Seeking out beer – in Tromsø?

February 2009 saw my partner and I head off to the land of snow and ice, Norway. I’ve always put off going to the Scandinavian countries because, let’s face it, it isn’t cheap and will never be. Therefore if you want to go, you just have to bite the bullet.

The inspiration for going and particularly in winter was to try to experience the northern lights, not really a beer quest. Tromsø is some 400km above the arctic circle, further north than much of Alaska and on a similar latitude to Siberia, so I wasn’t expecting to come back with a tan!

To cut a long story short, we saw lots of snow and experienced dog sledding and ice fishing, amongst other things, but the skies weren’t clear enough for long enough during the time we were there so the aurora borealis proved elusive. So when not doing the above, what does one do in Tromsø when it’s blowing a blizzard outside? Well, there’s a Polar museum and a very good library and… Hang on a minute, the world’s furthest northern brewery! I didn’t know, honest!

A brewery tour and some time spent in the brewery tap or the library? Difficult one, isn’t it? In actual fact the Mack brewery isn’t strictly speaking the furthest northern brewery any more because some guys have recently opened up a micro in a place called Honningsvag which now has the record.

Mack Brewery

It is still however the furthest large scale brewery. Careful with that one if it comes up in the pub quiz! We settled down in Olhallen’s (the brewery tap) and ordered our 0.4l glass of beer whilst waiting for the tour to start at 1pm. The cost of the tour was 150 Krone (about £17.00) but that does include a drink at the end or some 1/3rd samplers and some trinkety souvenirs. The price of a 0.4l will set you back about £7.50.

Did I get drunk over there? With those prices, what do you think? The strange thing about the pub is that it opens at 9am in the morning and closes at 5pm. It isn’t open in the evening!

The pub itself though has a lovely warm atmosphere with old photographs on the walls and a few polar bears scattered around here and there, as you do (stuffed, of course!).

Polar bear

The brewery produces about 18 kinds of beer including, I’m told, the very popular alcohol free, dark lagers, light lagers, pilsners, stouts and even a Christmas ale at 6.5%

Part of the reason for the high beer prices is that about 75% goes to the state in tax! We thought we had it bad.
In Norway the business also suffers because it’s not allowed to advertise in print, on buses, or on TV and there is no sponsorship in sports. The Mack brand of beers isn’t exported either, not because they want to keep it all to themselves but because economic conditions aren’t favourable for an operation of that size.

In addition to the tour around parts of the brewery we also visited their plastic bottle recycling plant and their Coca Cola production line, the furthest northern production of Coca Cola in the world, I was reliably told.

Unfortunately there is no such thing as cask conditioned beer in Norway, as it is all carefully filtered and pasteurised at 72 degrees C. So, if you are stuck in a snow storm in Tromsø and the library happens to be closed you could do a lot worse than to spend a few hours at Olhallen’s.
Take plenty of readies though!

Beer Warrior in Tromsø was

February 2009