The taste of success

“I want my beer to stand out,” says Geoffrey van Vuuren, ‘pencil pusher’ and co-owner of Amundsen Brewery. “And I like to swim against the current. Back when everybody else was making standard IPAs, I wanted to make fruity IPAs."

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“I want my beer to stand out,” says Geoffrey van Vuuren, ‘pencil pusher’ and co-owner of Amundsen Brewery. “And I like to swim against the current. Back when everybody else was making standard IPAs, I wanted to make fruity IPAs." 


“Now everybody makes fruity IPAs. I came up with this idea to make a dessert beer. Not a beer that goes with dessert, but a beer that is dessert. When I presented it to the brewery team they were sceptical at first, but eventually they came around and embraced the idea. The idea ended up to become a series of 3 beers. Chocolate mud cake, Chocolate Marshmallow and Mint choc crisp.”

I meet Geoffrey in a large factory building in an industrial area 15 min drive outside Oslo, the capital of Norway. It’s a far cry from Amundsen’s humble beginnings as a gastropub in Oslo six years ago. 

800,000 litres

The first batch of beer left the new production brewery in October 2016. Amundsen had moved from its previous location of 300 m2, to 3500 m2, and from producing 1000 litres at a time, to being capable of double runs of 8000 litres. Yearly production volume is estimated to 800,000 litres. 

Beer education

In 2011, a couple of Norwegian investors got together and set up Amundsen Bryggeri & Spiseri (Brewery & Eatery) a gastro pub in the heart of Oslo, between the City Hall and the Parliament. When they hired Geoffrey van Vuuren as the general manager, they may have got more than they bargained for.

Geoffrey took to the task with a passion. He trained the staff to educate people on beer and took the bar from serving mostly pilsner on tap, to its current focus on craft beer from its own production. The 500-litre pub brewery was soon operating at maximum capacity just to serve its patrons, who came from all over to taste his beer.

Inspired, Geoffrey suggested to the investors a new, bigger brewery. In 2013, they found a location in Nydalen, north of the city centre.

“We found a used brewery in a container and set it up in a month,” Geoffrey recalls.


The investors built a restaurant next door, but kept the brewery separate and took Geoffrey in as an owner. Within six months of production, the new brewery was operating at full capacity. Despite expanding with new fermenters, it took only another six months to be maxed out again. Most of the volume went into kegs for sale in area bars and pubs, some bottles to stores, and some to the brewery restaurant. 

Amundsen’s focus was on the most popular brew pub recipes. There was no time or space to experiment and be creative, to Geoffrey´s frustration. To free up space, he outsourced the two most popular beers to a contract brewery in 2014, and got some elbowroom. But he also had a greater vision.

“I knew we had to take a chance, and managed to convince my co owners that we had to go big on a brand new site. We ordered brand new brewing equipment in December ‘15, before we even had a location. That kind of equipment can take up to a year to produce, and when we moved into our present plant in April, we had time to prepare.”

By September, the new brewhouse was installed, and the first beer was brewed in October. In 2015 and 2016, Amundsen produced about 200,000 litres per year. Growth was severely hampered in 2016 while waiting for the new site to be finished. Between October and March alone, it put out 128,000. “This is unbelievable for us and a vast improvement from our previous extremely manual brewhouse and packaging equipment.”

Cans

“I had wanted to do cans since 2014; I knew already that cans are the future,” says Geoffrey. “Norway seems strangely attached to bottles and, again, I feel we have a role to play in educating the general public. Beer stays fresher for longer in cans, and that is better for the consumer.

“The craft brewery industry in Norway is unique in that we don’t compete; we stand together with a common goal, to educate people about good beer. When I was setting up the new plant, I would call Evan at Ægir and ask his advice, and other brewers call me up all the time.”

Amundsen Brewery employs five people of various nationalities. The new plant is is very automated meaning we can stay a smaller team for longer. “I am very grateful to my team, and we play well off each other. I like to think only in terms of flavour, and when I get creative and take off on an idea or a concept, they bring it back to a beer style. At the rate we are growing I wouldnt be surprised if the amount of staff doubles by the end of the year.


“Even before we moved to the new plant, it was important for me to move away from the brewery pub look, and create a clear devide between the brew pub and the production brewery,” Geoffrey continues. “I want the product to stand out from the competition, with bright colours, great art and cans.” Bright colours on silvery backgrounds and grotesque fantasy figures now adorn the entire line of cans from Amundsen Brewery. 

“The Amundsen branding from the brew pub was very conservative,” exclaims Geoffrey. “I wanted to create the brand from the bottom up. I had the fortune to meet Peter John De Villiers.” De Villiers is an established American artist, who has designed covers for Santana and worked with some big names in snowboarding.

“We formed an instant and lasting creative partnership. Together we have designed the 40-plus seasonal beers we have done so far as well as our ever evolving base assortment. From all the artwork he has done for me there has never been one that was not perfect from the first reveal.

“In fact, our logo – the bird with hop-and-feather headdress – was literally the first drawing he made for me. The drawing fell in the background for a while, as we were exploring all kinds of ideas for a new logo, but one morning it just came to me with certainty; that bird is our logo! When I called De Villiers, he said he had felt that way from the start, but he had wanted it to come from me. I feel very grateful for that kind of creative relationship.”

I knew we had to take a chance, and I got my investors to agree that I was not crazy

I quit my job and found beer

Geoffrey’s background was in marketing and he had no previous knowledge of craft. But he was frustrated in his job, feeling that marketing did not allow him to live out his creativity. In search of a more fulfilling life, he found beer and met his wife, who he followed back to Norway. In Oslo, he found work managing the Amundsen brewpub. As he started envisioning a future branding for his craft beer, he discovered his passion.


Geoffrey says about 50% of production goes on-trade to pubs and bars, another 30% to retail, and 20% to VM (state liquor stores). In January the brewery sent its first order to the UK, to be sold mostly in pubs and bottle shops around London, but also other cities. In addition to the base assortment and ever-changing seasonals, they also do a lot of barrel ageing projects in different spirit and wine barrels. “I believe in variety and quality,” he says as I prepare for the ride back to Oslo. “I don’t like to think in terms of volume, and I believe in creating quality beer based on aroma and taste - that’s what people look for.”


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