Homebrewing in Norway

His­to­ri­cal­ly Nor­we­gi­an far­mers have always been brewing their own beer. The old medi­eval laws, roo­ted in pre-​Christian times, even made it a duty to brew beer for Christ­mas. Third time you fai­led to do so, you might actual­ly for­feit your farm. Beer was that important.

This tra­di­ti­on never ent­i­re­ly died out, though it has come near to doing so. Most pla­ces it has disap­peared, but from the distric­ts whe­re it could still be found, the tra­di­ti­ons whe­re gathe­red in and taken care of just a few years ago by one man, Lars Mari­us Gar­shol. He also collec­ted sam­ples of the yeast the tra­di­tio­nal bre­wers used. It’s cal­led „kveik” in Nor­we­gi­an dialec­ts. He got it ana­ly­zed, and it pro­ved to be qui­te uni­que. The­re are several strains, all dif­fe­rent, and now they have beco­me com­mer­ci­al­ly avail­ab­le from several US yeast labo­ra­to­ries. Brewing Nor­we­gi­an farm­house ale is now gathe­ring momen­tum as an inter­na­tio­nal trend, and among the core of the most dedi­ca­ted Nor­we­gi­an home­bre­wers, taking up the old tra­di­ti­ons and brewing with kveik, is qui­te a big thing.

This is more recent, howe­ver, than modern Nor­we­gi­an home­brewing. Actual­ly it would­n’t have hap­pen­ed were it not for the fact that the modern inter­na­tio­nal home­brwing trend reached Nor­way around 2000, and spar­ked a new inte­rest in both beer and brewing. It was as a modern home­bre­wer Gar­hol got inte­rested in Nor­we­gi­an tra­di­tio­nal farm­house brewing.

We need to dive into histo­ry again.

Brewing was a com­mon house­hold prac­tice up until 1850. But at this time the con­sump­ti­on of home­ma­de hard liqour had reached cata­stro­phic pro­por­ti­ons, and as a means of coun­tering this evil, the aut­ho­ri­ties sti­mu­la­ted the foun­ding of com­mer­ci­al bre­we­ries. Soon the­re were some 300 of them, brewing the modern brew, lager, which soon for most peop­le beca­me the pre­fer­red alco­ho­lic beverage.

Of cour­se this was just one instan­ce of indus­tri­al pro­duc­ts repla­cing home­ma­de ones as the indus­tri­al revo­lu­ti­on trans­for­med Wes­tern socie­ties. And when the Beer Law of 1912 for­ba­de the brewing of beer at home unless it was made from malt pro­du­ced by the bre­wer, home­brewing as a com­mon prac­tice was doo­med. „Beer” in Nor­way meant, sin­ce then and up until the turn of the cen­tu­ry, to almost all Nor­we­gi­ans „pils”. The bre­we­ries also bre­wed dunk­les, bock and export, but pils domi­na­ted total­ly. Ale did not exist.

Mean­while, star­ting with the Cam­pai­gn for Real Ale in Eng­land in 1971 and the Ame­ri­can bre­we­ry Anchor brewing its Liber­ty Ale in 1976, a beer revo­lu­ti­on was slow­ly buil­ding in the out­si­de world, and when the Beer Law was chan­ged in 1999, making home­brewing legal again, Nor­we­gi­ans joi­ned it.
Howe­ver, it was­n’t like the down­trod­den mas­ses sur­ged to enjoy the free­dom final­ly gran­ted them, even though Nor­brygg, the Nor­we­gi­an Home­bre­wers’ Asso­cia­ti­on, was foun­ded the year befo­re, in 1998. The Nor­we­gi­an beer revo­lu­ti­on took some time to hap­pen.

A core of active pioneers gra­dual­ly built a new beer cul­tu­re, and some of them built craft bre­we­ries. The first, and the most important one, was Nøg­ne Ø, estab­lished in 2002. Later others fol­lo­wed suit, though very few the first years. It was­n’t until after 2010 that the beer revo­lu­ti­on real­ly took hold. Then both the num­ber of bre­we­ries and the num­ber of home­bre­wers rose shar­ply. „Exo­tic” beers like IPAs, Eng­lish ales and Bel­gi­an sai­sons star­ted to appe­ar in the shops, and gra­dual­ly it daw­ned upon the ordi­na­ry con­su­mer that all beers weren’t pils­ners. This made the big indus­tri­al bre­we­ries turn to brewing their ver­si­ons, too, which most­ly were — and are — rather unin­te­res­ting beers. And of cour­se pils is still king of the shel­ves.

Still it is not an exa­g­ge­ra­ti­on to say that the Nor­we­gi­an beer cul­tu­re has been total­ly chan­ged. And though it may seem that right now home­brewing is slight­ly less popu­lar than it was just a coup­le of years ago, it defi­ni­te­ly is here to stay. It would be hard to find someo­ne who doe­s­n’t know a home­bre­wer, and most peop­le pro­bab­ly know several.

One rea­son home­brewing has beco­me popu­lar, is that beer is rather expen­si­ve in Nor­way. You can’t buy a cheap pils­ner in a store for under 5 euros per liter, and most cost one or two euros more. Craft beer will cost twice as much. But you can brew a pils­ner for less than a euro per liter.

Even so, for most home­bre­wers the moti­va­ti­on comes from being able to brew some­thing that actual­ly tas­tes good, resem­bles what you can buy, and which you can proud­ly pre­sent as your own. Also it has beco­me very easy to get into brewing. Now you can buy fair­ly cheap auto­ma­ted brewing machi­nes, more or less simi­lar to the rather expen­si­ve Ger­man ori­gi­nal, Spei­del. And you dont have to worry about lear­ning about malts and hops and yeast and com­po­sing reci­pes; you can just pick up a packa­ge from the shel­ves in your home­brew shop com­ple­te with the mil­led grains, the hops and the yeast to brew your favou­rite beer. (Actual­ly you don’t even have to move out of the house to get it, of cour­se; you just order it on the inter­net.) The­se packa­ges now has a lar­ge mar­ket sha­re.

Nor­brygg has been instru­men­tal in the buil­ding and spread of the cul­tu­re of home­brewing in Nor­way — and of the new beer cul­tu­re. The­se are it’s cen­tral aims:

• to fur­ther the inte­rest in, and spread the prac­tice of , home­brewing
• to fur­ther the com­pe­tence of the mem­bers, and to con­tri­bu­te to the exchan­ge of know­leg­de and expe­ri­ence bet­ween bre­wers both wit­hin the coun­try, and out­si­de.
• to fur­ther a respon­si­ble atti­tu­de towards beer drin­king
• to arran­ge com­pe­ti­ti­ons, mee­tings, cour­ses and other soci­al activi­ties.

The orga­ni­za­ti­on has arran­ged cour­ses, trai­ned beer jud­ges and held com­pe­ti­ti­ons and beer fes­ti­vals. And it has con­sti­tu­ted a net­work which pro­bab­ly has been important for estab­li­shing many of our microbre­we­ries, of which the­re now are some­whe­re clo­se to 150. Norbrygg’s forum, hosted on Nor­brygg’ home­page, is a place whe­re lots of peop­le, all of whom are not necessa­ri­ly mem­bers, get infor­ma­ti­on and advice, and dis­cuss all sorts of topics per­tai­ning to brewing.

Nor­brygg cur­r­ent­ly has more than 4000 mem­bers. While it has been a cen­tra­li­zed natio­nal orga­ni­za­ti­on, it is now working hard to estab­lish func­tio­n­al regio­nal divi­si­ons in each of Nor­ways 18 coun­ties. That is not an easy task in a coun­try whe­re you often have to tra­vel long distan­ces to meet up with other bre­wers, so so far the work has been most suc­cess­ful in the lar­ger cities.

While Nor­brygg has been important, the­re are far more home­bre­wers out­si­de the orga­ni­za­ti­on than orga­ni­zed in it. Many pla­ces peop­le have joi­ned tog­e­ther to brew lar­ger bat­ches and sha­re the beer, and they sel­dom feel the need to be part of some­thing big­ger out­si­de the group. There’s also a lar­ge Face­book group — it has more than 20 000 mem­bers — for home­bre­wers.

Obvious­ly for most peop­le brewing is a hob­by they enga­ge in wit­hout feling the need for an orga­ni­za­ti­on. Even most of tho­se who are mem­bers of Nor­brygg are not active mem­bers, and the num­ber who take part in the com­pe­ti­ti­ons held by Nor­brygg, is rela­tively small.

To sum up, the home­brewing sce­ne in Nor­way is fair­ly lar­ge, and there’s a gro­wing awa­reness of the diver­si­ty that exists wit­hin the world of beer in the popu­la­ti­on at lar­ge. The gene­ral skill and know­ledge level of all tho­se home­bre­wers can pro­bab­ly be impro­ved a lot, though, and thus Nor­brygg has a very important func­tion to fill. Whe­ther it will suc­ceed hin­ges much on the work to build stron­ger local divi­si­ons in the coun­ties. There’s still a lot of work to be done the­re.

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