Raise a tankard in the halls of the gods
Saturday 09 April 2022
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Celebrating its 15th birthday in June, Aegir is a true veteran of Norway’s craft beer scene. Brewing out of a deeply Nordic brew café in Flåm, which has been its home since 2007, Aegir’s reputation for great beer has truly lived up to the Norse god of brewing and hospitality, for whom it is named.
Founder and brewmaster Evan Lewis, originally from New York, then a programmer in Silicon Valley, has built the business from the ground up, eschewing the pilsners that absolutely dominated Norway at the time, and gambling that drinkers could be tempted onto something better.
“My wife and I originally took over the cafe and restaurant here in Flåm, then built the brew pub and built a bigger hotel, then eventually built a production brewery,” he says. “It’s been an endless project. 2006 was the last year the cafe sold any mass-produced Pilsner; we decided not to even brew one, as much as I would have liked to. So we opened with four beers on tap: a Kölsch, a blonde ale, the IPA and an amber ale. And then the porter sprung up about a week later.
“People would come in at first and say, ‘give me a pils’. So we’d say ‘we don’t have pils, but we do have a blonde ale’. And people were often confused, or resistant, because it’s not the thing they’re used to. So they buy a blonde ale reluctantly, then come back five minutes later for another one, and then, you know, I’d like the IPA, please.”
Aegir has many other strings to its bow these days, not least a distillery and experimental meadery.
“We’ve had a distillery now more than 10 years, but it’s really been taking off recently. Gin is our biggest product; and when I say ‘biggest’, we only have a tiny little still so we’re not doing huge volumes. But it’s a really nice part of our portfolio. We’re also doing Norwegian akvavit and vodka, there’s even a few secrets currently in barrels, but probably not the ones you’re thinking of,” he says with a grin.
“We also have our mead, which is made with 100% Norwegian honey. And we just did a collab with another meadery here in Norway, for fruit mead. That’s gonna be pretty exciting. It’s a really nice part of the business; we’ve got a few beekeepers that like us and so they sell directly to us what ever whatever they have leftover. So, it’s the continued focus on our core beers, while also trying new things all the time, exploring new ideas, and generally trying to navigate the choppy waters of being a small brewery.”
Aegir’s core beers have always been a real strength and, with the market having gone through a phase of perhaps prizing novelty over quality, it’s great that the classics are once again getting the recognition they deserve. We’re particularly pleased to hear that sales of Aegir’s West Coast IPA – which Evan wryly refers to as “an old man IPA” – have really picked up, as drinkers once again turn to beers with a bit of balance and drinkability.
“Our focus is always on having a core number of beers in traditional styles. And then we do a few others to keep it interesting. So, yes, we’ve got New England IPA – we’ve actually just done a 7% with lychee and rhubarb – and we’re particularly good at big heavy 10% porters and stuff like that. So really, we run the entire gamut from straight up Czech pils to some pretty heavy stuff.”
I ask whether the Aegir hospitality empire has any expansion on the cards in terms of new venues. While Evan’s certainly considered expanding into other Aegir-branded bars and cafes, Norwegian law forbids breweries’ names being used on bars unless beer is actually being brewed on the premises. Short of making every location a brewpub, this wouldn’t do much to build the Aegir brand.
“Plus, to be completely honest, it’s been enough to grapple with in a Covid pandemic,” he says. “Obviously that’s been a huge challenge for everybody, but we’re essentially six companies; we have a hotel, a restaurant, a cafe, a brew pub, an activity company with boats on the fjord, and then the production brewery. And, you know, it’s tourism that is the basis for keeping everybody alive. So the last couple years, where tourism has dropped to almost nothing, that’s been tough.
“Our saving grace really has been Norwegians coming to Flåm in the summer; these guys drink with both hands. A typical couple coming from outside of Norway, they’ll split a 330ml beer between them, because it could cost them 10 euros or something, right? But Norwegians, they’ll buy half litre after half litre. So, in July 2020, after lock downs and everything else, just in that short period, we sold twice as much beer as we had in July the previous year.”
And what were they drinking Evan? “Oh, it was all pilsner.”
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