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Traditional Norwegian homebrew, finally

Posted in Beer on 2011-04-03 10:18

Ready to go

I was recently invited to give a presentation on Topic Maps at Vestlandsforsking in Sogndal, as part of their 25-year jubilee seminar series. I first tried to fly there in December, but because of fog the plane was never able to land. Ironically, the flight itself was absolutely beautiful. The little propeller plane flew over an endless expanse of snow-capped mountains in blazing sunshine. Just before arriving in Sogndal we could clearly see the Jotunheimen mountain range in the distance, sticking up over the smaller mountains.

The view from my aunt's house, Sogndal

But at Sogndal airport there was fog, so after touching down a couple of other places in the same province, the plane returned to Oslo with me still on board. We tried again in January, with worse weather and better luck, and so I finally got there. Since this is about beer, and not Topic Maps, I'll pass over the talk itself. If you're interested, there is a video and a link to the slides.

After the presentation there was a small beer tasting in the Gjest Baardsen house. Baardsen was a legendary thief and escape artist who wrote a best-selling memoir (published 1835), and he grew up in a little wooden house in the centre of Sogndal. It burned a few years ago, but has been rebuilt, and is now a kind of memorial to the most famous citizen of Sogndal.

The tasting

My cousin Svein brought a plastic bag of beers for us to try. Most of these were familiar beers, but there was also a 1.5l PET Coke bottle. This made me very curious, as I've recently developed an interest in traditional homebrew, going so far as to travel to Vilnius specifically to try the Lithuanian kind.

According to Svein the beer was brewed by a neighbour in the traditional way. It was low on carbonation, and hazy deep amber in colour. My first impression was that the aroma and taste were both herbal and spicy, very mild and clean, and quite unlike commercial and craft beers I've tried. Then I noticed that it was kind of musty, and that there was very little aftertaste, and hardly any bitterness. I guessed it was brewed without hops, and Svein confirmed this. It must have been brewed with some kind of spice; quite possibly Myrica gale.

The closest commercial beer I can think of must be Menno & Jens, a collaboration beer between Haandbryggeriet and de Molen, which was also brewed without hops, but with traditional herbs instead.

So, after about a decade of trying all the beers I lay my hands on, I finally got to try the traditional beer of my own country. Many thanks to Svein for making it possible.

Discussing this with my relatives in Sogndal later, I learned that there are many brewing guilds in the area, and that several of them have built their own malthouses and brewhouses. Nobody can give me anything like clear answers to what the beers are like, what sort of yeast they use, and whether there is more than one definable style. What does seem clear is that the beers differ substantially from one another.

So clearly I need to go back, and to prepare a little beforehand so that I can visit one of the brewhouses and talk to the brewers. This will require some persuasion of family members, but should be doable. With luck I'll be able to write up something more detailed, like Michael Jackson did.

Going home

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Svein - 2011-04-17 17:53:08

I'm glad you finally got to taste traditional Norwegian homebrew. I didn't quite understand your neighbour link, though.

Lars Marius - 2011-04-17 18:07:25

I thought you said it was brewed by "Audun Tylden". I didn't recognize the name; I only saw it in the newspaper a few days later. But maybe I got it wrong?

Svein - 2011-04-20 16:53:07

Clearly a misunderstanding,yes. Audun Tylden had nothing to do with the homebrew.

Lars Marius - 2011-04-26 13:41:53

Sorry about that. I must have misheard you. Removed the link now.

James Sharp - 2015-03-15 08:51:55

Hi Can you tell me do you have Homebrew/wine making clubs in Norway please. If so would it be posible to list them. I run a Group on Facebook for homebrewers and have acouple members based in Norway who say they dont know of any. Best Wishes and Kind Regards James

Lars Marius - 2015-03-15 08:56:45

@James: Yeah, we have a national association of home brewers: That's a quite large association, and I'm sure through their forum you can find more local groups as well.

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