Beer in Norway
Beer in Norway has a long history, going back at least 1000 years. Until around 200 years ago no farm was complete without a brewhouse. From the early 20th century brewing was industrialized and home brewing outlawed. Since then, significant consolidation in the brewing sector has reduced the number of major breweries to just a handful. With the exception of the malty juleøl (Christmas beer), most beer styles brewed in Norway today trace their ancestry to central Europe.
Currently, the Norwegian beer market is dominated by two large brewers: The giant Carlsberg-Ringnes based in Oslo and Copenhagen, Denmark, and the smaller Hansa-Borg, based in Bergen and Sarpsborg. Each produce beer branded in a variety of traditional Norwegian beer brands, as well as foreign brands bottled on licence. This system is a result of the large-scale consolidation of Norwegian breweries that has taken place over the last 50 years.
Craft brewing has a long history in Norway, harking back to the days when no farm was complete without a brewhouse. Many structures found at old properties include a designated "bryggehus": a separate building where beer was produced. Home brewing in Norway is common, albeit understated (due to its association with home distilling, which is illegal) pastime. Examples can be found in Oslo at Oslo Mikrobryggeri, Scandinavia's first microbrewery and brewpub, and Nøgne Ø in Grimstad.
As with most countries in Europe and America, the most popular style of beer in Norway is pilsner-style pale lager. According to the Norwegian brewers' association, most beer brewed in Norway is pale lager. Until recently, this was the only style of beer to be had, except at Christmas time, when Christmas beers become available. These are dark malt beers traditionally brewed for the holiday season.
Due to government restrictions, beers above 4.75% abv are only available from licensed premises or from the state-run Vinmonopolet ("wine monopoly") liquor stores. This has resulted in some foreign breweries decreasing the alcohol content in their beer in order to make them legal for supermarket retail.
Norway has limited availability of beers on tap in pubs and nightclubs. This is due to the custom of each pub signing a contract with one brewery, limiting them to providing draught beer from that brewery. In exchange, the brewery will provide the bar with all the systems required for pulling beer, including tanks, taps, and glasses. In place of the tap selection, bars often carry a number of bottled beers. However, these usually carry a much higher price tag.
Styles of beer that are typical of Norwegian brewing traditions are:
Pilsner - the pale lager style which originated in the Czech city of Plzeň. This is the dominant beer type with almost 92% of the market share. The weaker (below 4.75% abv.) types are the most common, but most breweries also brew stronger varieties (similar to the Bavarian Spezial beer style) for sale through the Vinmonopol.
Bayer - a dark lager with roots in Bavaria (Bayern). The Norwegian version is often slightly sweeter than German dark lagers. Once rivaling pilsner in popularity, its market share has dropped from 20% in 1950 to 0.2% in 2004. Being the most popular industrial-brewed beer before the Second World War, it lost its popularity due to the occupation.
Juleøl - a dark, malted beer exclusively available at Christmas time. Traditionally this was a strong ale which was brewed at home. In modern times each brewery produces their own variety of Christmas beer, mostly a lager. Most breweries brew both weaker varieties (for sale in supermarkets) and more traditional, stronger varieties.
In addition to these, the Norwegian micro breweries offer an assortment which includes most familiar and unfamiliar beers.
In Norway, beer is classified into four categories by ABV (alcohol by volume), labeled from A to D. The class both determine the tax level, age restrictions, where, and when it can be sold.
- Class A beer has an ABV of less than 0.7%, and is for all intents and purposes alcohol-free beer. It is not taxed more than general foodstuffs, and can be sold anywhere, any time, and be bought by anyone.
- Class B beer has an ABV between 0.7% and 2.75%, and is considered "lettøl" (light beer). It is lightly taxed, and can be sold anywhere, anytime, with an age limit of 18 years.
- Class C beer has an ABV between 2.75% and 3.75%. This category is not in common use.
- Class D beer has an ABV between 3.75% and 4.75%, and is considered standard strength. Taxation is significant, age limit is 18 years, and sales are subject to local regulation. In most parts of Norway, class D beer can be purchased from common supermarkets, but only before 20:00 on weekdays and 18:00 on Saturdays. In some parts of Norway it can only be purchased through licensed beer stores.
- Beer over 4,75% is considered sterkøl (strong beer) and is only sold through the government-controlled liquor store chain Vinmonopolet. It is taxed according to ABV level as with wines and spirits, and carries an 18-year age limit.
- Ringnes is originally from Oslo, and is brewed by Ringnes Bryggeri in Oslo. It is Norway's most sold beer brand. It is owned by the Danish brewery Carlsberg.
- Hansa is originally from Bergen, and is brewed by Hansa Brewery in Bergen, owned by Hansa Borg Bryggerier It is Norway's second largest beer brand.
- Aass is originally from Drammen, and is brewed by Aass Bryggeri in Drammen.
- Mack is originally from Tromsø, and is brewed by Macks Ølbryggeri in Nordkjosbotn. Macks Ølbryggeri was for long the world's northernmost brewery until they moved their production facilities.
- CB is originally from Kristiansand, and is brewed by Christianssands Bryggeri (CB) in Kristiansand. CB is owned by Hansa-Borg Bryggerier.
- Borg is originally from Sarpsborg, and is brewed by Borg Bryggerier, that belongs to Hansa-Borg Bryggerier in Sarpsborg.
- E. C. Dahls is originally from Trondheim, and is brewed by Ringnes E. C. Dahls Bryggeri in Trondheim. E. C. Dahls is owned by Ringnes Bryggeri.
- Tou was originally from Stavanger. It is brewed by Ringnes Bryggeri in Oslo.
- Frydenlund is originally from Oslo. It is brewed by Ringnes Bryggeri in Oslo.
- Lundetangen is originally from Skien. It is brewed by Aass Bryggeri in Drammen.
- Grans is originally from Sandefjord. It is brewed by Grans Bryggeri in Sandefjord.
- Arendals is originally from Arendal. It is brewed by Arendals Bryggeri in Arendal.
- Nøgne Ø is originally from Grimstad, and is brewed by Nøgne Ø Brewery in Grimstad, and Christianssands Bryggeri in Kristiansand, owned by Hansa Borg Bryggerier.
- Haandbryggeriet is originally from Drammen, and is brewed by Haandbryggeriet Brewery in Drammen.
Norway started late with microbreweries. First up was the Oslo Mikrobryggeri. Today we find over a hundred microbreweries, spanning the country, from Lindesnes in the south to Nordkapp in the north on the mainland. The world's northernmost brewery is Svalbard bryggeri, a small microbrewery in Longyearbyen at the island of Spitsbergen.
Today, there are an increasing number of microbreweries producing craft beer in many variations. Some craft beers have an alcohol content more than 3.75%, and must be sold in Norway only through Vinmonopolet.
Also smaller towns and villages in recent years have received their local craft brewery. The total number of beers in Norway, and craft beers in particular, has increased dramatically so far in the 21st century. The Norwegian craft beers are based on local, innovative, experimental, traditional as well as on imported recipes.
- Solem, Knut Albert: Norsk øl- og bryggeriguide. Vega Forlag, Oslo, 2016 (Norwegian) ISBN 978-82-8211-459-2
- NORWAY’S MIGHTY MICROBREWERIES travelsquere.com (English)
- www.drikkeglede.no Bryggerier i Norge (Norwegian)
- When the craft beer revolution finally hit Norway, it hit with a vengeance www.visitnorway.com (English)
- NORØL (Norske Ølvenners Landsforbund - Federation of Norwegian Beer Consumers) is a consumer organisation which campaigns to support traditional styles such as Bokkøl and Bayerøl. (Norwegian)
- Norwegian Breweries (English)
- Norske bryggerier Bryggeri- og drikkevareforeningen (incl. an updated list) (Norwegian)