Monday, July 30, 2012

Norwegian beer festivals

That the beer revolution is well under way in Norway is beyond doubt, the last few years have seen a number of small scale breweries start up all over the country, the major cities have witnessed an explosion of good beer bars and brewpubs (see Oslo Beer City for an illustration), beer tastings and beer maker's dinners are hosted frequently and, what this post is about, a number of great beer festivals have started up or will debut this fall.

True, we have had beer festivals for a number of years, but of the tasteless kind (pun intended), sponsored by the big lager breweries competing for recognition and higher market shares by releasing cool looking brands which taste exactly the same as all their other beers - nothing. No, the type of festival I'm referring to is of a new kind, where small scale breweries present a wide selection of beer styles to an audience interested in exploring new flavors. That's what a beer festival should be all about, not cool posters or fancy packaging.

Head brewer Jens Maudal of HaandBryggeriet
- at the 2008 beer festival at Parkteatret 

The first beer festival

The first serious beer festival in Oslo (and in Norway, that I'm aware of) took place on the last Saturday in September 2008, outside Parkteatret at Grünerløkka. Only one brewery attended, HaandBryggeriet, but it was the first time anyone in Oslo had been treated to Norwegian craft beer on tap.

And what a debut it was! HaandBryggeriet had brought along kegs of Dobbel Dose and Dark Force - their two strongest beers at the time - in addition to a number of bottled types. Everything sold out in a few hours. The event was a big success, with lots of visitors getting their first taste of craft beer. This pointed the way to a brighter future for draft beer in Oslo and for beer festivals in general.

The early years 2009-2011

In 2009, another important beer festival started up - the biannual Ølfestival at Nærbø. Nærbø is a small community on Jæren in Rogaland county on the south west coast of Norway, and it was the local beer club - Nærbø ølklubb - that came up with the idea to arrange a festival there. I didn't go so I don't know which breweries attended, but the festival seems to have gone really well since it was held again in 2011.

2010 saw the first Cask Ale Festival arranged in Norway. Hosted by the Håndverkerstuene beer restaurant in Oslo, this 2-day festival in mid September showcased cask conditioned ales from Norwegian breweries Nøgne Ø, Ægir and HaandBryggeriet, but also from the then far less known Scottish brewery BrewDog! The festival ended with an amazing beer maker's dinner, where one beer from each brewery was paired with a dish.

In 2011, in addition to Nærbø Ølfestival (where Nøgne Ø, Ægir and Danish brewery Midtfyns attended, see report here) and Grünerløkka mat- & mikrobrygg, a new festival started at the luxurious Aker Brygge in Oslo: Oslo Ølfestival. This was a more high profile festival with ten breweries attending, both the large ones - such as Ringnes and Hansa Borg - but also some smaller breweries such as Nøgne Ø, Ægir and the Amundsen Bryggeri & Spiseri brewpub.

2012 - the year of the beer festivals

If 2009-2011 were promising years for beer festivals in Norway, 2012 will be a watershed year changing our perception of beer festivals forever. Both with respect to what a beer festival should be like and how many you can arrange in a small country like Norway.

The standout festival so far in 2012 was the awesome Haand Craft Beer Festival held at the new HaandBryggeriet brewery in Drammen, on May 4 and 5.

Arranged after the same mold as Alvinne Craft Beer Festival in Belgium and Borefts in the Netherlands, Haand 2012 was attended by some of the most exciting craft breweries in Europe - from Nøgne Ø and Kinn in Norway, to Närke from Sweden, Magic Rock from England, LoverBeer from Italy, Alvinne from Belgium and Emelisse and De Molen from the Netherlands. Many of the brewers stood behind the taps, serving beers and talking with their visitors. Combined with delicious beer food and a big outdoor beer tent, it was simply perfect. And a massive success.

Närke Kulturbryggeri at Haand Craft Beer Festival 2012.

Though we may already have had the best festival of the year and even have the 2012 Caskfestival behind us, there are still some very interesting festivals coming up this fall. Including two brand new ones.

Let's take a closer look at the remaining festivals of 2012.

Kongsberg Ølfestival

Honestly, Kongsberg is not the place I would expect a good beer festival to show up. Still, this small town is famous for its annual Kongsberg Jazzfestival, hosted here since 1964, so they sure know how to arrange big festivals. 

For the very first food & beer festival, hosted at Christians Kjeller, they've got a very nice line-up, offering guests a choice of 200 different beers! The food is of the short traveled type, prepared upstairs at Restaurant Opsalhgården.

Dates: 10 & 11 August 2012
Location: Christians Kjeller, Kirkegata 10 in Kongsberg
Hours: 16-20 (Friday), 12-20 (Saturday)
Entrance: Free
Attending breweries:

  1. HaandBryggeriet (Drammen)
  2. Kinn Bryggeri (Florø)
  3. Lervig Aktiebryggeri (Stavanger)
  4. Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeri (Oslo)
  5. Nøgne Ø - Det Kompromissløse Bryggeri (Grimstad)
  6. Aass (Drammen)

Aass is actually a big lager brewery, but it's still independent and family owned. Founded in Drammen in 1834, Aass is the oldest brewery in existence in Norway and the brewery has some decent pilsner and vienna style lagers, even a bock, in their portfolio. Still, the most interesting beers at the festival will come from the first five breweries.

Note that Schouskjelleren will not have their own stand, among the breweries, but will take over all the taps in the bar.

Grünerløkka mat- og mikrobrygg festival

This year will mark the 5th anniversary of this great food & beer festival, first arranged outside Parkteatret in September 2008 but since then in the backyard of Café Vespa, just north of Sofienbergparken in Oslo.

The festival is arranged by Grünerløkka Brygghus, which is owned by Mr Grünerløkka - Jan Vardøen - who usually stands behind a large grill, barbecuing selfmade and tasty sausages. Last year the festival also had a stand from Den Blinde Ku, selling great artisan cheese.

Dates: 24 & 25 August 2012
Location: Københavngata 4, in the backyard of Café Vespa
Hours: 16-23 (Friday) and 13-23 (Saturday)
Entrance: Free
Attending breweries:

  1. Amundsen Bryggeri & Spiseri (Oslo)
  2. Nøgne Ø - Det Kompromissløse Bryggeri (Grimstad)
  3. Ægir Bryggeri (Flåm)

At this point (July 30) these are the known breweries, but more will probably be added over the next couple of weeks. For later updates check out the festival's own Facebook event:

Grünerløkka mat- og mikrobrygg 2012
- official festival poster

Bergen Ølfestival

Bergen has a flourishing beer scene with some of the best beer pubs in Norway (e.g. Henrik øl & vinstove, Baran Café and Hanne på Høyden), and a number of very good and active homebrewers and beer bloggers. They really deserve their own beer festival. Now they've got it! 

Bergen Ølfestival will be arranged for the very first time this September, with the best Norwegian breweries attending. If you find yourself somewhere on the Norwegian west coast in early September, do make a visit to Bergen and its brand new beer festival.

Dates: 7 & 8 September 2012
Location: Bryggen, Bergen
Hours: 12-20 (both days)
Entrance: Free
Attending breweries:

  1. HaandBryggeriet (Drammen)
  2. Kinn Bryggeri (Florø)
  3. Lervig Aktiebryggeri (Stavanger)
  4. Nøgne Ø - Det Kompromissløse Bryggeri (Grimstad)
  5. Ægir Bryggeri (Flåm)
This is a nice cross section of east, south and west Norway that should really impress visitors to the festival. For more and updated information, check out their Facebook group:

Oslo Ølfestival

This is a high profile festival hosted at the luxurious Aker Brygge area in Oslo, with the two major Norwegian breweries - Ringnes and Hansa Borg - involved. Last year, when the festival was first held, the organizers had still found space for some of the smaller breweries too, such as Ægir, Nøgne Ø and Amundsen, so even a serious beer lover could find good beers at the festival.

This year some 28 bars, pubs and restaurants at Aker Brygge and the neighboring Tjuvholmen - for instance Beer Palace and Bar1 - are involved in the festival, in one way or another, but the main focus for beer seems to be at the ØlMesse tent where you'll get beer tasters, can meet and talk to brewers and listen to talks about beer and brewing.

Dates: 4-6 October 2012
Location: Aker Brygge and Tjuvholmen in Oslo
Hours: 15-20 (Thursday & Friday), 13-20 (Saturday)
Entrance: Kr 150,- to the ØlMesse tent, which includes 5 tasters.
Attending breweries:

In addition to these breweries, Cask Norway will attend to promote their imported beers - such as BrewDog from Scotland.

Concluding remarks

As if all these beer festivals weren't enough to give people a taste of good beer, many other types of festivals, in particular music related, have started inviting breweries to provide good draft beer to their visitors.

A few months ago the brewmaster from Mack in Tromsø, Rune Lennart Andreassen, was asked to brew a special festival beer for Buktafestivalen - a local music festival - and ended up making a 900 liter batch of pale ale flavored with fresh ginger.

Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeri in Oslo sold their own beer at the June 29+30 Kollen music festival in Holmenkollen and will sell beer at the upcoming Øyafestivalen music festival on August 7-11.

The days are long gone when festival goers would be satisfied with a tasteless lager, in 2012 quality beer has broken through in so many arenas - challenging the domain of the lager giants.

Keep those craft beer taps flowing.

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