Haandbryggeriet – what a mouthful, and we haven't even got to the name of the brew yet! Actually, when you break it down, this name is from two Norwegian words and simply translates to "Hand Brewery" – in other words, an extremely small scale operation. Four guys, working on a voluntary basis, brewing by hand in a small building in Drammen, southwest of Oslo. At this scale, and with the enthusiasm that oozes from the pages of their modest website, it's clear that the brewers are fantastic amateurs, in the original, complimentary sense of the word – working the brewery for the love of it. (If you're curious about this reclaiming of the word ‘amateur', read Paul Graham's essay "What Business Can Learn From Open Source" here: http://paulgraham.com/opensource.html.)
For a small operation, Haandbryggeriet has certainly produced a wide range of beers – from a wheat stout called "Dark Force", through an Akevitt barrel aged porter, to a hop-free Gruit beer made with herbs, brewed as a guest beer in cooperation with the de Molen bewery.
Norwegian Wood is a Haandbryggeriet beer available at Port Street Beer House on tap, and is brewed all year round. It's a traditional Norwegian beer that has been recreated in memory of the farm brews that abounded when old laws required them to produce ale (farms were sometimes confiscated and went to the church and the king if they didn't). In fulfilling their requirements, the farms usually kilned the malt over an open fire, giving each brew a smokiness that has been recreated here. The brew was enhanced with the traditional spice for all Norwegian beer at the time – juniper. The juniper spice comes not only from the berries themselves, but also from the twigs that are placed in the mash tun.
So many miles and years away from these traditional Norwegian farms, I sit here with a serving of Norwegian Wood. As I observe the hazy copper colour and the fading creamy head, there's an intense aroma of pine and smokiness. Not an unpleasant or strong smokiness, but something more subtle, akin to pipe tobacco. There's a taste of pine and a hint of cooked juniper berries, and rather than smoky, the flavour is more nutty and slightly sticky sweet, with an undercurrent of charcoal or cinder. The first sips also had a fruitiness about them but towards the bottom of the glass this had been replaced with a decent hint of malt that was very pleasant.
Haandbryggereit brews Norwegian Wood with smoked malt from Germany, along with other malts including crystal and chocolate. There's a wealth of aromas and flavours in a small glass of this traditional ale, and the smokiness is by no means the dominant feature. I wouldn't describe myself as a fan of smoked beer in the classic "Rauchbier" sense, but I definitely would order this again. With pine, hazelnuts, juniper and cinder in there, this beer is not only a mouthful to pronounce, but a very pleasant mouthful to enjoy.
- Brewer: Haandbryggeriet
- Brew: Norwegian Wood
- Style: Traditional Ale
- ABV: 6.5%