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So when our CEO Damian Perry met a young local Norwegian man named Gards Kindle in the Mack Brewery in Tromsø, a friendship was born, based on one of the best things this world has going for it: beer.
Gards works at Mack, is a student, beer maker and craft beer enthusiast - in fact, that very night he took Damian along to the university building where students keep the beer that they self-brew. In a town such as Tromsø, where a good chunk of the year is cloaked in darkness, people need to find something to occupy their indoor time in the long winter months. And that something for Gards and many of his fellow residents is perfecting the home-brewed beer.
Beer is not only brewed for consumption in Norway but for art... seaweed beer anyone? While this may not sound that appetising (and apparently it isn't great tasting yet) the challenge of creating a beer from seaweed is currently being conquered by some of Gards' friends. In his own words, the result so far is "not exactly delicious, but definitely something extremely different".
Moving away from art projects and to more delectable flavours, we asked Gards a few questions about beer in Norway. After all, this is essential knowledge for any traveller!
BT: What are your favourite beers? Are they Norwegian?
GK: I have a few actually! Out of macro beers I thoroughly enjoy the 1877 by Mack. It is a Czech Pilsner brewed from the first recipe the brewery had. Sweet, bitter and fruity makes it kind of refreshing.
Out of microbrews I have a lot of favourites. There is a Norwegian microbrewery called Lervig Aktiebryggeri. It's a brewery from Stavanger with the head brewer, Mike Murphy, hailing from the US. They make so many delicious and experimental beers. Strong, sour or hoppy, you name it, they brew it. They make this super cool Pale Ale called Lucky Jack. It's the kind of beer a lot of homebrewers copy just because it's so nice.
While I might be kind of partial since I work at Mack, I really, really do like a beer the Mack Micro Brewery makes called Haakon Sr. It's a version of the Haakon beer, which is a reddish lager pretty popular up north, but brewed stronger and to be more flavourful. Just a cool beer which isn't the IPA that every single micro seems so taken with.
BT: I've read that the trend of microbreweries has really taken off in Norway in the past five to ten years, do you think this is something the younger generation are more interested in?
GK: Well, I wouldn't say it has everything to do with age. The brewing scene has people of all ages in it. I think it has more to do with individualism and knowing what you consume.
You want to know more about what you eat, what you drink and what you wear. You usually want to see some aspect of your self in that. Beer is probably the easiest product to do that with. It's easy to see the brewery, to see what they stand for and identify with them.
Today, you are what you consume, and for young people that is a Double IPA handmade by a hairy bohemian.
BT: What makes Norwegian beer special to you?
GK: Well, most Norwegian beer today is the ordinary lager stuff. Some flavourful, some tasting like adulterated water.
However, the thing that drives me with Norwegian traditional beer is how unique it is. We are talking about something that almost no one has had the chance to taste, let alone brew. It's the cultural heritage of a nation, but still obscure and unknown.
BT: What's the biggest difference in the end product in your opinion when you are comparing traditional farmhouse style brewed beer to commercially brewed beer?
GK: Traditionally brewed beer is a beer different from any other. It's smoky, full bodied and full of orange. It's tepid with no carbonation, yet still really nice to someone with a modern palate.
The biggest difference is however how local it is. A Norwegian farmhouse ale is fresh, the authentic kind is brewed just a few days before consumption. Alive, it's a fresh handmade product, not just a sterile thing off a shelf.
Also, every Norwegian farmhouse beer has a strong lineage. My yeast, or kveik as it is called traditionally, comes from Voss. It has been handed from farmer to farmer through the generations. Such is the case with all our ales.
Whether from Muri, Stryn or Voss, all the beers are different and have a singular tradition as their lineage. Back in the day, when one person in the village brewed a sour beer or a beer which they didn't like, they had to get kveik from a neighbour. So yeast is not just something to make alcohol with, but it became a community project. People have always shared their kveik and so together they would create a type beer that was unique to their home!
BT: How much would a pint of craft beer cost?
GK: Welcome to Norway, the perfect question to make sure nobody comes here! An ordinary half litre beer is 80-ish Norwegian kroner [AU$12-13] in a pub or 30NOK in a store. Which is probably why there are so many brewing at home here! And that is only your average shoddy lager. A proper craft brew can cost you much more, depending on the alcohol strength.