Not long ago, my advice to anyone wanting to try Norwegian microbrew in Oslo would have been to buy bottles from the Wine Monopoly stores and drink them in the hotel room. Not very appealing, of course, but the alternative would have been to hit the two or three pubs that carried a couple of such beers each, where you would have had to argue with the waiters in the hopes of perhaps persuading them to sell you one. (To be fair, Bar & Cigar could be relied on to not just have some, but to also sell them.)
And since the Wine Monopoly only carries a very limited selection of Norwegian microbrew beer enthusiasts living in Oslo had a hard time getting hold of new Norwegian microbrews, and especially the most interesting one-offs and experiments. A group of us in Oslo would gang together and use all kinds of tricks in order to perhaps get hold of a single bottle to share between us.
Today, that's all history, since the Oslo beer scene changed completely in the course of 2008. The main change is due to Olympen, a historic pub in the district of Grønland, immediately east of the city center. The pub first opened in 1892, and seems to have had a rather checkered history as a kind of cabaret scene and so on. In the early 30s it was redecorated, and became too fancy and modern for the tastes of the previous clientele. From that point on, it seems to have gone slowly downhill.
First draft pint of Nøgne Ø being pulled
The last years it's been famous as one of the brownest of the brown pubs in Oslo, the interior covered with a layer of nicotine seven decades deep. The entertainment was mostly Bulgarian dance bands playing a mix of rock covers and the musical monstrosity known as Swedish dansband. The clientele would consist of rather tired and drunk locals, but also fancily dressed (though equally drunk) outsiders. Overall, it was an interesting place to spend the last couple of hours before closing time, provided you made sure to have enough to drink.
Then, all of a sudden, it closed for renovation, and stayed closed for almost a year, until it reopened in late 2007. Now, it seems, history has repeated itself. Olympen has suddenly become fancy again, and the former clientele have relocated to the brown pub next door. Personally, I'm very happy with the redecoration. Some of the spirit of the place has been kept, and especially the huge historic paintings covering the walls, which date from the 30s redecoration, but show the district as it was in the late 19th century.
Olympen had a decent beer menu right from the reopening, but in late 2008 it suddenly expanded the beer menu dramatically, to include about 10 Nøgne Ø beers, 10 Haandbryggeriet beers, plus additional beers from the Små Vesen and Ægir breweries, and a good selection of imports. Then, a couple of weeks ago, they installed a tap tower carrying two Nøgne Ø beers. At the same time, interesting new Nøgne Ø beers started showing up in addition to what's on the menu.
And, amazingly, Olympen is not alone in this. Several fine restaurants in Oslo now carry Norwegian microbrew, and a number of pubs have started stocking some. Draft towers for Nøgne Ø have been installed at Beer Palace and Bar & Cigar as well, and Bar & Cigar runs cask beer from Nøgne Ø or Haandbryggeriet about once a month. So, suddenly, you can have a pub-to-pub walk in Oslo and drink only Norwegian microbrew, some of it draft, and you can even find the new experimental beers.
So, finally, visiting beer enthusiasts have better alternatives than drinking microbrew in their hotel room in the evening, and it's beginning to look like Norway could just possibly be on the verge of its own microbrew revolution. (Strictly speaking, you could say that it's happened already. The current state of affairs is certainly a revolution compared to how things were as recently as 2002.) Our alcohol legislation will probably limit how far it can go, but still, for the first time it's beginning to look like Norway might, in some limited way, see something like the microbrewing revolution that's swept Denmark.
Interior of Olympen
When I first got seriously interested in beer, roughly ten years ago, Norway was a miserable place for a beer enthusiast
Read | 2012-01-26 19:44
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
Read | 2008-05-21 15:15
JoddEHaa - 2009-01-17 10:58:49
New Olympen looks so clean I could actually imagine calling it "Olympen" and not "Lompa" (a kind of Norwegian potato pancake). But I have a suspicion I am the only one. :-)