A trip to the frozen north! Of course there were huskies and the aurora borealis and all sorts of arctic adventures. We spent a very chilly, but very lovely, night in a Sami lavvu at Camp Tamok, where there was more reindeer stew (pearl barley for me) than you could possibly want. But no beer.
Which is a shame, because the local town, Tromso in north Norway, boasts the world’s most northerly brewery, the Mack Bryggeri. They also boast the world’s most northerly botanical gardens, but we didn’t get that far; it was cold. The brewery was founded in 1877 and, despite stiff competition from the big boys of national and international brewing, Mack continues to have a near total dominance in the pubs and bars of Tromso.
They’re not some hippy-dippy micro brewery (they have the local Coca Cola production franchise) and their standard Pilsner is, while perfectly drinkable, pretty standard. Crisp and clean and all the things you’d want from a basic European lager, but nothing more. At £10 a pint (or thereabouts) it didn’t seem like that great a deal, but it’s ubiquity in town meant that quite a few were drunk.
But Mack has more to it than that, and much more interesting beers reveal themselves if you have a bit of a root about. The local favourite is apparenlty an unfortunately named Blanding, which is a 70:30 mix of their dark, malty Bayer beer and the Pilsner – a Nordic Black and Tan which I sampled in the rather fine Skarven pub on the harbour. On the other hand, if you’re after that clean, crisp taste but with a bit more finesse, then Mack Arctic Beer (as simple as that) is the perfect refresher after a day of snow-shoeing.
It’s when you get to Ølhallen (literally ‘beer halls’) that things really pick up. Tromso’s oldest pub, Ølhallen was established in 1928 as part of the brewery and features the full list, including occasional Micro Beers (limited run beers that, on the basis of the two I sampled, are rich and complex affairs). The only thing with Ølhallen is the opening times: 9am until 6pm. And they didn’t appear to serve food.
But, in common with most of Tromso, Ølhallen felt dark even in the middle of the day: something to do with small windows and perpetual candle-light. With the limited time, and still more limted funds, that I had, I tried my best to make my way through the annotated menu of 12 beers. It included the Pilsner, Bayer, Blanding and Arctic, as well as the lovely sounding Gullmack, which was unfortunately off (there was also some generic wine – both red and white – for those who had found themselves in the wrong place). They served beer in little glasses (0.17l) for 30 kroner (about £3.40) and – after a pint of Arctic – I moved on to the Haakon and the limited run 1877.
The Haakon was a rich golden ale, very full-bodied and aromatic, and the 1877 was marvellous, a clean tasting Duvel, with still 8% abv. We had a plane to catch, so I didn’t get to try the Gullbok or the Christmas Beer. By the time we’d got to Oslo, where we were to pick up a connecting flight, you couldn’t find Mack beers anywhere. My last £10 pint of the trip was a Ringnes, which made me long for a Mack Pilsner…
Other, non-beer related, photos of the trip are on my Flickr page, here