriet and Nøgne Ø. They've got two house ales, brewed specially for them, the Kjell Pop Single Hop IPA brewed at Nøgne Ø and the Løkka Svarthumle Black IPA brewed at Kinn. There is also a good bottled beer menu and a very decent kitchen here. They run frequent beer tastings and brewing classes and every autumn they host the Grünerløkka Øl & Mat festival.
Address: Storgata 36
Opened: 19 May 2012
Type: Beer bar
Gaasa, Norwegian for "the goose", is the latest addition to the Oslo beer scene, opening up in May 2012 with four great craft beers on draft, including their own Gaasa house ale, brewed at Scouskjelleren. They also have a decent bottle menu, including Belgian sour ales. Gaasa has a rustic feel, they serve warm food and has nice courtyards to enjoy your beer outside.
Address: Rosenkrantzgate 7 (entrance from Kristian IV)
Opened: Reopened August 2009. Originally from the 1880s.
Type: Beer restaurant
The former Håndverkeren restaurant was bought by Thon Gruppen and renovated into a beer restaurant which reopened in the fall 2009. It sports a huge selection of bottled beers and ten quality draft beers, both Norwegian and foreign. It was the first restaurant in Oslo to put beer suggestions on the food menu and they got listed as one of the world's Best Beer Restaurants by RateBeer both in 2011 and 2012. It's a bit pricy, but the atmosphere is good and the beer and food excellent - you really can't complain about a place that regularly has Cantillon Gueuze or Kriek on draft! However, the beer knowledge took a nosedive when Amund P Arnesen left in 2011.
Olympen Mat & Vinhus
Address: Grønlandsleiret 15, Grønland
Opened: Reopened 3 November 2007. Originally from 1892.
Type: Beer restaurant
Taps: 6 + 5 upstairs
This is one of Oslos traditional beer halls and it is only fitting that it was here that the modern beer revolution first took hold in Oslo. Olympen or Lompa has been a restaurant and beer hall since it first opened in 1892, but it was fairly rundown the last few decades of the 20th century. In the new millennium new owners closed and renovated Lompa and it's now a great place for food and beer, with healthy portions and low prices. They have more than a hundred types of bottled beer and 6 quality beers on draft. In the summer season you can enjoy five extra taps outside on the roof terrace.
Address: Trondheimsveien 2, Grünerløkka
Opened: 1 October 2010
This vaulted ceiling brewpub in the cellar of an old brewery, is currently the leader of the beer pack, with 16 taps (but two are with Hansa pilsner) and a good bottled beer menu, including a great range of sour ales from Cantillon and 3 Fonteinen. Importing directly from Drikkeriget, they've had an amazing list of guest beers on draft, from the US, Italy, England and Denmark. Their own beers have also improved immensly and now get glowing reviews even by seasoned raters. Best time to visit is shortly after opening (4 pm on weekdays), early in the week. It gets really packed here on Fridays and Saturdays. In the winter they have an open fireplace radiating heat at one end of the cellar. Really cozy.
Address: Torggata 16 (entrance from Badstugata)
Opened: 21 August 2009
Type: Games and beer bar
Tilt is located in a former public bath (Torggata bad), it has become a place for gamers and students to hang out, many before and after concerts at the nearby Rockefeller Concert Hall. If you're coming for the beer, come early in the week and shortly after opening hours (they open at 3 pm Mon - Wed). Later in the day and during weekends, it will get packed and noisy. Tilt offers about a dozen beers on tap of which half are industrial beer. But they usually have beer from Ægir, Kinn, Nøgne Ø and BrewDog on draft. No food is served though and they may have loud music, either live or on the stereo.
The Whisky Bar
Address: Rådhusgata 28, Kvadraturen
Opened: 12 May 2010
Type: Restaurant and whisky bar
The Whisky Bar is a restaurant and whisky bar which opened up next door to and by the people behind The Dubliners Irish Pub. It has a cozy and quiet atmosphere and usually a handfull of good draft beers available - typically from Ægir, HaandBryggeriet, Sam Adams and BrewDog. On week days you'll be pretty much on your own here.
Welcome to Oslo Beer City!