Alt for Norge!

Those of you who understand some Norwegian will have no problems deciphering the title of this blog post, whereas those of you who don’t may think I’ve gone mad. What is he on about, this weird blogger from the northern lands who has settled amongst the Germanic peoples in the centre of Europe? Well, dear bleaders (that’s blog readers in one word to save time, but since I have to then spend dozens of words explaining what the heck it means then perhaps it would have been better to write it out properly in two words in the first place), it will all be revealed in due course. Read on, and ye shall learn.

My last blog post was a big rant about the forthcoming Norwegian election. Well, the election came, said “screw you, Norway!”, and left. As predicted, a large number of parties are now represented in the rather modest parliament building in Oslo known as the Storting, and, as also predicted, they all still hate beer. The only interesting thing is that the on-going negotiations to form a government between four parties covering the political spectrum from around the middle to pretty right-wing, involve the party that hates beer the most and the one that hates beer the least. I suggested that they resolve their differences by having a giant beer drinking competition, but apparently they don’t take an emigrated Norwegian who blogs in English from Germany seriously, despite all the dozens of readers of his blog.

Anyway, back to the title. “Alt for Norge” is actually the Norwegian King’s slogan, and most gullible Norwegians (i.e. most Norwegians) are lead to believe that it means something like “Everything for Norway”, seemingly not very contentious for someone who’s the nominal head of state and descends from a long line of Brits, Danes and other non-Norwegians. The problem is that I have, since deciding that beer is the greatest drink on the planet and moving to Germany, discovered the truth about the slogan: it actually translates as “Alt for Norway”. And we’re not talking about any old “alt”, we’re talking about the famous beer from Düsseldorf: Alt, which is short for Altbier. Clearly, what the Norwegian king really wants is for the Düsseldorf breweries to export more of their stuff to Norway. And, to be fair, who can blame him?

I’ve briefly mentioned Altbier before in my now legendary blog post about Cologne. As I mentioned there, a very strong rivalry exists between the people of these neighbouring cities along the Rhine, especially when it comes to beer. Order an Altbier in Cologne and you’ll end up in the Rhine with something heavy tied to your feet. Order a Kölsch in Düsseldorf and you’ll end up on the train to Cologne, and by “on the train” I mean on top of the train with the overhead wire around your neck. It’s not the type of mistake you make twice.

Füchschen - "small fox" - a very nice, tasty Alt.
Personally, I like them both – of course I do. Both are top-fermented, so in English terms that means they’re ales, and both tend to be served in rather small, straight glasses when you order them in the pub. However, that’s where the similarities end, because while Kölsch is light in colour, slightly fruity, hoppy and supremely refreshing, Alt is fairly dark, malty, full-bodied and supremely satisfying. The two beer styles are, in other words, very different indeed, even though they originate only a few dozen miles from each other.

Düsseldorf has, just like Cologne, a bunch of brewery pubs in the city centre where you can try the local specialty, and these tend to be a lot better than the stuff churned out by the big breweries that have been bought out by you-know-who (no, not Voldemort - the other, more evil one). To truly enjoy Altbier, you have to either get a good friend from Düsseldorf to bring a few bottles along, or simply go there yourself. Düsseldorf may have a really funny name, especially since “dorf” means village, but it’s a nice enough city with an old town, a great big river, a dodgy airport and a lot of pubs. When you’re wandering around looking for good beer, you may want to look for “Füchschen”, “Uerige” and “Schumacher”, all of which are very good and currently well represented in my fridge, unlike the political parties of Norway.

Uerige Alt - darker and maltier than Füchschen, and my favourite.
I don’t know which of these pubs is the Norwegian king’s favourite, but I guess it can’t be that hard to figure it out – just look for the old geezer sat in a corner having a great time with a crown on his head and a couple of discreet body guards. Thinking of our dear king, I am certainly of the opinion that Norway should ditch democracy and its overpopulated parliament and reinstate the good old absolute monarchy. Then, instead of the large number of crappy political parties in the Storting, there could just be one hell of a party with loads of beer. The king could then change his slogan every week or so – “Kölsch for Norway”, “Pils for Norway”, “IPA for Norway”, and so on – and I think it’s safe to say that the general population would be a lot hoppier than what’s currently the case. On this hopful note I shall once again bid you farewell and wish you all a fantastic time in Düsseldorf, and please give my beeriest regards to the king when you bump into him. Skål!


The Norwegian Rant

Well, dear readers, it’s come to this. I’ve had enough. I need to let out steam. Therefore, I shall proceed to write a blog entry about my home and native land, which happens to be Norway. If you have no idea where this might be, here’s a tip: look for a smallish ultra-rich country stuck up in the very north of Europe, most of it so far north that you wonder why anyone would want to live there, because it’s windy and cold for most of the year, especially in summer, except in good summers, and the skiing is much better in the Alps. That’s not the point. The point is: on September 9th this year, the people of Norway who have the right to vote (myself included despite the fact I’ve lived abroad for almost 18 years) will elect a new parliament, which is likely to include at least 6, possibly as many as 9 different political parties, all of which seemingly agree on only one single issue: beer is the root of all evil. 

Norway has a fairly proud brewing heritage. Sure, in comparison with the great brewing nations in Europe it’s not much to drink about, but there used to be many small, family-owned breweries dotted around the county that would brew half-decent beers to quench the thirst of the populace, at affordable prices. That is, until the politicians decided that beer is evil, and raised taxes to such eye-watering levels that today you’re lucky to get a half litre of beer for less than 10 euros in a bar or a restaurant. To put this into perspective: I just had a pizza AND a beer in my local German restaurant, conveniently located in the neighbouring building. The total bill was 8 euros, though to be fair this is slightly cheaper than the average for Germany. In the shops in Norway, the cheapest half-litre can of beer will set you back about 3 euros. I just bought a can of pretty decent German beer for 39 cents. You see my pint: somewhere, something is wrong and that’s not right.

To add insult to injury, the Norwegian politicians have decided that the breweries are not allowed to provide information about their various beers on the web. Unsurprisingly, Carlsberg and Heineken think this rule is fantastic, because internet-savvy Norwegians have discovered that they can easily reach foreign-hosted web sites by typing in a web address that’s doesn’t end in “.no”, whereas the Norwegian breweries cannot even display a picture of a glass of beer on their sites. This makes absolutely .no sense, and it makes me somewhat angry. To be fair, I think the world, and possibly even Norway, has greater problems, but since I’m perhaps ever so slightly above averagely interested in beer it makes my blood boil at whichever temperature blood boils (which reminds me that I need to look this information up).

There have been positive developments. Enterprising individuals have succeeded in opening up microbreweries that brew interesting beers of various types, and some of them are very good. These beers are so expensive that they single-handedly have caused a shift in the Norwegian beer drinking culture: it’s now socially acceptable to buy only one or two of these and call it an evening, since you’ve made a massive dent in your bank account anyway. My feelings towards this are ambivalent, though I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

Nevertheless, the fact is that most Norwegians regard beer as something to get you drunk on the weekend, and not a nice drink that you can drink after exercise or when you’re heading home on the train after a hard day’s work. Sure, this attitude is also slowly shifting, but my point is that this is despite, and certainly not because of, the politicians’ anti-beer legislation over the last 30 years.

OK, so this does perhaps sound like a luxury problem, I admit. With climate change, over-population, poverty and war rampant all over the planet, a great big rant about the Norwegian beer situation seems to somehow fade into insignificance. This, of course, could be wrong. Just like a butterfly that flaps its tiny little wings somewhere in the Pacific could cause a gale in Ireland 12 days later, the complexity of the world is such that the insane Norwegian anti-beer legislation could directly or indirectly cause all the world’s problems – which makes it even more important that the voters in Norway turn out for the election. Shame there isn’t a party to vote for, since they all hate beer. There’s probably even a law banning the sale of beer on Election Day. On this depressing note, I shall bid you all a fond beerwell and crack open a bottle of my favourite brew, which will probably lift my spirit level and cause me to horizontally regret posting this negative drivel. Cheers!