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.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Klostergården - garden of the monks

It was Marymass in the Year of the Lord 1207, a group of robe clad and clean shaven men had gathered on a small island in the long fjord that passes by Trondheim and turns north into the Trønder heartland of Norway. These men, brothers of the Cistercian order, had been sent out to found a new monastery. This is the story of what they founded and the rich legacy they left behind, in the garden of the monks.

A pebbled beach on Tautra island in the Trondheimsfjord.

A visit to Tautra

As part of a general tour of Nord-Trøndelag county, in the geographical centre of Norway, a visit to the small island of Tautra, in Frosta municipality, is highly recommended. Not only for its natural beauty, the bird sanctuary or for its long history, but because of the tranquility you can only find on such a small island. The island is 3.5 km long and never more than 1 km wide, covering an area of just 1.5 square km, and only 50 people actually live on the island. But you can still find a place to spend the night, eat hearty rustic dishes and enjoy locally brewed beer: Klostergården. I'll tell more about this place later.

In order to get to Tautra you really need a car, as there is no public transport going all the way out. Heading up the E6 highway you need to turn off at a place called Åsen, located roughly halfway between Stjørdal in the south and Levanger in the north. If you're coming for Trondheim Værnes Airport, it's 25 km to drive to Åsen. When reaching Åsen, turn off the E6 onto the smaller 753 highway towards Frosta (should be a hard left turn if you come from Værnes). Follow 753 for about 22 km, at which point you will probably have seen several signs directing you to Tautra. Exit the 753 onto the smaller county road 67. After 1.5 km you'll reach the causeway bridge across to Tautra. This is a narrow, 1-lane bridge, so watch out for oncoming traffic. At the middle of the bridge you have to break for a gate which will open automatically once you're close to it. When across the bridge, hold right and follow signs to Klostergården.

The main building of Klostergården at Tautra.

To book a room at Klostergården, you can either call or send an email to ask for vacancies, contact information can be found at

Weekends can be rather full, so the best time to visit is on weekdays from Monday to Thursday.

Before returning to my own visit in July 2012, we need to pick up the thread from the introduction (if history is not your fancy, skip the next section and 800 years of history at your own peril) ...

The history of Tautra

On March 25, 1207, a group of Cisterian monks founded a monastery on Tautra or Tuterø, as it is also known. We don't know where they were sent out from, it may have been from Lyse Kloster near Bergen or from Munkeby near Levanger.

What we do know is that by placing their monastery on Tautra the monks made a good choice that would see their abbey prosper for the next three centuries. The reason why Tautra was such a good choice is three-fold. Primarily, an island provides isolation and safety - an important aspect in those days, which is clearly recognized in the name they gave the monastery: Monasterium sancta maria de tuta insula or Monastery of St Mary on the Secure Island. Secondly, by chosing a small island in the Trondheimsfjord they found a place with a milder micro climate than what is normal for Trøndelag, sea water damping the weather extremes. Finally, they chose an island located close to the old Norse power centre in Trøndelag: Frostating. Located less than 4 km inland, from the shore across from Tautra, the Thing Hill at Frosta was were the laws uniting the eight Trønder counties were made during the Viking era. Two centuries later, when the monks arrived, Frosta was still very much at the heart of Trøndelag.

The Cistercian order is known for its hard working brothers and sister, and the monks at Tautra were no exception. They constructed a large stone church and many buildings out of wood, a common building material in Trøndelag. They cultivated gardens, planting herbs and other useful plants, and must quickly have become a source of knowledge and trade for local farmers in Trøndelag.

At its height of influence, Tautra abbey controlled as many as 130 farms in Trøndelag, including the land of the former Munkeby abbey. But Tautra remained small, especially compared to abbeys elsewhere in Europe, with living quarters for at most 30 monks.

We don't know that much about life at the abbey, but the monks seem to have made it through the horrors of the Black Death in 1349 - which probably killed as much as half the population in Norway - without serious problems, because the abbey continued to prosper until the 16th century.

Things started to go wrong in 1510, when they received a new abbot from Denmark - Mathias Henrikssøn. He soon lost the job, for unknown reasons, but returned to the abbey again in 1531. This time he ruined the monastery and gave away its land to local nobleman Niels Lykke. However, Niels Lykke was in conflict with the mighty Archbishop Olav Engelbregtsson, who soon confiscated the monastery and had Mr Lykke executed in 1535. But this didn't last long either, because in 1537 the winds of the Protestant reformation swept across the kingdom, forcing the Archbishop and all monks to flee the country. The monastery and its lands were again confiscated, this time by the Crown.

Ruins of the stone church of the former Tautra Abbey.

Over the next few centuries, the monastery fell into disrepair, its stone buildings were used as a stone quarry for building fortresses in Trondheim. Later, in the 18th century, stones were also taken away and used to build the foundations of a new farm house nearby, a farm called Tautra Nordre.

In 1846, what was left of the ruins were purchased by a wealthy citizen and given to the newly founded Society for the Preservation of Norwegian Ancient Monuments. They still preserve the ruins and have erected information boards next to it to educate visitors about its long history.

Tautra today

Today the island of Tautra isn't as isolated as it once was, because in 1979 a 2.3 km long causeway bridge was constructed between the island and the mainland. This allows the inhabitants of Tautra to drive over to Frosta, on the mainland, to do their shopping. And, vice versa, it allows bird spotters, tourists and visitors to Klostergården to come by car.

However, this causeway bridge turned out to be a mixed blessing to the creatures on the island. For the humans it was all well, but the colony of birds - so long used to safe isolation - was soon targeted by predators, such as foxes and cats, crossing over from the mainland on the bridge. To solve this problem, an automatic gate was constructed at the middle of the bridge. This gate only allows cars to pass through, not any 2- or 4-legged.

Most of the people living on Tautra are farmers, but one family has taken a different route. In 1994 the then 35 year old Ståle Harald Anderssen decided to renovate the old farm buildings at Tautra Nordre and take up the old art of the monks - growing herbs, fruit and other plants. He also decided to open a bed & breakfast, to offer visitors a place to stay while they explored the old ruins and the local produce. Klostergården was born.

In 2009, his son Jørn returned with a young familiy and a bunch of ideas on how to further develop Klostergården. One of the things he suggested was brewing beer, something the old monks at the abbey surely must have done. Thus Klostergården Håndbryggeri was born, with Jørn as the brewer. Brewing small 200 liter batches, Jørn ferments the beer on 600 liter stainless steel tanks formerly used to store milk.

The five tap handles at the Klostergården café on Tautra.

Today, Klostergården Håndbryggeri brews more than a dozen different types of beer - from light pale ales, via bitters and ambers to dark imperial stouts and potent barley wines.

All of the beers are made available on draft at the Klostergården café which is another reason why you really should have dinner here. The beers (only those of 4.7% abv or lower, due to Norwegian laws) are also sold in bottles at the farm shop, along with other local products such as juice and jam of Aronia berries, cheese and honey.

The beers of Klostergården Håndbryggeri

During my visit to Klostergården, the café had five different beers on tap. Naturally, I had to try them all :) The five beers were:
  1. Klostergården Amber (4.5%): A well made but fairly mild amber. It had a nice malt profile with some toasted notes.
  2. Klostergården Bitter (4.5%): Even for a bitter I found this too thin, lacking in taste and aroma.
  3. Klostergården Blond (4.7%): This Belgian-style blond had a nice fruity aroma with spice notes, but was a bit thin in the body and short.
  4. Klostergården Pale Ale (4.5%): A fairly hoppy pale ale, slightly too thin to support the bitterness.
  5. Klostergården Sommerøl (4.7%): A light bodied, well hopped and fruity summer ale. Really nice.
Fortunately, Klostergården had two stronger beers availlable on kegs, which they served at the café later in the evening:

  1. Klostergården Imperial Stout (9.3%): Pitch black, with a rich coffee and chocolate aroma. Full bodied with a silky smooth mouthfeel. It had a strong roasted taste and was fairly dry.
  2. Klostergården Barley Wine (9.7%): Dark brown, with a sweet barley wine aroma. Full bodied, creamy and sweet. Good bitter finish with some lingering sweetness in the aftertaste. 
The 9.3% abv Klostergården Imperial Stout.

Unlike the mild, shop strength ales, the last two were both full bodied and assertive beers. The Barley Wine, by the way, was actually from 2010 - having been cellared for two years.

When I had the chance to talk with Ståle Anderssen he mentioned that they were also experimenting with hops, growing several varietals in a field behind the ruins. He didn't know what kind, as that is the domain of his son - the brewer. Ståle said it's still too early to tell if these experiments will result in any good aroma hops, but if they do, the good hops will end up in beers from Klostergården Håndbryggeri.

I think that would be really awesome and a great way to continue the gardening legacy of the Cisterian monks who left these shores so suddenly, almost five hundred years ago.

The brothers would have been proud.

Klostergården hop trellies.

Photos from my visit on Tautra can be found at Flickr.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The smoked beers of Hegra

During a recent trip to Nord-Trøndelag county, in the middle of Norway, I got the chance to visit a farm brewery at Hegra, near the town of Stjørdal, a region famous for an old style of smoked beer that is only brewed in this part of Norway: Stjørdalsøl.

Skaarraadalen såinnhus at Granås Gård in Hegra.

While at Hegra I also got to learn about såinnhus, einelaug and the strange rules for kilning malt. This is a brief account of my visit there on a rainy day in July 2012.

Stjørdalsøl vs Hegra Maltøl

For those beer geeks living in Oslo or other places in the south of Norway, the Stjørdalsøl has reached an almost mythical status. Everyone seems to know something about it, a few even know someone who has tasted it and fewer still have actually held a glass of this strange brew in their hands. Indeed, this is a rare beer and it seldom travels far from its birthplace in Stjørdal or Hegra.

What sets this beer apart from most others is that tradition demands that you kiln your own malt using a wood fired oven to heat things up. It is this process which imparts the famous smoke character to the finished beer. Few modern brewers or breweries ever concern themselves with kilning malt, so in that respect this is much more of an artisanal tradition than even the most manual of craft breweries.

Even though it's probably best known as Stjørdalsøl, this beer is mainly brewed in Hegra - a small community of 860 people about ten minutes drive east of downtown Stjørdal. Those brewers living her prefer the term Maltøl or Hegra Maltøl, to signify that the beer has more to do with good malt and Hegra than with the town of Stjørdal. I will therefore use that term from now on, since most of the farms brewing this beer - including the one I visited - are located in Hegra.

Morten Granås and Skaarraadalen Såinnhuslag

Because I was planning this trip together with a small group of beer lovers, it made sense to hunt down an authority on the elusive Hegra Maltøl. We were so fortunate to come across the name of Morten Granås.

Morten Granås talking about Hegra Maltøl.

Born in Hegra in 1937, John Morten Granås learned the art of kilning malt and brewing traditional Hegra Maltøl from his father. They brewed together until 1967, when his father passed away.

After taking over the old family farm, Granås Gård, Morten continued to brew beer. In 1987 he formed the Skaarraadalen såinnhuslag, together with 8 friends, and they constructed their own "såinnhus" at the farm of Granås Gård.

A "såinnhus" is a local term for a building where you dry the malt and, usually, brew beer. It's common to have 5-10 persons join up in a såinnhuslag, where each take turn kilning the malt and brewing the beer. A typical såinnhus will have openings under the roof, to let out the smoke during the kilning process - which may cause all kinds of confusion for the local fire department (see the Kilning rules further down).

In 2004, Morten Granås became the first in Norway to receive a license to commercially serve homebrewed beer to guests at his farm. He has since then made a good business out of hosting small and large groups of visitors, giving them a tour of the såinnhus and a taste of his beers, accompanied by local food.

Kilning malt at Granås Gård

At Granås Gård, the now retired Morten Granås met us out in the yard. He started the tour by taking us to the såinnhus, where he talked about how the malt was made.

To create his malt, Morten Granås buys cereal from Felleskjøpet - either a 6-row barley from the most recent harvest or 2-row barley from last year. About 150 kg of cereal is soaked in cold water over night, triggering the germination process. When the cereal sprouts small shots it's time to arrest the development by kilning the malt.

But before anyone can start kilning the malt, there's a set ot rules, hanging on the wall of the såinnhus, that must be followed. Loosely translated they say

Before starting up the fire the following agencies must be contacted:
* 110 - the [fire] central at Namsos (number and name must be given).
* The air traffic control at Værnes [airport].
Good luck brewing!
Chief of the Fire department in Stjørdal, 20.06.2006
Arnljot Berget

The "basin" for kilning malt in the såinnhus at Granås Gård.
And the reason is simply that the smoke coming out of the såinnhus during the kilning process will make it look on fire!

For the kilning process, a special "basin" has been constructed out of fire proof brick stones, with an oven in the middle. Dry wood of Grey Alder is set on fire inside the oven, generating heat and smoke.

The smoke leaks out into the basin but is trapped under perforated wooden boards put over the top of the basin, almost like a lid on a kettle. The small holes in the boards are too small for the grain to fall through but large enough for smoke to drift up.

On top of these wooden boards, the sprouting cereal is laid out. Usually about 150 kg of cereal is malted at a time, which results in a depth of 5-10 cm on top of the wooden boards. The heat and smoke from below will then drift up through the holes in the boards, slowly kilning the malt and adding a rich smoke flavor.

It takes about 15-20 hours to kiln the malt, and Morten Granås says he stops when he hears the first cereal pop - like popcorn. The result is typically 135 kg of smoked malt, when starting out with 150 kg cereal, which is not too roasted or heavily smoked.

The making of Hegra Maltøl

Morten Granås told us that when he wants to brew a beer, he typically makes a blend of malts made over several years, to even out differences due to weather, cereal and other factors that give the malt its character.

He typically uses 20 kg of smoked malt for his 70 liter batches. The ground malt is then boiled with "einlaug", which is water boiled with branches of juniper. This imparts both color and flavor to the beer, as well as conserving the beer.

When it comes to the type of yeast used to brew the Hegra Maltøl, Morten Granås uses the ordinary baking yeast that I remember from my grandmother's baking heydays - the blue packaged 50 gram block of dry yeast meant for bread (and beer, supposedly, but not for sugary doughs).

The beer is brewed and fermented in the såinnhus, but matures in a cold storage elsewhere on the farm. He brews differently depending on the season, for Christmas the beer is usually darker and stronger while for harvest he prefers a refreshing golden brown ale of lower gravity. But in both cases, he wants a balanced beer where malt sweetness and the smoke is in harmony. Under no circumstances should the beer taste burnt, or of creosote as some of the Stjørdaløl ales have been known to taste.

Hegra Maltøl at Granås Gård.

After the tour of the såinnhus we sat down with Morten Granås in Masstua, the cozy log house built next to the main building at Granås Gård. It is here that he receives groups of visitors. He brought out a fresh sample of one of his lighter beers, a golden brown batch of strength 6% abv, brewed in early June with malt from 2009, 2010 and 2011. It was a surprisingly refreshing and elegant beer with a fruity character and a mild smoke aroma and flavor, milder than many smoked beers from Bamberg but still clearly a smoked beer.

At the end of our visit, he told us that when he started brewing there had only been 3-4 såinnhuslag teams in all of Hegra. Today there are 42, brewing an impressive range of Maltøl - from pitch black, high alcohol beers, tasting of creosote, to elegant, golden brown ales you can drink all night.

The future of Hegra Maltøl thus seems secure, even after Morten Granås hangs up his brewing fork for the last time. Which hopefully won't be for a number of years yet!

Tusen takk for omvisning og maltølet!

How to visit Granås Gård

To book a visit with beer tasting, you need to be part of a group of at least 10 persons and at most 45. Make sure to book 14 days ahead of time as he may have other appointments or may need to brew more beer for your visit. Booking can be done directly with Morten Granås at

telephone: 47 74 80 23 96
mobile: +47 971 22 985

Getting to Granås Gård requires a car, unless you come as part of a large group in a tour bus. If you fly to Trondheim Værnes Airport, which is in Stjørdal, I would recommend renting the car there (you'll find both Avis, Hertz, Europcar, Sixt and Budget at the airport).

From the airport or from Stjørdal, it's just a short 10 minutes drive to get to Hegra. Simply turn off the E6 highway, just north of the airport and south of downtown Stjørdal, onto the E14. Follow the E14 for about 10 km, until you see the church in Hegra. By the church, turn left onto the smaller 752 and follow it for 1 km. You should then see a wooden portal on the left, leading to a narrow gravel road up to Granås Gård.


Photos from the visit to Granås Gård can be found in this Flickr set.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Qdulla - the realm of the sea serpent

Harøya island in Snåsa Lake in Nord-Trøndelag, Norway.

Qdulla may sound like a name you could only give to a sea serpent and ... well, it is. Formerly known as Kudulle, Snåsa Lake (Snåsavatnet in Norwegian) in Nord-Trøndelag county is the 6th largest lake in Norway. Created by glacial erosion during the last ice age, the lake is about 40 km long, has a surface area of 121 km² and a maximum depth of 121 meters, providing the mythical sea serpent with ample space to hide.

However, in addition to a sea serpent, Qdulla is also the name of a new brewery and restaurant located on the small island of Harøya in Snåsa Lake. This blog post is about the brewery, not the sea serpent. Only accessible via boat, in the brief summer season and after a more than 2 hour long drive from the nearest city - Trondheim - I guess remote is the word I'm looking for to describe Harøya and Qdulla.

However, to get the story onto a proper start we need to look back a hundred years.

Harøya croft land

Nord-Trøndelag county has always been a major aggricultural region in Norway, as far back as the Viking era we read about powerful farmer clans and armies. As the population grew, many young men were forced to leave their father farms and clear land for their own. At one point this happened at the small island of Harøya in Snåsa Lake where two croft settlements, husmannsplasser in Norwegian, were in use in the 19th century.

Because Harøya island is so small, the croft settlements were small and poor, at most they had a few milk cows, some sheep, a few hen and chicken, and possibly a few pigs. In 1911, the last cotters, Sivert Harøy and his wife Beret Marja, left for the mainland, after their only daughter had emmigrated to America.

Harøya island remained devoid of human settlement for the remainder of the 20th century, the old buildings rotting or crumbling into ruins and nature reclaiming the cleared pasture land. If it hadn't been for a husband and wife couple, Harøya would still have been overgrown and inhospitable to human visitors.

The "new old" log house at Harøya croft settlement.
About ten years ago the farmer Arild Johansen Østvik and his wife, Hilde Østvik, conceived of the idea of reviving the old croft settlement at Harøya, using the island for pasture land in the summer season.

After much struggle and arm bending, since the land with the ruins of the old settlements was a protected cultural heritage site, they managed to convince the county and conservation agencies that it would be right to revive the old Harøya croft settlement.

They contacted the local Snåsa Museum to ask about an old log house which had been in cold storage for twenty years, without having been put up for display. The museum agreed to let couple have the house, so it was taken apart, shipped to Harøya and rebuilt near the ruins of the old settlement.

In 2007, Hilde Østvik founded Qdulla as a brewery and restaurant. It opened its doors to the public the summer after, in June 2008, and has been open every summer since.

Visiting Harøya

As mentioned earlier, a visit to Harøya is not the easiest thing to do. Not only is it geographically fairly remote, wherever you happen to visit from, but you need a boat to get to the island and the restaurant is only open during a short summer season - usually the month of July, give or take a few days.

If you're about to plan a visit to Harøya and Qdulla you should first call ahead to make sure they're open and then agree on a time to be picked up by a boat. The person to call is Hilde Østvik on +47 48 99 52 84.

Notice that as of the 2012 season, Qdulla is open from 1 pm to 7 pm on all days except Tuesdays and only in July. Because of the harsh winters, the Harøya croft settlement shuts down in the fall.

The old barn housing the Qdulla pub and restaurant.

Many potential visitors will probably come in their own cars, from the south of Norway or Continental Europe, driving up the E6 highway - the main highway between the south and north of Norway.

I personally prefer to fly, landing at Trondheim Værnes Airport and renting a car there. From Værnes, near the town of Stjørdal, it's a 130 km or 1 hour and 45 minutes drive north along the E6. The last stage will be along Snåsa Lake. Exit the E6 to the right at the Østvik sign, which will take you onto a gravel road for about 1 km before you end up by a small marina at the bottom of a steep hill. This is where the "ferry" service to Harøya is.

With a booking arrangment in hand you will be met by a private boat at the time you agreed to be there. It will take you and your company out to Harøya, roughly 5-10 minutes by boat. On my visit we were put ashore on the southern tip of the island, but Arild Østvik is planning a harbor on the northern shore with a long pier to allow for larger boats to dock. This pier will probably be in place for the 2013 season.

Summer 2012

When Harøya opened up in July 2012 it was for the 4th season of Qdulla, so the place has already acquired some experience in creating dishes and good beer. On the day of my visit, they offered a total of five Qdulla beers on draft:

  1. Kdulla: Formerly known as Flekker, Kdulla is a 6% abv German style, unfiltered weissbier, named after the Sea Serpent of Snåsa Lake.
  2. Håggå: This 6% abv pale ale is named after a local slang for "desire" and contains a number of local herbs and flowers - such as Bleeding Heart and Heath Spotted Orchid - making it unlike any other pale ale I've tried.
  3. Sivert: This 5% abv amber ale was brewed with coffee and named after the last cotter at Harøya, Sivert Harø.
  4. Huldra: Named after a female, seductive forest creature in Norwegian folklore, Huldra is a 6% abv sour ale brewed with honey, spruce shots, wild forest berries and sweet gale.
  5. Gam-Erik: This is a 9% abv baltic style porter, brewed with smoked malts, licorice and prunes. The name is a local version of Gamle-Erik, which is an old Norwegian name for the Devil.

Qdulla Huldra - a Flanders red inspired ale.
Qdulla brews beer using a Belgian yeast strain and with an eye towards old ale styles, but also with a focus on local, traditional beer ingredients, such as spruce shots, valerion, honey and sweet gale.

According to head brewer, Hilde Østvik, Qdulla has a 500 liter fermentation tank, formerly used for storing milk, but she usually brews smaller batches of 200-300 liter. Because of their status as croft settlement and farm brewery, Qdulla is not allowed to ship its beer elsewhere for sale, so you actually have to visit Harøya to taste these unique brews.

Along with the excellent beers, we were treated to a delicious fish soup made with cream from the cows on the island and with trout caught in the Snåsa Lake - you won't find shorter traveled food many other places.

My own impressions after the visit to Harøya are very positive; the food and beer were excellent and the place a hidden, natural gem. Hilde and Arild were the perfect hosts, making us feel like part of a great family. They both have plans for future improvements that will take Qdulla and Harøya to new heights.

I will surely be back another summer. Do you dare to visit the realm of Qdulla?

The southern tip of Harøya island with driftwood.

Full set of photos from the July 2012 visit can be found at Flickr.


3 August 2012 edit: As I didn't actually witness any brewing, it may actually mostly be done at the farm on the mainland, not on the Harøya island.