Wednesday, May 20, 2015

An evening at Færder Mikrobryggeri

Late in April 2015 the founders of Færder Mikrobryggeri invited around forty of their first Facebook supporters to a house warming party at their brewery in Tønsberg. They did this both to show gratitude for the early support and encouragement they had received but also as a way to spread their story and words about their new beers. The latter is rather difficult in a country where you can't advertise for beer, not even show pictures of them on your own website!

Guests waiting to enter Færder Mikrobryggeri on 14 May 2015

A little before 7 pm on May 14th a varied lot, young and old, men and women, showed up at the former Hurtigrenseren cleanery shop in Tordenskjolds gate 5, between Farmandstredet shopping mall and the railway line through central Tønsberg. From the outside we could see they were busy setting up kegs of beer and placing snifter glasses on the tables. We were in for a treat.

Tønsberg likes to pride itself on being the oldest town in Norway (though modern historians may be less certain about this claim), dating its foundation to 871 CE - smack in the middle of the Viking era. The town is a rather sleepy one during the winter season but increases dramatically in population and activity during the summer months, when people from Oslo move in at their summer cabins at Tjøme and expensive pleasure boats line the waterfront, Tønsberg brygge, where a number of expensive restaurants and pubs can be found. All drinking establishments in Tønsberg offer the same, bland industrial lager, so the town is not a destination for beer lovers. At least until now, after the opening of Færder Mikrobryggeri.

Færder Mikrobryggeri is a family owned and run microbrewery founded by mother and son, Tone and Mathias Krüger in September 2013. With financial advice and backing from husband and father, Steinar Krüger, the brewery launched its first beers a year later, in September 2014, becoming the first operative brewery in Tønsberg, since Tønsberg Bryggeri was closed by Nora Industrier back in the early 1970s.

The guests were let in at 7 pm sharp, greeted by Tone in the door, while Steinar and Mathias walked around talking with the guests as we sat down. As a welcome drink, we were served a really fresh and tasty Færder Skjærgård from tap. Some people mistake it for a pilsner, because of the mild floral character, golden color and excellent drinkability but it's really an ale with the floral character coming from the infusion of elderflower in the brew. I've never had it this good, so Færder Skjærgård is really an excellent draft beer.

After seating all their guests and serving them beer, the founders started telling us about the humble beginnings of Færder Mikrobryggeri. It all started in the fall of 2013 when Mathias, who studied medicine, took 6 months off from his studies to travel and spend some time with his family at Tjøme. His mother, Tone, decided they needed a hobby to keep Mathias occupied, so she bought a 25 liter homebrewing system and started brewing beer! The first couple of batches were purely about learning the technical terms but then Mathias got involved and they started getting more consistent results out of their efforts.

Guests walking through the Færder brewhouse

After only a month of brewing, Tone and Mathias had gotten to the point where they started thinking about their activity as craft brewing and they realized that Færder Mikrobryggeri would be a great name for a brewery at Tjøme. To beat any competitors they quickly founded a company by that name, on September 1st, and immediately sent in a registration to Brønnøysund Register Centre (the national public register). Færder Mikrobrygger was officially registered as a shareholding company on September 16, 2013.

After serious discussions within the family, father Steinar decided to pitch in with his knowledge of finances and business (he is the daily manager of Micasa AS) and work started on the plans for a microbrewery to be located at Tjøme.

In order to learn the trade, Tone and Mathias contacted Nøgne Ø, one of the oldest and best known craft breweries in Norway, asking if they could visit them for a day to learn about brewing and the brewery business. Nøgne Ø graciously opened their doors for the Krügers, allowing them to follow the actual brewing as well as see how they conduct their business. When Tone and Mathias told the Nøgne Ø staff about their idea of starting up with a 5 hectoliter (hl) brewhouse, they were warned they would regret it - brewing only 500 liter per batch would mean much more work than on a larger system. Instead the Nøgne Ø guys recommended that they went for a larger brewing system, 15 or 20 hl.

Before the visit to Nøgne Ø they had considered various locations at Tjøme, mostly barns, where a 5 hl brewery would be able to fit in. But with a 20 hl system, which they settled on, they needed a much larger location. None could be found at Tjøme. Then they were informed that the old Hutrigrenseren building in Tordenskjoldsgate 5 in Tønsberg was available. They immediately checked it out and decided it was perfect. With a floor space of 600 square meter it could fit both a 20 hl brewery system, with fermentation and clearing tanks, as well as a bottling line and some storage space.

With the financial backing and practical know-how of his parents, Mathias started working on the plans for a large 20 hl production brewery. He got in touch with A. N. Technologies in Israel, that has also constructed breweries for 7 Fjell in Bergen and Lindesnes Brygghus, and together with their engineers Mathias designed a tailor made brewhouse that would fit inside the brewery building. The brewery equipment was then built to specifications in China.

While telling us their story, we were provided with more tasters of their beers. After the decent Pale Ale we got to try one of the new ones, Færder Belgisk Gyllen, which is an 8.5% abv Belgian strong ale brewed with Duvel yeast. It smelled heavenly, of ripe green apples and mild spices, the taste followed up with more fruit and spices, overall dry with a long aftertaste. Belgisk Gyllen was released at Vinmonopolet in May 2015 and is my favorite Færder beer to date.

Brewmaster Mathias Krüger at Færder

Originally, the plan had been to open the brewery on 5 July 2014, but the equipment wasn't shipped from China until mid June, so they had to revise their plans. Instead they promised shops and distributors that they could start selling Færder beers after September 24, which meant they had to start brewing by mid August. So, the summer of 2014 was spent in frantic activity, erecting the large steel tanks with a number of pulleys, getting the plumbing done and hiring a team of electricians working around the clock for three weeks to get all the electrical systems in order.

The initial brewery that went into operation in mid August 2014 consisted of a 20 hl mashing tun, whirpool and brewing kettle, and four large 40 hl and two smaller 20 hl fermentation and clearing tanks. A bottling line from Karith Solutions Ltd in the UK was also set up, near the south end of the brewery, allowing them to bottle and label their beers more easily (though it took them an entire day to get it running the first time).

During the tour of the brewery, Mathias told us about the Færder beers and how they brew them. In a typical 4.7% abv ale, they use about 400 kg malt (in a batch of 20 hl), but for the stronger IPA about 550 kg. They use the same yeast strain for all of their pale ales (IPA, Pale Ale and Skjærgårdsøl) which allow them to re-pitch the yeast in the next brew. This particular yeast strain ferments out in just five and a half days. Færder Pale Ale spends a total of three weeks in the fermentation / clearing tanks before it's ready for bottling, while Færder Skjærgård takes 6 weeks and Færder Jul two and a half months.

Tone Krüger told us a funny story from when they released the first beer. Because two rival chains of stores, Rema 1000 and Meny, had offered to sell Færder's beers, Tone wanted to make sure that they would get equal honors by starting selling the beer on the same date. She phoned them and even marked each case that the beer should not be sold before September 24. However, one of the stores had missed this message and put up the bottles on their shelves as soon as they received the cases. When Tone heard that people had already been able to buy the Færder beers before the given date she immediately called the store in question only to be told by a happy store manager that they had already sold out all the bottles and wanted Færder to send more!

Færder Belgisk Gyllen is delicious!

Initially Færder Mikrobryggeri used labels with a lighthouse motive, since Færder lighthouse was the inspiration for the brewery name. But after getting in touch with visual design company Panorama Design it was decided to go for a series of maritime signal flags as label motives. Despite some internal disagreement about this choice (Tone found the design too minimalistic) it proved to be a good one, as it won them and Panorama the award "Merket for god design 2015" in April 2015 and also a European design award!

In the future, Mathias plans to brew a 4.7% abv oatmeal stout, Færder Havrestout, for the grocery store market, while a Smoked Amber is more uncertain, despite being one of his personal favorites. Mathis is also very fond of the style India Red Ale, but Vinmonopolet seems reluctant to take in more beers in this category so it may not materialize.

What will materialize though is a special festival beer they've brewed for Færder Seilasen, an annual regatta in the Oslo fjord that goes from Oslo harbor out to the Færder lighthouse and then back again. It's only fitting that Færder Mikrobryggeri should provide the official beer for this regatta.

In September 2015 another beer will be launched at Vinmonopolet, Færder Supreme Stout, which we got to taste during the visit. This is a fairly complex 6% abv stout brewed with barley malt, wheat malt, flaked oats, rye malt, toasted barley, molasses and coffee. The coffee, some 10 kg in all, was made by Supreme Roastworks in Oslo, hence the name of the beer. The beer was bottled just 5 days prior to the visit, so it was really fresh. It poured pitch black and sported a lovely fresh coffee aroma with notes of black chocolate. It had a creamy mouthfeel, with a good balance between the coffee, chocolate and a nice rye bread flavor. It's a tasty beer and the perfect way to end a good evening, along with some chocolate cake.

All in all I was very impressed by the level of quality of the five beers we got to taste during the visit. I was also happy to learn that Færder Mikrobryggeri has signed contracts to have their beer distributed more widely in Norway, so things are looking very good for this young brewery in the oldest town in Norway.

A line-up of existing and possible future Færder beers

For more photos from my visit to Færder Mikrobryggeri see this Flickr set.

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