North to Norway
Beerded Bastard interviews Sigmund
January 16, 2003
Written by beerdedbastard
This week, the Beerdedbastard heads to Norway to interview one of Norway’s finest, Sigmund.
BB: Hello Sigmund. (Is that your real name?) You live in Norway is that correct?
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S: Indeed. I live in Stavanger in the Southwest. Norway’s 4th biggest city. And yes, Sigmund is my real name.
BB: Have you lived there all your life?
S:I lived 6 years in Oslo and 2 years in Kristiansand, otherwise I have lived in Stavanger all my life. Travels have not brought me out of the country for more than 1 month at a time.
BB: From looking at a map, it would appear that Norway is very dependant on the sea. Please take a moment and describe life there in Norway. (climate, scenery, wildlife, language, etc…)
S: Norway is well worth a visit to enjoy the scenery, especially in the West (fjord country) and North. Angler tourism is popular. In the East / inland and North winters are cold, milder in the West. Summer temperatures and rainfall are unpredictable all over the country, they vary a lot. Due to the Gulf Stream the average temperature is higher than you would expect at our latitudes. Northern Norway has midnight sun in summer and no sun in winter.
Norwegian is a Germanic language, closely related to Danish and Swedish. Scandinavians understand each other, particularly after a few beers. English is compulsory as a second language.
BB: What are some of your interests other than beer?
S: History, internet, travels (real and virtual), salt water angling (I have a small open boat), football (soccer) supporter - an interest shared with my 3 sons.
BB: When did you first become interested in beer? Do you remember what your first one was?
S:I liked beer from the first moment I tasted it (a spoonful or so of French lager when I was 12 years old, back in 1968). My first whole bottle probably was Tou Juleøl or Tou Bayer (a Munich dunkel, now discontinued). When other youngsters drank beer to get a buzz, even if they hated the taste, I can honestly say I drank it because I liked the flavour. I even preferred the dunkels to the pilseners, which was quite unusual. When I first visited Britain at the legal age of 18 and got acquainted with ales and stouts, a new world opened to me. However, I never thought of RATING my beers till I found RateBeer last winter.
BB: Are there many breweries in Norway? If yes, please list and tell me about the beers they make.
S: The number of breweries in Norway has decreased steadily during the last 40 years. Before that, every town with some self respect had a brewery. Then the big ones started buying and closing the smaller ones. (You’ve heard that story before, I’m sure.) Now beer is brewed mostly by brewery groups. The biggest one is the Ringnes group - brewing in Trondheim (E.C. Dahls), Stavanger (Tou), Arendal (decent pilsener) and Oslo. They also use the labels of some of the breweries they have closed - like Frydenlund and Nordlandsbryggeriet. Ringnes Julebokk (Christmas bock) is the best brew from the Ringnes group.
The second biggest one is the Hansa-Borg group - brewing in Bergen (Hansa), Kristiansand (CB / Christianssands Bryggeri) and Sarpsborg (Borg). They also use the label of the closed Fredrikstad Bryggeri. Then there’s Mack Bryggeri in Tromsø - the world’s northernmost commercial brewery. (There’s a tiny brewpub in Honningsvåg near North Cape - Nordkapp Mikrobryggeri - but that doesn’t really count.) Mack now also owns 50% of the new Trio Bryggeri in Skien. Grans Bryggeri in Sandefjord works in close cooperation with Danish brewer Harboe, and sell their entire output through one discount grocery store chain, Rema 1000. And last but not least there is Norway’s oldest working brewery, Aass Bryggeri in Drammen, which brews an excellent dark bock and a very good "klasse F" Juleøl (Christmas beer). Their "Classic" lager is also a good thirstquencher. They also brew a few beers under the label of closed Lundetangen Bryggeri (Skien).
Then some of the big grocery store chains have their own labels without the brewer stated, but these beers are mainly uninteresting pilseners, some of them probably brewed by CB and Aass.
There are few real micro breweries in Norway (even if the output of the above breweries would be "micro" compared to continental and American giants). Oslo Mikrobryggeri is a brewpub that doesn’t sell beers out of the house, Trondheim Mikrobryggeri and Nordkapp Mikrobryggeri likewise. Akershus Mikrobryggeri tried their luck with widely distributed ales and stouts, but threw in the towel some years ago. Hardanger Bryggeri seems to be out of business too. Nordmørsbrygg in Kristiansund still has some local distribution.
BB: Are there many beers imported from other countries in Norway? If yes, please elaborate on which countries are represented there.
S: The selection of imported beers is rather miserable. These countries are represented: England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Czech Republic, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Jamaica, Mexico, USA, Canada, China, Japan, Thailand, Singapore. Many of them are represented with only one or a few mediocre lagers.
BB: Please tell me how beer is bought and sold in Norway and give some examples of how much some cost.
S: Beer stronger than 4.75% ABV has the last 10 years or so been sold only through government owned "Vinmonopolet" stores. There’s no upper ABV limit anymore (earlier it was 7%). Beers between 2.5% and 4.75% are sold in licensed (=nearly all) grocery stores. There are no restrictions for beer below 2.5%.Beer is subjected to heavy taxation in Norway.
Store prices: A standard Norwegian 0.33 liter pilsener or dunkel (4.5% - 4.7% ABV) will cost a little more than 2 USD, discount brands a little less. The breweries charge relatively more for beer in cans than bottle, as cans sell better to young people. There are also 1.25 liter plastic bottles of some pilseners, which are the relatively cheapest ones.
Imported American swill like Budweiser is 4 USD for a 0.5 liter can!. Guinness / Beamish just a little more. Aass Bock is 3.5 USD for 0.33 liter. Chimay Blue is 5.9 USD for 0.33 liter.
Prices (and size of standard glass) at bars / pubs vary a lot, from 5 USD to 10.7 USD for the equivalent of 0.5 liter draught pilsener.
BB: What is the legal drinking age there?
S: For beer and wine it is 18. For spirits / hard liqour (stronger than 21.5% ABV) it is 20.
BB: That’s an interesting age division. What is the beer “climate” in Norway today? Is it popular with consumers or are there shifts towards other products, such as “alco-pops”?
S: The beer "climate" is quite stable. Spirits are going down while the sale of wine has been steadily increasing for years. Alco-pops are expected to rise when they are permitted to be sold in grocery stores next year.
BB: What styles of beer do you like? And please list some of your favorite brews.
S: English bitters, Scottish ales, Irish stouts, Baltic porters, dark bocks, wheat beers..... I could go on. So far I have 2 straight 5.0s - "perfect" for their moderate strength: Oakham Jeffrey Hudson Bitter and Orkney Dark Island - cask conditioned of course. Of the stronger bottom fermented beers I could drink Carlsberg Imperial Stout Porter every day as long as I live...
BB: What do you look for in a beer and what makes one good for you?
S: Flavour, flavour and flavour! And aftertaste. And colour. A good aroma would be a bonus. Carbonation should not be too aggressive.
BB: Here is a hypothetical question for you. If there were an all out war between breweries, leaving one survivor taking over the entire market and making a single beer… who would you want to win and why?
S: Probably Carlsberg Imperial Stout Porter - as this is a beer I’ve drunk often enough to know I’d never grow tired of it.
BB: How did you find Ratebeer.com and what do you gain from coming here?
S: I probably found it through a Google search. It is a great way to keep in touch with other beer aficionados, even if the American domination of the site is not always relevant for the beers I have access to. I also learn a lot about beer and beer tasting.
BB: If you were to offer any advice to “newbies” or visitors here on RB, what would it be?
S: Just get hold of as many good beers as you can afford, and rate them!
BB: Good advice! Can you recommend any special places in particular one should see or go for good examples of local flavor?
S: I have not yet been to the brewpub Oslo Mikrobryggeri, but I hear it’s well worth a visit. Ølhallen in Tromsø is also legendary.
BB: I thumbed through your ratings and found that you have rated only a few U.S. beers and they are all macro brews. Are you aware of the craft beers made by smaller U.S. breweries?
S: I’m indeed aware of them, but I’ve been to the US only once (in 1981), and no American craft brews are available in Norway.
BB: I see. Are there any in particular that you have heard of, that you’d like to try?
S: The entire range of Stone, Three Floyds, Victory, Schlafly, Dogfish, New Glarus... stop me!
<halign=center> (sounds like Sigmund could use some help from US traders!)</halign>
BB: Can you share a Norwegian toast or any beer related sayings along with their translation?
S: You probably know the Scandinavian toast: "Skål!" meaning "bowl" and referring to the beer bowl everyone drank from at parties and gatherings, from the Viking age up to mid-19th century.
BB: Well Sigmund, I appreciate your taking this time to share your outlooks and experiences with the folks here on Ratebeer.com. I’m sure they will find it both informative and insightful. Thanks for sharing. Is there anything else you would like to add?
S: Keep up your never ending love of good beer, ladies and gentlemen!
BB: Thank-you and Cheers!
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