An evening at Beer Palace

<< 2008-05-21 15:15 >>

Beer Palace interior

Beer Palace is one of the top three beer pubs in Oslo, but I've never written about it before, because quite frankly it's not that interesting. However, last night a number of things happened which are worth relating, because I think they give a good picture of the Norwegian pub scene, at least as seen by people who are into beer.

The pub is on Aker Brygge, a former ship yard complex which has been redeveloped into a fancy housing, office, shopping, and entertainment area. It's on one side of the bay in front of Oslo city hall, looking across the bay to Akershus Castle. The pub itself is located in an old brick building which used to be the salary office of the shipyard, and looks reasonably good with brick walls, dark wood, some leather sofas, and lots of beer signs and bottles. Because of the location the pub tends to be full of finance types working nearby, often large groups which go out for a beer together after work, but you really find all kinds of people in there.

All in all, the place is more than decent by Oslo standards. And the beer selection is probably the best in Oslo, although that isn't saying much. They have quite a few boring pale lagers (pils-like things), some Belgians, some British beers, and a smattering of others. Usually also 1-2 Nøgne Ø beers. The waiters tend to range from absolutely clueless about beer to at least having tried most of what's on the menu, and they're usually reasonably helpful, friendly, and efficient.

On the night in question I check the blackboard which lists the beer news, if any, and find they've added Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout (excellent beer), Hansa Ultra (utterly pointless macro swill), and Samuel Adams (a brewery, no mention of which beer) to the menu. This seems like mildly good news, and I get ready to order the Imperial Stout when I discover a sheet of laminated paper on the bar in front of me. This states that they have 8 new American microbrewed beers on offer, mainly from the Rogue and Left Hand breweries.

Beer Palace interior

I'm overjoyed and surprised to find this, and to explain why I guess I should add some background. American microbrewed beer tends to be of exceptionally high quality, and also to be quite a bit bolder than the beer that is brewed elsewhere, so for beer tasters this is very interesting stuff. It also tends to be near-impossible to get hold of in Norway. Over the last years, the total number of American microbrews I can recall being available in all of Norway is a magnificent total of 4. Yes, four. And only two of those at any given time, of course. And here we find 8 (eight!) available all at the same time, only one of which has ever been on sale in Norway before. So you can imagine my joy.

The waitress tells me this is a one-time party of beers that they've added to the menu just this once, and when they sell out they don't expect to order them again. I order a Rogue Dead Guy, and sit down to enjoy it. Then I discover that it's full of yeast floaties and tastes a bit old. The same goes for the next three beers. Fantastic. Apparently they've bought a batch of out-of-date beers where some of the bottles are OK, and some are a bit off. And given what I wrote above, I really am torn on whether to complain or not, since this is the first time that any Norwegian pub really does offer some American microbrew. Even if it does taste a bit iffy.

While I'm still on the first bottle, a big group of people who seem to work together arrive at the table next to me. First comes a guy with a standard pale lager. Then a woman with a darkish beer, which the guy remarks on in surprise. Apparently he's not used to seeing people drink anything but pale lager. Then comes a guy with a Kronenbourg Blanc, and although I can't quite hear the conversation I do hear the word "weissbier" shouted 7-8 times. So apparently this creates an even greater stir. (Never mind that's it's not a German weissbier at all, but a Belgian wit, which is a different, but related type.) Then another guy arrives, this time with a Paulaner Weissbier, prompting the pale lager guy to shout "You've been cheated!" As in, "they didn't give you a real beer". Seems we still have some learning to do up here on the edge of the Arctic. (And yes, it really is rare to see that many people in the same group order something other than pale lager, even in Beer Palace.)

Later, I go to order my third beer and ask for the "Black Jack Porter" from the menu. The barman happily hands me "Jackman's American Pale Ale", not noticing that he's missed on both the beer name and the beer type. What's weird is that the beer he's given me is not on the menu at all. I point this out, and he offers to give me the right beer. I say I'm happy to stick with the one I've got. I want to taste them all, and if it's not on the menu it's going to be very hard to order it, so I'm thinking I'd better hang on to it now that I've gotten it. But it takes about 5 minutes of back and forth before he's willing to accept that the beer he's given me is not in the menu. Eventually he agrees, and I leave while he's still scratching his head in puzzlement.

Beer Palace bar

Even later, after I've ordered and gotten the porter, they start playing some really weird song that starts with only drums. After a while I think I recognize it. It must be "Money for Nothing", in which case the guitar riff should start ... now! Instead, what follows is silence. The only thing I can hear is some faint hissing and occasional soft bass hums. Then the drums start up again, accompanied by bass. I recognize this as the backing for "Money for Nothing", though I'd never realized that the bass line was a bit lame before. Hints of vocals and guitar can be made out, but they're not really heard.

What's going on is that the sound quality of their audio system is so incredibly poor that even though they play loud enough to make conversation difficult the only thing you can hear are the lowest-frequency sounds. I've stopped complaining about pubs playing shit music (they usually do in Norway) or so loud that it's hard to talk in the pub (they usually do that too), but what is the point of music when the sound quality is so low that you can't actually hear anything but the backing? (No, this wasn't caused by the noise of people in the room. I've had a very similar experience in the middle of the day when I was alone in the pub.)

Thus ends a visit to one of the top three beer pubs in Oslo. Maybe I should just move to some civilized part of the world.

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Alex - 2008-05-21 11:03:28

The funny part of this is that when I lived in Canberra, Australia I had a far better selection of exciting and wonderful beers from my local grocer on the corner (a Hungarian beer-drinking enthusiast) than in the pubs in Norway who claim beer superiority.

Have you done a round-up of Lorry's yet? They used to be good, but the last time I got there (a few years ago now) they were pushing weissbier in the guise of being a pilsner ...

Lars Marius - 2008-05-21 11:10:15

Yeah, the state of the beer selection in Norway is pretty depressing. The worst is not that each pub has so few beers (which they do), but that the total set of beers available in Norway is so low, since most pubs stock the same beers.

I haven't written anything specifically on Lorry's since I try to avoid straight pub reviews. I feel they aren't really interesting enough for people to read, unless there is some unusual angle I can take on it. That might still happen with Lorry's.

Arnoud Haak - 2008-05-26 10:41:48

Well, it looks like a nice bar from the pictures. To bad for the old beers and the music. That spoils it al. Loud music in bars should be banned by law. It is really annoying.

Lars Marius - 2008-05-26 11:36:53

It is a pretty nice bar in many ways. In Oslo it's one of the best, but it could still be improved...

Juergen - 2008-05-27 05:23:34

This pup looks nice but if you want a great choice of beer than come to Germany. That’s the land with the best beer.

the bartender - 2008-06-09 16:38:44

I had too laugh because even dough you're saying some shitty things about us you still think it's one of top three ... Sorry for your bad experience and i hope it wasn't me serving you :}

which pubs are the other two? I'm guessing microbryggeriet (love the amber there!)

Lars Marius - 2008-06-09 17:02:04

Bartender: I don't think the pub is really shitty, or I wouldn't go there. I think you, the people who work there, generally don't seem to care or know much about beer, but then to be fair that also seems to apply to nearly everyone who drinks there.

But, yes, it is sad that BP is the third best beer pub in Oslo. The two other ones are Lorry and Bar & Cigar. Runners up would be Tjeldsundfergen and Mikrobryggeriet. The beers at the latter have improved lately, but I still think they could be a lot better and more interesting.

Anyway, glad the piece at least made you laugh. :)

bartender - 2008-06-10 05:00:37

I think that half of us actually do care, and are interested in what we serve (i am) (The rest may not care or know so much, but they still could tell you that kronenbourg is french, not belgian ...). Anyway, i agree with you that it's not the place to go if you really care about beer. Then maybe take a train to tønsberg and go to Bryggeriet (a new place with lots of beer and many choises on tap), or Naboen in Trondheim. I heard about some place in Namskogan too, but i haven't been there, its too far.

Bar & Cigar is small, but good. I like it there. But not at lorrys, they very rarely have what i ask for.

shashank - 2008-06-14 11:45:32

well said...i had the same experience...i asked for Kingfisher...which the bartender had not heard of...and when i told her its THE Indian beer...she told me the only indian beer she has is which i told her that...Coba is British and not India...this seemed to piss her off as i had to wait 10 mins to get my order...

Bo - 2008-06-18 15:50:50

I've heard a rumor that says that the owner of Charlie's Pub in Copenhagen is considering opening a place in Oslo !

In my mind this would be a fantastic thing... I've never been to Charlie's but i've been at The Wharf in Aalborg which have the same owner. And they have a good range of Cask at all times.... And they don't serve you beer from the big breweries !!

Lars Marius - 2008-06-20 14:29:05

Bo, that would be fantastic! We really need a good beer pub in Oslo.

Bartender, the best place for beer in Norway is Cardinal:

I've heard good things about Naboen, too, but haven't been there. The place in Tønsberg looks all right, but if the menu on the web is anything to judge by, Beer Palace is better.

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