A visit to Voss Bryggeri

<< 2014-07-24 15:47 >>

The brewery

Voss Bryggeri is not actually in Voss itself, but in a small village called Kyte a few kilometers outside. It's in a small yellow wooden building that used to be a shop, but now serves as part brewery, part pub, and home to two of the owners. The location is just gorgeous, up in the hillside above a valley dominated by a snow-capped peak of 1400 meters. (This is part 4 of the Norwegian farmhouse ale trip.)

The brewery is really new, in fact only about a year old. It was started by three Norwegians who met each other through the local extreme sports week in Voss. One of them, Jon Gjerde, has been home brewing traditional beer for two decades. Even so, they decided to hire professional brewers for the brewery, and right now their head brewer is Andrew Rathband. He invited us to visit the brewery when he heard about the trip, and put us in touch with local home brewers. Which was very kind of him as they were all just back from a beer festival in eastern Norway, and very busy expanding the brewery.

Their lineup is a mix of normal craft beer (IPAs, brown ales, and suchlike), and beers closer to the traditional beers, such as smoke beers, beers with juniper infusion, and so on. Their flagship is probably Oregonian, which is a lovely 6% IPA, with an excellent balance of sweet and dry, and full fruity flavours of mango, peach, orange as well as resiny, spicy notes. I've had it several times, and always enjoyed it.

At the brewery we also tried their Natabjødn, which in local dialect literally means "nut bear", but is actually slang for squirrel. A 5.5% brown ale that's nutty, earthy and very clean, just like the Oregonian. You can see that the choice of using professional, educated brewers has made a difference to the quality of the beer. Very few of the Norwegian micros opening in the last years are at this level of quality, which appears to have paid off, because Voss cannot produce enough to meet demand.

Andrew on the terrace

It turns out that Andrew has actually been working for breweries in his native Scotland, in England, in New Zealand, and in Canada before coming to Voss. Working in Voss is a little different, though, as the rather remote location makes for some unusual problems. For some reason suppliers often have difficulty sending equipment to Voss. One shipment wound up 1500 km away in Reykjavik. Another was delayed on the mountain plateau between Oslo and Voss, first by storms, then by thousands of wild reindeer crossing the road.

Talking to Andrew it becomes clear that they are in fact literally quite close to the tradition, because in the village where the brewery is there are several traditional home brewers. Several of them within a stone's throw of the brewery. Andrew confirms that they brew in much the same way as Sigmund and Ivar, and that most of them use kveik. Some, however, have admitted that their kveik strains have gone bad, and that they have then started reusing ordinary lab yeast instead. Most get new kveik from other home brewers, however.

In fact, Voss Bryggeri has experimented with different types of yeast, including kveik. They home brewed a batch of beer, then split it in five, and fermented each portion with a separate yeast strain. Since Jon Gjerde, one of the owners, generally gets his kveik for home brewing from Sigmund, they used that yeast, too. There seems to have been general agreement among the people who tried the resulting beers that the best yeast was Sigmund's kveik, which is interesting.

We ask Andrew the obvious question: why haven't they done a commercial beer with kveik? His answer basically boils down to two things. One is that they have been crazily busy, scrambling to build up the business, expand the brewery, and produce enough to keep up with customers. The other part is that he doesn't dare have non-kveik beers in the brewkit when he's brewing with kveik, since neither he nor anyone else knows much about how the kveik behaves. That means two weeks off producing their normal beers, which they can't really afford. They're still very interested in doing it, and probably will at some stage.

Voss homebrew

At some point in the conversation Andrew mentions that they have a bottle of traditional home brew left over from a tasting. We beg nicely, and Andrew kindly opens it for us. He was not 100% certain whose beer it was, but thought it was Sigmund's. It came in the traditional container. That is, a 1-litre plastic bottle. It's hazy deep brown, sweet and slightly acidic, with juniper, resin and lingonberry as the main flavours, ending in ashy fruity notes and powerful juniper finish. Clearly a traditional beer, but no kveik character. Why? That's a bit of a mystery, especially if it's Sigmund's beer. We'll need to dig deeper into this.

By now we're really enjoying ourselves on the terrace, what with the beer, the conversation, the sunshine, and the absolutely stunning view. Unfortunately, we interrupted Andrew and the owners in the process of more or less rebuilding the brewery, and they are understandably keen to get back to this. So eventually we force ourselves to get up. The pub in the brewery looks like a really nice place, and it's clear that it's very popular with the locals. In fact, we're told, it's the only pub for miles, so when they announce an open pub evening on Facebook, the pub tends to be totally packed with locals. I can see why, as it's much nicer than any of the places we saw in Voss itself.

Eventually, we all pile into the car, and head off for the cabin. Now for some much-needed sleep, and the next day the drive to Flåm, where the saga continues.

Part of the brewkit

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Dave Pawson - 2014-07-24 10:15:04

I'm jelous! Look at that view!!! 6% is a bit much for me.

Johnnie Lustoza - 2014-07-31 19:44:18

This was a good read. That brewery seems to be a great place to visit. I'll try to manage to go there on my next visit to Europe. Of course it's not that easy but who knows? Cheers from Brazil.

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