What’s brewing in Lofoten?
Hurtigruten may only give you an hour in Svolvær, but at Lofotpils it’s a Happy Hour
I recently ticked off a major bucket list item by taking the full Hurtigruten coastal voyage along the Norwegian coastline from Bergen to Kirkenes and back again.
Every day of the voyage, optional excursions give guests the opportunity to learn more about the communities they visit. As I’ve lived in and traveled around Norway for eight years now, I ignored the walking tours and looked instead at some of the more intriguing options. Although the Hurtigruten docks at Svolvær on its northbound journey for just one hour, several excursions are available. But only one leaped out at me: a tour of the local Lofotpils microbrewery. Sign me up!
One hour didn’t seem like much time, but it turns out the Lofotpils base of operations is less than 60 seconds away from the ship. One of the longest surviving buildings in Svolvær, it’s a former storehouse originally used by the stockfish industry and provides a stable environment for the brewing process regardless of the temperature outside.
A family business in Svolvær
A group of German guests who had booked on the tour fell ill during the day, so I had the pleasure of a private tour from enthusiastic CEO Andreas Thorvardarson.
Thorvardarson is young for a CEO, because Lofotpils is a family business founded by his father and run alongside his brother and sister and a few local beer enthusiasts. “Back then, there were just a handful of microbreweries in Norway,” he tells me, “but now there are over 300.”
Although the company was founded in 2006, the first beer didn’t hit the market until 2014. They chose instead to perfect the process and find the right people before taking the commercial plunge.
Making the most of the Lofoten location
The tagline on the Lofotpils website reads “The Taste of Raw Nature,” and it’s not just because the beer is made in spectacular surroundings. Lofoten’s climate provides natural cooling, which keeps costs of lager production—which requires lower temperatures than other beers—down.
Another crucial local element is the water, something that makes a surprisingly big difference to the quality of the final product. Lofotpils uses pure water taken from Lofoten’s mountain lakes. It’s a very soft water that has won many awards for its taste and is ideally suited to lighter beers. To make darker beers, the team needed to add minerals or find an alternate water source.
With the dual benefit of natural cooling and soft water, it’s no surprise that the pilsner is their primary product. They use pilsner malt as a base, because it’s lighter and doesn’t impact the taste too much. For every batch of 2,000 liters of beer produced, 320 kilograms of malt are required. That’s a pretty consistent recipe because of the Norwegian alcohol regulations that prohibit the sale of beer above 4.7 percent ABV (alcohol by volume) in regular supermarkets. As such, the biggest seller from Lofotpils—and almost every other brewery in Norway—is bang on 4.7 percent.
The local benefits don’t stop here, though. They send the mash, essentially the waste from the brewing process, to a local farm called Aaland Gård, where it’s used as goat feed. Milk from the farm’s goats, incidentally, produces cheese that is served on board the Hurtigruten. That’s the circular economy in action, folks!
The challenges for a Norwegian microbrewery
As a keen homebrewer, I’ve often wondered about the economics of microbreweries in Norway. Thorvardarson explained to me that for a typical beer sold in Norway, the state keeps up to 70 percent of the purchase price. That doesn’t leave much to cover the retailer’s cut, distribution costs, and production costs, let alone any profit.
Other challenges the small enterprise has had to overcome include sourcing materials in small enough quantities to get started. The Dutch supplier of the empty cans, for example, works with minimum orders of 400,000 units. Needless to say, there’s a lot of empty cans stored in the Svolvær facility!
One way the company is staying afloat is through its partnership with Hurtigruten. Not only do they put on these tours, which serve as a unique income stream combined with marketing, the brewery also produces a bottled beer called Hurtigruten Explorer that is only available on board.
I switched to drinking it once I got back on the ship. I’m sure plenty of others who take the tour do the same, especially as the tour ends with a tasting session led by Andreas. He explains how to taste beer—much like with wine you examine the color, smell, and taste—and start with the lighter beers like pilsner before moving on to darker ales.
As the brewery is such a small operation, the tour is only available to book for Hurtigruten guests and pre-arranged groups. If you don’t get the chance to visit, Thorvardarson recommends picking up a bottle of their new Hvetebrygg white beer, which pairs well with all fish dishes. “But especially stockfish from Lofoten,” he adds with a smile.
David Nikel is a freelance writer based in Norway. He runs the popular www.lifeinnorway.net website and podcast and is the author of the Moon Norway guidebook, available now in all good bookstores.
This article originally appeared in the March 8, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.