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Harpoon Trip Day 3 and 4: Oslo/Norway

May 5, 2011

This blog entry is from Chris, Regional Sales Manager for Harpoon, reporting live from the annual Harpoon Employee European beer culture trip to Scandinavia. To learn more about the Harpoon Trip to Europe, read this post first.

Tuesday – Flight to Oslo/Oslo

We arrived in Oslo and immediately noticed how different it was from Stockholm. It felt like a diverse college/university town almost immediately, and we were excited to explore the town. As soon as we dropped our bags, we took a walk towards the water for some lunch and beers. After lunch we made our way to a local grocery store for some beers to go – which may or may not be frowned upon in Oslo – and continued to explore the city. At the advice of several restaurant staff, we made our way to Grundelokka and one of the best beer bars in the city. Once there, we enjoyed a number of Norwegian beers before we ran into the owner of one of the breweries we were scheduled to visit on Thursday.

From there, we went to dinner at Olympen and then on to explore the town further. It may not be surprising to hear that we ended up at another live music venue, and that Greg eventually convinced the management at the bar to let them perform. The response was, not surprisingly, positive, and we stayed there for the rest of the evening. It was not a fancy place, but it was exactly the kind of place we all enjoyed. The beer flowed freely, the music was good, and the venue comfortable. It was a great introduction to Oslo, and we looked forward to learning more over the next few days.

Wednesday – Drammen – Aass Bryggeri and Haand Bryggeri

We took the train from Oslo to Drammen and, despite feeling the effects of three solid days of Scandinavian beer culture, were excited to see the Aass (yes, you read that correctly, although they are quick to remind you that it is pronounced ‘os’, like ‘AWESome’) and Haand breweries. Aass was our first stop, and it was the largest brewery we had seen so far.

We were greeted by Lawrence, who was in the process of taking over the family business at the oldest brewery in Norway. They make approximately 250,000 hectoliters, but since so much of their business is private label, they produce a little less of their own beers (Aass products) than what Harpoon made in 2010. With that said, the scope of their brewery was amazing, as was their hospitality. After providing us with a tour of the facility (and explaining to us one of their beer delivery systems – a tanker truck that fills either 500 or 1000 liter tanks at area bars!), they treated us to lunch in their company lunchroom and brought us over to the area where they conduct a beer school for samples and more history. There were signs throughout Aass proclaiming that ‘ol er kultur,’ (beer is culture) and despite strict Norwegian laws about advertising they are doing their best to enhance that culture.  Their willingness to spend so much time with us, as well as the quality of their beers were great, and they set the bar high for our next visit to the Haand brewery.

We arrived at Haand to find the doors closed (but unlocked) and the building quiet. We knocked a few times before entering, calling out to see if anyone was there. As Rich, Dan and I wandered up the stairs, we heard yelling from the driveway as one of the co-founders opened the garage door to greet us. Haand is much smaller than Aass (they produce approximately 1,000 barrels a year and cannot keep up with demand), but once again their hospitality and their obvious passion for good beer proved overwhelming. They took us inside what was essentially a garage brewery and provided samples of many of their beers. Despite the fact that they could not join in our samplings (Norwegian laws regarding alcohol consumption and driving are incredibly strict, and we were taking the train), they took plenty of time to discuss and sample plenty of their beers with us. Having learned more about the Norwegian beer business model (where taxes are high and the retail outlets are literally controlled by the government or chain stores), I became increasingly impressed with the obvious passion these brewers displayed. In the case of Haand, they started as homebrewers and, like so many of the brewers we have met, had forgone salary to follow their passion. It was reaffirming and, after a stop at a waterfront bar (on what was really the first nice day of our trip) we boarded the train back to Oslo for dinner.

Saving room for beer, we enjoyed appetizers en lieu of a full meal before splitting up to visit various parts of the city and nightlife.


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