By Shannon Kehoe
Nestled within the residential area of Trondheimsveien and surrounded by tall, large-windowed, modern buildings, sit the remains of an old brick factory. A large wooden door bears the word,”Schouskjelleren.” The door opens with surprising ease and ushers guests into a lofted room filled with copper kettles and walls lined with white subway tile. Stairs lead down to a dim room with a vaulted brick ceiling. On one side there is a fireplace. On the other is a blackboard covered in hand-lettering – Hibiscus Flower Cult, Old Muckamuck and Harry Porter.
Behind the bar, Magnus Holt pulls a copper tap, fills a glass and then slides it across the counter. “Flight of the Galaxy’ is a top seller,” he said, shattering the silence.
Holt’s tall stature commands attention as he stands at the taps and passionately describes each beer that flows from them.
Holt worked in customer relations, sales, and invoicing for four years, but was looking for more. An avid home brewer, Holt thought brewing beer could be a viable alternative and set out to gain some experience in the craft. Once a week, for 11 months, he made the five-hour drive to work at Tya Bryggeri – a brewery located in the mountains northwest of Oslo – to build skills and experience. He was then eligible to enroll in the Scandinavian School of Brewing in Copenhagen, where he earned a diploma in Craft Brewing.
Nearing the end of his first year at Schouskjelleren, Holt talks about his commitment to offering a product that is more than the pilsner his grandfather’s generation drank. Success depends on many factors, from inventing memorable beer names to showcasing the brewer’s social consciousness. He points to Schouskejelleren’s position as the number one place for nightlife in Oslo, according to travel website Trip Advisor, as an indication of his success.
Schouskjelleren Brewpub is housed in what is left of the Schous brewery, which dates back to 1800. Ringnes, Norway’s largest brewer, bought up and consolidated many breweries – including Schous – to brew beer in the popular northern European pilsner style, according to Ron Pattinson of the European Beer Guide. When Ringnes shuttered the Schous brewery in the 1980s, the facility took up the whole block, but all that remains now is a brewpub in what was once a cellar. But the combination of history and craft beer found in that cellar combine to create a gem of a location.
Now Holt and his partner are following beer drinking trends as they produce small batches from their two locations – Schouskjelleren Brewpub and the Schouskjelleren Mykrobryggeri – allowing greater flexibility in responding to the public’s demands. The bulk of the brewing is done at Schouskjelleren Mykrobryggeri, while the brewpub produces smaller quantities and provides a place for beer-lovers to gather.
When people realized beer could be more than just the Pilsner that drunk by generations past, the microbreweries listened. Sours are beginning to climb the charts but, according to Holt, “ really bitter Indian Pale Ales (IPAs) are going away and more juicy IPAs are coming in.” As trends change, it’s the responsibility of the brewer to recognize what drinkers want and keep current to stay competitive, he said.
Schouskjelleren Mykrobryggeri was launched nine years ago, just as the microbrewery and craft beer trend started its climb in Norway. About five years ago there was a marked jump in the number of microbreweries. Holt said the market became oversaturated with unique beers. Because microbreweries only make up five percent of the market, financial pressures have crept into the picture. It became necessary for brewers to keep up with the ever-changing trends in order to remain competitive. With about a dozen microbreweries and micropubs in Oslo, knowing what customers want is high on the list of priorities.
As community members and travelers wander through the brewpub’s large wooden door they find at least a dozen different beers flowing from the tap. That gives the consumer a taste of the trends, but it’s the names of the brews that stand out. “Don’t Tell Porky Pies” was chosen by Magnus’ Australian partner – its origin is old Cockney rhyming slang and it refers to telling lies. “Speedy Recovery” is what one wishes a friend suffering the effects of over-celebrating.
“Sales are increasing starting in April or May,” said Holt, which depletes the supply of ingredients in the stock room. “Most of the ingredients come from outside Norway,” Holt explained. For instance, many of the base malts for their brews come from Finland. “But we are starting to get some from within Norway as well, trying to push Norwegian malts for the brewery.”
The concept of using all in-country products is not uncommon as many countries, including the United States, are seeing a push for local products, according to the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture’s Siem Sigurd. Producing an all-Norwegian brew, however, is hampered by Norway’s weather. Its possible to grow malts, but hops’ dislike of cool, humid, cloudy weather, makes Norway less than ideal.
“If the product had all Norwegian ingredients, I think that would be interesting,” said Holt. “As long as you can get a product as good as you already make or the competition beers on the market.” But with beer already expensive in Norway, Holt believes Norwegians would pay a couple extra kroner to use all Norwegian products, stating with a chuckle, “Norwegians are really into liking Norwegian things.”
Schouskjelleren brewery is a full circle operation as malts, hops, and more ingredients enter the facility from farms worldwide, and what is left after the processing leaves to be used at another farm. A local cattle producer picks up the many hundred kilos of malt waste to feed to his cattle, ensuring that there’s no waste from what Schouskjelleren produces at their microbrewery.
Just as being environmentally conscious is important to the brewers at Schouskjelleren, staying active in the community is a factor in what goes on at the brewery. The months of May and June bring festivals that keep the area’s microbreweries busy as both sponsors and participants.
Schouskjelleren developed a product especially for Oslo Pride this year. “It’s made with passionfruit and coconut as a kettle sour beer, and, of course, glitter,” Holt explains. They’re pushing production so that it can be sold to outdoor pub venues during Pride festivities June 22 to July 1.
The rejuvenated cellar of a 150-year-old brewery is home to even greater magic than it first appears.