Homebrew, sweet homebrew

As I have mentioned multiple times in this blog, there has been a large increase in the number of brewers in the world over the last 20 years or so. The increase has been fuelled by the so-called Craft Beer Revolution, which started in the USA when a handful of people got sick of the poor and bland selection of beers offered by a small number of massive breweries that had aggressively bought up most of the competition. The new breweries were often quite small, and thus called themselves microbreweries (oddly, the obvious intermediate stage “millibrewery” was simply skipped). It didn’t take long, however, for these microbreweries to grow quite big – former micros such as Sierra Nevada now output more than 100 million litres per year. This created the need for a new description of breweries that are genuinely small – so please welcome me in raising a nano-Olympic-pool-sized glass to the arrival of the nanobrewery, though apparently these are also getting bigger now so I guess it won’t take long before the first picobrewery is opened.

An old friend of mine, resident in the fine city of Drammen situated in the shockingly expensive (at least when beer is concerned) country of Norway recently decided that his house contained way too few breweries, namely zero. To remedy this very unfortunate situation, he invested in appropriate equipment as well as various types of malt, hops and yeast – and started his own nanobrewery. This, incidentally, is one of the few legal ways to avoid paying some of the world’s highest alcohol taxes – the taxman in Norway has yet to start invading private homes in order to collect about €0.50 per litre and also per alcohol percentage by volume that you have to pay in the shops, bars and restaurants (for example, also including 25% VAT on top, you pay about €2 only in taxes for a half litre of 5% beer). Anyway, my friend also happens to be the type of person who takes his hobbies seriously, so when he invited a select group around for a tasting session of his first 15 or so brews, I knew that this was the opportunity of a lifetime to taste some of the best beers ever brewed in that particular house. I immediately booked a flight, made sure to get a connection through Brussels, and sat down to twiddle my thumbs.

A few days later the plane left on time with a thirsty beer blogger on board. I stocked up on a Big Bottle of Belgian Beer in Brussels, which I thought could serve as a baseline for what the pros typically achieve, and flew onwards towards Oslo in a cute little jet (which should be called a jetlet, I think). The next day, I rang my friend’s jolly-sounding doorbell at the exact time specified in the invitation. Seldom have I been more excited about a beer drinking session. Another great thing about my friend is that he doesn’t waste time on small talk, so no words needed to be exchanged on meaningless topics such as the weather, which incidentally was very rainy and not at all like the winter weather used to be when I was young, back when we had to shovel through about a metre of snow just to get to the front door before even leaving the house, if we were LUCKY!

There were two beers on tap. The first one I tried was called “Flying Penguin IPA”, which was, unsurprisingly, an India Pale Ale – usually a beer that most brewers manage to not screw up completely. Full of beery anticipation, I put the glass to my mouth, tilted, and poured an exploratory amount into my mouth. I immediately knew that this could indeed be one of the finest beer tasting nights of the decade. The beer was actually a bit darker than pale, and thus had a firm, malty body – but best of all was the balance between the hops and malt. It was, simply put, very good.

A very good IPA from a very small brewery
As the evening progressed, we tried out the entire available selection, all bottled, named and labelled with great care: the aforementioned IPA, an American Pale Ale (“Thirsty Crow APA”), a Pils (“Pilsen Pils”), a Bitter (“Humpty Dumpty”), a traditional Christmas Beer (“Evil Santa”), a Stout (“Toxic Waste”), a Kölsch (“Drammen Kölsch”), a Belgian-style Abbey Ale (“Sacred Prayer”) and two Oktoberfest-style Märzen (“For Fulle Mugger” and “Vinterøl”). Every single beer was true to its type, and with the exception of the APA (which I suspect just needed a few weeks of maturation), they were all beautifully balanced and either very good or excellent – these beers would have been top notch even for a commercial brewery. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, so I was probably quite sad to leave this splendid place, though my memory was getting a bit hazy by then since we also tried out both the Belgian beer and a bottle of Pilsner Urquell, purely for scientific comparison reasons you understand.

A truly outstanding example of a traditional Christmas beer

So, what have I learned? First and foremost: beer remains the finest drink on the planet, and the supply of this splendid drink keeps being expanded in ways that favour drinkers who value taste, quality and variety. Second, opportunities to taste a home-brewed range as splendid as this one are as rare as a hen with a single tooth, and it’s an honour and a privilege to have been allowed to participate in such an occasion. Third, home brewing isn’t for everyone – the amount of time and money you have to invest is rather large, and although the pleasure of drinking beer in Norway is undoubtedly enhanced by the knowledge that not a single krone goes to the taxman, it is not something you would do to actually save or make money. Fourth, if you do decide that home brewing is worth pursuing as a hobby, then it is possible to make excellent beer.

There is, interestingly, a trend for small groups of people (typically known as “friends”) to gather together their financial and temporal resources to invest. As quality keeps increasing, this could create an interesting situation where more and more people who would otherwise buy their beer in shops instead get all the beer they need for home consumption from their share in their own little brewery. Currently, this would only work if enough people were willing to take their turn at the wheel as it were, but it will be interesting to see how this evolves, especially in a country like Norway where the tax situation creates a real financial incentive. I shall stop speculating at this point, but should I ever move back to Norway, well, suffice to say that I may find a few kroner to invest. And on this note, I shall raise a glass of German Glühwein to all the home brewers of this world, since I’m heading out to the local Christmas Market. PROSCHT!