Introducing the Scandinavian Craft Brewers Guild

Not too far from Hell, in southern Norway, a local priest has angered parishioners by ‘fraternizing with the devil.’ The ‘devil,’ in this case, is Kjetil Jikiun, brewer at Nøgne-Ø Brewery, where the priest has been taking brewing lessons. Kjetil cannot fail to find some humor in the reaction of some of his neighbors, but as a devout Orthodox Christian, he does bristle at the idea that brewing is the devil’s work.In actuality, Kjetil is an airline pilot, who, on his frequent trips abroad, has found a taste for better beer, and especially for bold brewing styles. His attempts to re-create these beers as a homebrewer were so successful that he was strongly encouraged to follow his dream of brewing professionally. That dream became reality in 2002, when Nøgne-Ø was born. Kjetil and his partners gave the brewery a subtitle — Det Kompromissløse Bryggeri, or “The Uncompromising Brewery,” a plain statement of their mission: to make ales of strong personality and individuality, even if they would be challenging to the tastes of the general public.

Kjetil still pilots Airbus 340’s for SAS Airways . . . traveling for three days at a time, then spending his three days off at the brewery, while his airline colleagues are at home, resting up for the next wearying journey. The hard work is paying off, it seems: The top eight Norwegian beers on are all brewed by Nøgne-Ø.


Just a few hours north of Nøgne-Ø, in the city of Drammen, Norway’s oldest brewery, Bryggieri Aass, sits proudly on the banks of the river Drammenselva. The smell of Aass permeates the air of this small city just outside of the capital, Oslo. Aass makes a very tasty draft Pils, as well as a nice ‘bottled draft’ beer, rather embarrassingly (to English speakers, anyway) listed on beer menus as “Aass Fat,” — ‘fat’ being the Norwegian word for ‘draft.’

But Aass (actually pronounced “owse,” more or less) is not the only game in town. Just a few blocks to the north on a hill overlooking the city, long-time homebrewer Jens Maudal has just opened Norway’s smallest commercial brewery. The old house in which he grew up – his 87 year-old mother still lives there – has been converted to accommodate the “HandBryggeriet,” or ‘hand brewery,’ a reference to both the size of the operation and Jens’s hands-on approach to brewing. (On the day I visited, for example, Jens showed me the old, stainless washing machine drum that he intended to fill with whole leaf hops and suspend with a chain in his open fermentation tank, in an effort to increase the hop aroma in his splendid IPA.)

The first few beers in Haand’s lineup are in classic European and American styles, but Jens is also experimenting with oak aging and lactic fermentation. Whether he has the production capacity to export to the USA remains to be seen, but, for now, visitors to Norway should certainly seek out his beers, which Jens says will continue to improve as he refines his brewing system. This bodes well, as Haand beers are already among the finest you can find in Norway.

Nøgne-Ø, and hopefully Haand, will be among the first breweries to come to the USA as part of the Scndinavian Craft Brewers Guild. We have chosen what we believe are the very best breweries from these countries, and will introduce them to American beer lovers over the next few months. Keep your eye on this space.

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