Tromso’s Mack Bryggeri was the world’s northernmost brewery for decades until 2015 when Svalbard Bryggeri opened—after having first changed a law with the Norwegian Parliament to allow brewing to take place on this Arctic island.
Svalbard Bryggeri, the new northernmost brewery, is definitely one to add to the Beer Bucket List, but it’s one for the more dedicated beer drinker: it’ll take a couple of flights to get there, you’ll be on a remote Arctic island, and there are lots of polar bears on Svalbard—more bears, in fact, than people. (A warning for cat lovers: cats are not allowed on the island because they threaten the Arctic bird population.) Luckily, if you do make it, they offer brewery tours and the beer is really good, with a Pilsner, Pale Ale, IPA, Weissbier, and Stout as the core range—the Stout in particular is rich and smooth, and warming against the cold extremities. The beers also use glacier water in the brewing process, which is (literally) very cool.
The World’s Northernmost Brewery Just Watch Out For Polar Bears Photo Gallery
WHAT: Svalbard Bryggeri
WHERE: Sjoomradet, 9170 Longyearbyen, Norway
Nordic Farmhouse Ale
FOR THE SERIOUS BEER LOVER
“Farmhouse” means little when printed on the label of an urban craft brewery, but if you’re hundreds of miles from a town, surrounded by fields, in a shed throwing juniper branches into a pot over an open fire, then “farmhouse” has a bit more significance.
Not that I’ve stood in that farmhouse. I wish I had. That’s why this is one of the entries I still need to complete: to experience genuine Nordic farmhouse brewing. Sure, some commercial examples exist, with Finnish Sahti being made by a handful of brewers, but that’s not what I want. The trouble is, to try true farmhouse ale is really hard. First, you need to go into remote parts of Norway or Finland. Then you need to find someone who will let you go to their house while they brew, and then you need to hope they also offer you something to drink while you’re there—you see, unlike Lithuanian farmhouse ales (see post 164), which you can find in bars around town, the Nordic tradition still reserves drinking for at home, which is fascinating for me, as is the way these farmhouse ales are brewed. Finnish Sahti begins with juniper and water being heated together over a wood fire, typically in a sauna. That hot, juniper-infused water is gradually poured over the malts for the mash; it’s later strained through more juniper and then a baker’s yeast is added. When it’s ready, you typically get a lightly refreshing tartness, some sweetness, plus the herbal fragrance of juniper.
Norweigan Maltol is an umbrella term for a variety of beer types, often based on regions. Crucial to many of these beers is the “kveik,” or ancestral yeast strain, which is used. Some of these beers are dark, smoky, and brewed with commercial beer yeast; others are pale, fruity, cloudy, and raw (not boiled), and made with juniper and kveik; then there are red-brown beers, which are fruity, sweetish, have a juniper flavor, use kveik, and are boiled. They vary widely in terms of their processing, appearance, and taste, while there’s also a lot more variety than just these three.
Both Sahti and Maltol rely on ancient methods; they are brewed using passed-down knowledge and techniques, and made with the senses rather than science. To learn more, check out Lars Marius Garshol’s excellent website: www.garshol.priv.no (where much of the above information comes from). For the most dedicated drinkers, there are a couple of beer festivals, including one which takes place on December 25th-26th, but the best option is the Kornol Festival in Hornindal, in October—just don’t go expecting anything like modern craft beer festivals…