Where is the World’s Most Northerly Brewery ?

Despite what P&O Cruises and the Mack Brewery would have you believe, the world’s northernmost brewery is not in Tromso.  This was the case for many years but since 2015 you have to travel another 1,000km or so until you reach Svalbard, Norway’s archipelago situated in the Arctic Ocean halfway between Norway and the North Pole where the world’s most northerly beer is now brewed.

It is here, on Spitsbergen, the largest island, that former miner, Robert Johansen, pushed and pushed against the conservative local authorities until permission was granted to open the world’s most northerly brewery, Svalbard Bryggeri, in Longyearbyen, the island’s main town.

P1030199I’d love to tell you more.  I’d love to have visited but I guess unless you are resident, have work commitments there or are a polar bear tourist, our chances of visiting the brewery are slim.  The Svalbard Brewery website tells a full story much better that I could share without visiting and I recommend you take a read of the trials and tribulations of such a passionate and enthusiastic venture.

Fear not though, friends.  There are only 2,500 residents of Svalbard, the world’s most northerly year-round settlement.  To make the business a success the beer has to travel and although I have never seen it in England or Central Europe, I have discovered it in a bar in Tromso and also if you search hard enough in the government run liquor stores in Northern Norway, the Vinmonopolet.  Seek it out, it’s worth the effort.

P1030194My main motivation for writing this short post, apart from calling out P&O and Mack for out-of-date information, is to share some of the photos taken of the beer in the sub-zero temperatures of Alta where our Northern Lights cruise eventually docked in anticipation of seeing the Aurora.  We get very little snow in London so it’s easy for a city boy to get excited and I was pleased with the results using a simple camera in the crisp, fresh snow.

A couple of other snippets :

Although Svalbard lies at approx 75 degrees North it is still a further 700km until you reach the North Pole (North Pole brewery, anyone ?)

The midnight sun in Longyearbyen lasts from 19 April to 22 August and the dark period is from 27 October to 15 February.

See also Cruising for Craft Beer in Tromso

Cruising the P&O Cruises Beer List – Batemans Mocha Beer

Any cruise to see the Northern Lights will require a slow sail towards the Arctic Circle.  In most cases, like any cruise, this will need a day or two spent at sea.  For many passengers, a day at sea gives time to relax.  A time for line dancing, a chance to brush up on art and crafts skills, listen to the lecturer’s talk, catch up on reading, take a swim, enjoy a gym session or eat more and more (and more) food.

For me, a day at sea gives me a chance to take a closer look at the on-board beer list, my attention no longer distracted by the best bars and beers of any port of call.

The P&O beer list is strong on quality and variety.  There is a choice of 40 odd bottles in the ship’s pub (over 70 on flagship, Britannia).  Many are standard beers that many passengers will recognise; the likes of Fuller’s London Pride, Newcastle Brown Ale and Marstons Pedigree.  But there is also a sprinkling or more unusual beers to sniff out.  As usual time spent on research pays dividends.  My highlight from this cruise was a beer that I have never seen before, Mocha Beer brewed by Bateman’s Brewery in Lincolnshire.

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Even for an amateur photographer, with a basic camera and in poor light, I’m sure you agree it really looks the part – appetising and inviting.  “Drink me !”

Served at cellar temperature (hopefully deliberately), the 6% rich chocolate/coffee dark beer was a perfect winter warmer with outside temperatures at about minus 9.  Silky, velvety and smooth, this was an unexpected treat.  Absolutely delicious, it fit the mood and the moment perfectly, a real winner – (vegan friendly too).  Many pubs are often reluctant to include such niche dark beers on their list.  My guess would be that this is not one of P&O biggest sellers but while it remains on the beer list it will be another go-to beer for me.

See also my earlier post Craft beer on P&O Cruises

Cruising for Craft Beer in Tromsø

From Kristiansand we head north in our quest to see the Northern Lights.  Well, most passengers are seeking the Aurora Borealis but I’ll be looking out for the best beer highlights that the north of Norway has to offer the cruising beer geek.

Tromsø is the principal city of north Norway.  Its beer heritage is long established being tagged the “gateway to the Arctic” and the consistent flow of beer drinkers that this has historically brought to the city.  Tromsø, for well over a century, also boasted the world’s most northerly brewery though this crown has long since slipped even though the (Mack) brewery and most of the tourist guides will not accept it.

(More about the world’s most northerly brewery in a future post)

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The Mack Brygghus and its attached pub, Ølhallen occupies a large footprint a short walk to the east of town at Storgata 4, where they have quenched the thirst of travellers for over 140 years.  The main brewery (one of Norway’s largest) relocated to an out of town site in 2012 leaving a new micro brewery in the old building.  There are now daily tours of the microbrewery, just drop in at 3.30pm (in summer there is a second tour at 2pm).  NOK180 (2018 price) per person for an hour tour and two tastings.

The real treat for the beer lover though is the pub next door, Ølhallen.  It is the oldest pub in Tromso (1928) and could easily be stuck in the past being owned by the old traditional, family owned, Mack Brewery and being a classy old-school, dare I say English style, pub with a long mahogany bar and wooden furniture (oh, and a stuffed polar bear).

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As you might expect there is a range of Mack beers, both from the microbrewery next door (12 taps) and from the out of town, more commercial, brewery (15 taps).  However, to make us feel like we are in the 21st century there is also a long tap wall bringing the total number up to 67 beers.

On my visit in November 2017 there were 39 beers available from a further 7 Norwegian microbreweries.  A kid in a sweetshop where the candy costs from NOK 65 (about six quid) for a 33cl glass up to a knee-trembling NOK 215 for a 33cl serving of Lervig 3 Bean Stout – expensive but one of the world’s greatest beers in my opinion.

I decided to wait until my local beer shop, Micro Beers, stocks this beer again at a more affordable c£9 and plumped for the Mack Microbrewery Christmas stout at a more modest NOK 85 – just perfect to take the edge off a cold day.

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I heard it suggested by a fellow drinker that the wall of taps here is the longest in the world.  It is great to see in such a traditional old pub but frankly, these days, I’d be surprised if there wasn’t more beers available in a bar somewhere else in Norway.  The search continues.

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On the road out of the city towards the Tromsø Bridge is a fairly new taproom for Bryggeri 13 at Skippergata 15 set in an unimposing shopfront that was clearly previously a deli shop.  Here you find a tiny brewkit to the right of the shop and a bar area to the left as you walk into the single room premises.  There’s also an upright piano, a clear sign that good times happen here.

P1030140.JPGIt’s a friendly spot with a warm welcome in the coldest of weather with a small range of (7 on my visit) beers brewed on the premises priced at 40/60 NOK depending on strength for a 25cl pour.  The beers and styles are a work in progress as the brewery had only just been installed but any slight deficiencies in the beer were more than made up by the friendliness and the knowledge of the owners who were in situ during my visit.

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Although it’s only about a 10 minute walk away from the city, it feels a bit out off-piste but I hope they make a success of this venture as it is a great new spot for the cruising beer geek.

I lingered here for a little longer than I had intended, so easily done when you are enjoying a beer or two.   The light was giving way to winter’s early afternoon twilight and flurries of snow were falling.  I had run out of time to visit my third option Cafe Sånn.

A bit of a shame but my motto is always leave something for a future visit.

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Café Sånn is situated at 1 Erling Bangsunds Plass.  It’s a bit hidden and tucked away and the only signage is the etched windows on the corner and the A board outside when open.  The easiest way to find it is to stand with your back to the catholic church facing the Culture Hall and Café Sånn is opposite you as illustrated in the photo.

If the time, the light and the weather had not beaten me, it was here that I was hoping to find a beer from the world’s most northerly brewery.  No, not as still claimed by Mack of Tromsø, but the latest holder of that geographic accolade, the Svalbard Brewery, situated in the Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean midway between Norway and the North Pole – of which more in the future (see below).

Café Sånn has 9 taps of draft beer – usually all Norwegian including a rotating beer from Svalbard Brewery.  I had to leave that for another time.

See also the previous stop Cruising for Craft Beer in Kristiansand

So, where is the world’s most northerly brewery then ? See the explanation here.

Cruising for Craft Beer in Kristiansand

Kristiansand is Norway’s fifth largest town and a popular cruise port when heading north to the Fjords or Northern Lights or heading east to the Baltic.  Like so many Norwegian towns these days, it has also become a craft beer hot-spot (warm really but anything’s better than nothing in the hunt for good beer).

My last visit was a surprise one.  In November 2017, on P&O Aurora, heading to (hopefully) see the Northern Lights, most passengers were disappointed to be informed by the Captain that poor weather made it less safe to head north and we would be seeking safe-haven in Kristiansand in the south rather than Åndalsnes in the Fjords.

Much delight from me as I knew the beer offering in Kristiansand was far superior to sleepy Åndalsnes even though we would be berthing on a Sunday and opening hours would be much restricted.

Firstly the touristy stuff : a leg-stretching walk along the waterfront taking in the fresh, clean but cold, crisp air.  Then head into the town and a walk around Posebyen, a large historic settlement of wooden houses followed by, if time affords, a climb up towards Baneheia Forest, a delightful area of forests, lakes and walking paths – an unmissable peaceful haven just a few minutes walk to the north of the city.

Later in the day as you think about refreshment you will be keen to find a beer and luckily there are a couple of places I can recommend.

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There are a few bars in Kristiansand where you can find craft beer, particularly from local Norwegian breweries.

Patricks Pub & Restaurant

Patrick’s is in the main town at 10 Markens gate and my guess is that it was once a faux Irish bar given its name and the fact the interior is pretty pubby, all shiny with plenty of dark wood.  It now prides itself on its rotating range of craft beers, mainly Norwegian, some very local, a sprinkling of UK, German and Belgian.  The 18 taps are all described on the large TV screen on the wall.  This all includes brewery, style, price and also each beer’s rating on Untappd – all pretty helpful if you need some guidance.  The fridges are also stuffed full and the bottle list is a great read.  I suggest you linger and take your time to make a considered choice – the staff are pretty knowledgable and helpful too.  Not cheap, but beer in Norway is always premium priced – about NOK100-130 for a glass (a half litre or 33cl depending usually on strength).

You can get beers from the local Christianssand brewery here but I was a bit confused regarding which beers are brewed in the microbrewery in Kristiansand and which are brewed in the more commercial out-of-town facility.  To get word from the horses mouth so-to-speak I suggest a walk around the corner to the brewpub at 9 Tollbodgata.

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Christianssand Brygghus

I did not get a chance to visit here as no Sunday opening.  However, I’m sure you’ll be able to get the low-down on which beers are brewed on the premises and which are brewed out of town.

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Kombinat bar and restaurant

The Kombinat is at 8 Dronningens gate and another bar that I did not really get a chance to visit as they only opened shortly before the ship was about to set sail for Tromso.

They have only recently reopened following a refit where they removed a beautiful rack of about 20 traditional handpumps.  The latest offering is a bank of 12 craft beer taps (pictured above) and although it is now more foody than it was previously they are more than happy to serve you if you simply want a beer or two.

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Finally, Vinmonopolet

Vinmonopolet is the Government run off-licence and the most centrally located one in Kristiansand is situated at Lillemarkens Shopping on Gyldenløves gate.  However, the recent changes to the P&O policy on bringing aboard your own beer makes this information a bit redundant for the beer loving cruiser – I’ll expand on this in the next post.

See the next stop Cruising for Craft Beer in Tromsø