Sunday, March 24, 2013

Oslo Beer City 2013

While 2012 was the year the beer scene really exploded here in Oslo, with good craft beer appearing in many old pubs across the city and new dedicated beer pubs and brewpubs opening up, things have not slowed down since my last post on this topic half a year ago. So here's an update from spring 2013.

A glass of Scream Ale at the newly opened Crowbar 

Beer Palace
Address: Holmens Gate 3
Opened: 6 April 1993, renovated fall 2012 and reopened 14 November 2012
Type: Beer bar
Taps: 23 (about half with craft beer)

After extensive renovations and some structural changes, including rebuilding the bar upstairs, Beer Palace reopened in November 2012 with an extended draft beer menu and even more focus on beer related events, including beer tastings. The place now sports more than twenty tap lines and usually half of those are with good quality craft beer. The selection of bottled beer has also been expanded, with bottles from all over the world in beer coolers both upstairs and downstairs.

But I'm not all happy with the new layout. Two long shuffleboards and the extended bar take up very much space on the second floor, reducing the seating capacity and making it difficult to enter or leave on busy nights, when everyone flocks to the bar and blocks the staircase.

Still, the dedication to good beer is evident and I've enjoyed some really great craft beer on draft since they reopened, such as Nøgne Ø Two Captains IPA, Ugly Duck Imperial Vanilla Coffe Porter, Emelisse Rauchbier, Boulevard Pale Ale and Ægir Lindisfarne.

The upstairs bar the Beer Palace with shutters down

BRU: Vulkan Pub
Address: Maridalsveien 13 (next to Mathallen)
Opens: Spring or summer 2013
Type: Beer pub

This pub is owned and will be operated by the people behind Ølakademiet, who also run the Øltorget pub in Mathallen and the old Akersberget restaurant just up the hill. The pub was originally scheduled to open back in November 2012 but work has taken longer than expected, with practically no progress over the winter.

A March 7 status update on Facebook said that work has resumed and that the pub will offer about 300 types of beer, both international and Norwegian, of high quality. But no opening date has been posted yet for what will probably become the smallest pub in Oslo, only 19 square meters large!

Crowbar, The Crow or Kråka bryggeri
- the hot new brewpub in Oslo

Crowbar Bryggeri
Address: Torggata 32
Opened: 13 December 2012
Type: Brewpub
Taps: 20

There is still some confusion about its name, which is listed as Crowbar & Bryggeri in official registers, because people working there and the glassware says "Crow" while the employee t-shirts actually has "Kråka" (Norwegian for crow) printed on them. Anyhow, the brewpub, which had an unofficial opening last December, officially opened up on January 13, 2013, with a big party and the cutting of the ribbon performed by Petter Nome - the leader of the Bryggeri- og drikkevareforeningen (Norwegian trades union for breweries).

When I first heard about it, I got the feeling that they would only have 5-6 beers, just their own, on draft. That turned out to be far from the truth, the Crow has an amazing (for Oslo) 20 tap lines! On any given day, the lowest numbers - usually from 1 to 5 or 6 - will be with their own beer, though the owner, Erk Potur, hopes they can stock up enough kegged beer to actually have taps 1-10 with their own beer. The rest of the tap lines carry guest beer from craft breweries in Europe and the US. I've already enjoyed draft beer from Rogue Ales, Thornbridge, BrewDog, Evil Twin, Mikkeller, Nøgne Ø, Ægir and HaandBryggeriet at Crowbar!

Because the place is still very young, it may not have settled yet and there are some issues they're still working on, such as the food part. But it seems they'll keep a focus on grilled food, ordered and served on the second floor, where guests get a good view of the micro brewery and bar below.

Brewmaster Dave Gardonio is still experimenting with recipes to create a good line-up for the brewpub, he has made a couple of very good Experimental IPAs (with three different high alpha hops) as well as a German-style Roggen bier (rye beer), a very tasty strong red ale and a strong mild.

After just a few months in the business Crowbar attracts many beer thirsty visitors and is usually packed during weekends, so the best time for a visit is early in the week or shortly after the daily 3 pm opening.

Opening night at Crowbar with an impressive 20 draft beers

Grünerløkka Brygghus
Address: Thorvald Meyers Gate 30 B
Opened: 8 October 2010
Type: Gastropub
Taps: 8

Finally, after three years of talk, this popular pub on Grünerløkka will soon start brewing its own beer. According to a recent Facebook entry and this Ølportalen blog post, they will take over the old 700 liter test brewery from Lervig Aktiebryggeri in Stavanger. It will be installed in the backyard of Villa Import, owned by Jan "Mr Grünerløkka" Vardøen who also owns the Grünerløkka Brygghus. By the way, this backyard is also where the annual Grünerløkka Mat- og Mikrobrygg festival has been held since 2009.

Up until now their "house beers" have been brewed by selected Norwegian craft breweries, such as Nøgne Ø (Kjell Pop Single Hop IPA) and Kinn Bryggeri (Løkka Haust og Løkka Svarthumle). Now, with the help of former Nøgne Ø and Møllebyen Mikrobryggeri brewer, David Dudek, the plan is to install the new brewery and have it up and running before the summer. Of course, there are many pitfalls so we can just cross our fingers and hope that the installation goes smoothly.

The backyard where Grünerløkka Brygghus will install their
brewery is also used for an annual food & beer festival

Nydalen Bryggeri & Spiseri
Address: Nydalsveien 30A, Nydalen
Opens: Summer 2013
Type: Brewpub & brewery

Nydalen Bryggeri & Spiseri is a brand new brewery that will open up in the old Bølgen & Moi restaurant in Nydalen, Oslo. It has the same owners as the Amundsen Bryggeri & Spiseri brewpub, and the plan seems to be to use the new brewery more as a production brewery because of its larger (1000 liter) capacity.

The brewery will be in the capable hands of brewmaster John Hudson, currently at Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeri, who will start working in Nydalen in May. His first task will be to install the new brewery and get it operational, which may take a couple of months, but by mid summer the Nydalen district of Oslo should have its own brewery.

As the "Spiseri" part of the name suggests, the brewery will also have an attached pub where you can enjoy the local beer along with some food.

Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeri
Address: Trondheimsveien 2, Grünerløkka
Opened: 1 October 2010
Type: Brewpub
Taps: 14

After two and a half years and 250 batches of beer, Schouskjelleren brewmaster John Hudson has decided to move on, to start brewing at the new Nydalen Bryggeri. His replacement, Luca Saccomandi, is an Italian brewer who worked for brewery Le Baladin when he got the offer to brew in Norway. He'll move to Oslo in April and take over the brewing at Schouskjelleren when John Hudson moves on in May.

How the change of brewers will affect Schouskjelleren brewpub is hard to tell, hopefully the new brewer will keep making some of the old classics - such as Thunderbear Stout, Empress of India and Garden of Eden - while also making his own, signature beers.

Before John Hudson leaves Schouskjelleren he'll brew one last collaboration beer, with René Hansen from Det Lille Bryggeri in Denmark. Hansen will come to Oslo on March 26th, but what kind of beer he plans to brew is still a well kept secret. Currently, Schouskjelleren has another of its collaboration beers on draft - batch 250, a 7.5% heather blossoms and heather honey scotch ale brewed with Dave Gardonio from Crowbar & Bryggeri.

The owner of Schouskjelleren, Nevzat Arikan, is also working on plans for a new 1000 liter production brewery next to Schouskjelleren, but this brewery will probably not be operational until the fall or late 2013. In the meantime, Schouskjelleren may continue to brew and bottle some of their beer at other breweries, like they did in 2012 with Empress of India (brewed at Herslev Bryghus in Denmark) and the Juleøl (brewed at Dugges in Sweden).

The vaulted brick ceiling of the beer hall at Schouskjelleren

The Whisky Bar
Address: Rådhusgata 28, Kvadraturen
Opened: 12 May 2010
Type: Restaurant, beer and whisky bar
Taps: 12

While already a fine beer and whisky bar when it opened up summer 2010, The Whisky Bar has just upped the stakes by installing a new 7-tap beer tower, bringing the total number of draft beers up to a dozen (plus some industrial lagers I decline to include in the count).

According to the bartender I spoke with, they sell a lot of craft beer from breweries such as Ægir, HaandBryggeriet, BrewDog and Magic Rock, so there is a surprisingly good rotation of kegs - when I was there they served BrewDog Punk IPA, HaandBryggeriet Fyr & flamme, Ægir India Pale Ale, Svaneke Den Udødelige Hest Porter, Magic Rock Dark Star Stout and Lexington Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, to name a few.

And because their customers keep asking for more exciting draft beer, The Whisky Bar plans to install another 7-tap beer tower later this spring. That is, if they can find space for it in the small bar. So keep an eye on The Whisky Bar!

The new 7-tap beer tower at The Whisky Bar.

Here are the links to the original post and the update.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Enjoying Polar Beers in Tromsø

Tromsø may not be known for its beer scene, though many Norwegians will know it as the hometown of the only major brewery in northern Norway, but when I got the opportunity to visit this small city, some 300 kilometers north of the Arctic circle, I jumped at the chance.

Tromsø harbor with Tromsø Bridge seen in the distance.

With a population of 70 thousand, Tromsø is the largest city in northern Norway and the second largest in the world north of the Arctic circle (after Murmansk in Russia). It's located at 69.9 degrees North on the island of Tromsøya, in the Tromsøysundet strait.

Though human habitation can be traced back several thousand years, Tromsø remained a small and insignificant settlement until it received its city charter from King Christian VII in 1794. At that time only about 80 people lived on the island!

The young "city" quickly rose in importance. The Diocese of Hålogaland was created in 1804 and Arctic hunting, from Novaya Zemlya to Canada, started up around 1820. By 1850, Tromsø was the major center of Arctic hunting, overtaking the former center of Hammerfest, and the city was trading from Arkhangelsk in Russia to Bordeaux in France.

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, Tromsø was also used as a port to the Arctic by famous polar explorers such as Fridtjof Nansen, Roald Amundsen and Umberto Nobile who often recruited their crew here. In 1927, the Northern Lights Observatory was founded in Tromsø, starting the tradition for polar and atmospheric studies for which the University of Tromsø is well known today.

During World War II, the Norwegian parliament and royal family escaped from Oslo and ended up in Tromsø, making it the de facto capital of free Norway for three weeks until they had to flee the country in June 1940.

Since 1960 the city has been connected to the mainland via the Tromsøbrua bridge, which has become a major landmark seen from all over the city. Not far from the mainland end of the bridge you'll find the most famous building in the region, the Arctic Cathedral built in 1964-65.

Today, most tourists come to Tromsø either for the midnight sun, during the short summer months, or to ski or go on a northern lights safari during the long, dark winters. Many of them arrive on the famous Hurtigruten ferries that go between Bergen and Kirkenes. Because few other places north of the Arctic circle has such a good infrastructure of roads, airport and ferry connections, along with hotels to stay at, Tromsø has also been proposed as a future Olympic Games site!

In the 19th century, Tromsø received the nickname "Paris of the North", probably because the visitors from the south of Norway and from Europe found the citizens fairly civilized and even sophisticated. One of the civilized things the city has offered its visitors for 135 years is its own beer: Mack.

View of downtown Tromsø from Tromsø Bridge.

The Mack story
It was in this frontier boom town of the mid 19th century that German baker Georg Mack settled down to start a bakery. In 1842, the year the very first pilsner was brewed in Bohemia, his wife bore him a son, Ludwig Markus Mack. While it was Georg's wish that his son would someday take over the bakery, and Ludwig did actually apprentice as a baker, he was destined for something else.

At the time Tromsø lacked one of the most essential things that even the smallest German village had: A brewery. So in the 1870s, the young Ludwig started thinking about founding a brewery in Tromsø. He managed to raise some money and put all of his own savings into the project and in the autumn of 1877 he could proudly declare his L. Macks Ølbryggeri for opened. It was and still is the northernmost brewery in the world, a fact the brewery proudly displays on their beer bottles and glasses.

What is now known as Mack Bryggeri is still a family owned brewery, one of only three in Norway, led by Harald Bredrup - the 5th generation. Until August 2012 the brewery was located on Storgata in the heart of Tromsø, but the need for expansion, combined with local politicians who would not allow the brewery to modify its historical buildings, forced Mack to find a new location. They got an offer they couldn't refuse from the municipality of Nordkjosbotn, about an hour by car south of Tromsø, where a brand new brewery was constructed and opened up in September 2012. Thus, after 135 years Mack Bryggeri severed the ties with its birth city and moved some 70 kilometer to the south.

The Ludwig Mack Brygghus micro brewery.

While most of the old brewery buildings in Tromsø have been sold, some of it will be used for the 2014 Chess Olympiad, the Ølhallen brewery tap and a new micro brewery (the old test plant), named Ludwig Mack Brygghus, will remain at the Storgata location.

Naturally, Mack is still a dominant force on the Tromsø beer scene, as most of the draft beer served here are from Mack. To check out the selection and varity I had singled out three places beforehand: Ølhallen, Blå Rock Café and Skarven Kro.

Storgata 4
Opening hours: 10-18 (Mon-Fri), 09-18 (Saturday) and closed Sundays.

The oldest pub in Tromsø, Ølhallen, actually celebrated its 85th anniversary on the first night of my visit, with a special beer session in the evening led by a journalist from a local newspaper. During this event they served the micro brewed Mack Judas Yeast on draft, a unique beer brewed with both wheat ale and pilsner yeast.

Ølhallen, which is Norwegian for "beer hall", was founded in 1928 as the official brewery tap for Mack Bryggeri and located in the basement of a neoclassical building erected in 1890 as home for the brewery founder, Ludwig Mack.

A clawless and stuffed polar bear
- on guard at Ølhallen in Tromsø

Normally, only open from 10 am to 6 pm, Ølhallen feels like a "brown" city pub and in many ways it is. The interior is slightly worn, from the clawless, stuffed polar bear to the brown, wooden furniture. And when I arrived at noon one day, it seemed the regulars were of the slightly worn type too. It's still a nice place to visit, with lots of polar memorabilia on the walls and a corner table named in honor of an old regular who also happen to be one of the most famous huntsmen from the 20th century - Henry Rudi (1899-1970).

For the moment, Ølhallen only has the regular Mack lager beers and a few types of bottled beer - including a few from Nøgne Ø, so it's not a place to get your beer muscles flexed. However, this is supposed to change. According to the bartender, they will soon start to carry draft beer from the 1000 liter micro brewery next door - Ludwig Mack Brygghus.

All in all I found Ølhallen to be a fairly nice and quiet place, where you can always find a spare table to sit down and read a newspaper while enjoying a draft beer. The main problem is the opening hours and the fact that they don't serve any food, which means you've got to squeeze in a visit between lunch and the 6 o'clock closing time - not much time to enjoy the atmosphere and (hopefully soon) more exciting micro brews.

If you exit Ølhallen and go past the micro brewery you'll find the best beer shop in Tromsø, named Kjeller 5, which is also located in an old Mack Bryggeri building.

Blå Rock Cafe
Strandgata 14
Opening hours: 11:30-01:30 (Mon-Thu), 11:30-03 (Fri & Sat) and 13-00:30 (Sun)

The appropriately named Blå Rock Café in Tromsø.

Founded in 1991 and located in a pale blue painted, wooden building in Strandgata, Blå Rock Café ("blå" means "blue" in Norwegian) has the best selection of draft beer of the pubs I visited in Tromsø. As the name implies, this place is all about rock, attracting a fairly young and often rock, punk or metal oriented audience, from time to time they even host concerts there. So, the place may feel a bit noisy for a quiet conversation, but the atmosphere is very laid back and the bartender knowledgeable about beer - so it's certainly worth a visit if you're looking for good beer.

Unlike Ølhallen, Blå Rock Café is open all night, closing well after midnight all days. On the night of my visit, they served Marston's Oyster Stout, Erdinger Hefe Weizen and a really fresh Samuel Adams Boston Lager on draft, in addition to the regular draft beers from Mack. They also had a micro brew on draft, from the test plant at Mack brewery: Mack Vinterland - a fruity and well made 6.5% IPA. On bottle, Blå Rock Café had some thirty types, including Flying Dog Gonzo and a number of not so exciting British ales.

I really enjoyed the rock atmosphere of the place, listening to Iggy Pop or Velvet Underground, while drinking some good beer. Another plus compared to Ølhallen is that Blå Rock Café also serves hot food, so you can have your lunch or dinner there.

Skarven Kro
Strandtorget 1
Opens: 11:00 every day

Vertshuset Skarven near the harbor in Tromsø.

While neither Ølhallen nor Blå Rock Café will impress the casual visitor with their bottled beer menus, there is a place at Strandtorget that will: Vertshuset Skarven. This is a multi faceted business spread over two floors in two different buildings, a yellow wooden building and, closer to the quay, a white brick and plaster building from 1908. The yellow building houses Biffhuset and Skarven Bar while the white brick building houses the Arctandria seafood restaurant on the second floor and a nice pub on the first.

This pub, named Skarven Kro, has a simple lunch menu and only Mack beer on draft, but on bottle I counted more than 70 different types; from great breweries like De Molen and Emelisse in the Netherlands, Struise and Cantillon in Belgium and Mikkeller and Amager in Denmark. Of Norwegian craft beer they sported a great selection from HaandBryggeriet, Nøgne Ø and Ægir. Even two days were not enough for me to get through all the interesting bottled beers!

The downside was that the guys working in the bar didn't really have knowledge about or even interest in the beer they sold, so I could not ask for any recommendations with the fish casserole I had one day or with the bacalao the next. Skarven Kro is also the most touristy of the places I visited in Tromsø, even though many locals come here too, so both Ølhallen and Blå Rock Café felt more authentic. Still, with such a nice bottled beer menu I can't avoid but recommend a visit to this pub, if you know your beer.

The bartender at Blå Rock Café, when asked about other good beer pubs in Tromsø, suggested Circa in Storgata. But I never got the chance to visit that place. Still, my first visit to Tromsø really whetted my appetite for more - both sightseeing, food and micro brews. I will surely be back, when the Ludwig Mack Brygghus is up and running. And when the weather is a bit warmer than in February :)

The micro brewed Mack Vinterland IPA
- full of tropical fruit flavors.

For more photos from my Tromsø visit see this Flickr collection.