I suppose it all started with my eye. A naevus (a kind of mole) in my eye had been under observation since 2010 and this year it started to show signs of change. That’s dangerous because there is a good chance that it is eye cancer (choroidal melanoma) and so it had to be treated, just in case it was malignant. I went to London for an operation and then to Clatterbridge Hospital on the Wirral for proton beam treatment in June and here I was, post-treatment and apart from minor irritations, I was in good health and with fairly good sight. But it had made me aware of my mortality and it made me think.
“Life is for living”, said Stef. “Where do you want to go on holiday this year?” I briefly considered South Africa but then said “Norway”. Selfishly, I wanted to do some research there because for a year or so I have been following the blog of Lars Marius Garshol, a Norwegian and he had got me interested in Norway’s traditional farmhouse ales – maltøl, or more specifically vossaøl, the farmhouse ale from Voss in the west of the country. More to the point Lars had actually deposited some of the family farmhouse yeast – kveik- at the UK’s National Collection of Yeast Cultures which is in Norwich and as it happens I had also recently made their acquaintance when they visited Poppyland Brewery on a fact finding tour. Talk about coincidences!
“Do you really want me to come?” she said. That was thoughtful of her and I tried to be as tactful as I could in replying. “Well, for me it would mainly be a business trip”, I said. “I would be pursuing my goals and would want to be fairly energetic in achieving them. If you came too it would be a rather different trip.” She could see my point and knew she would never be able to keep up. A few days later she said quite out of the blue, “Okay, I’ve just booked you on a flight to Oslo with Ryanair, £10 each way. You leave of 22 September. But I want a holiday too. Let’s go to Italy, I fancy Bologna.” “Okay, you book an apartment in Bologna and I’ll cook for you”, I agreed.
And so it was that I found myself re-reading Lars’ blog and planning my trip to Norway. All that was fixed was that I was landing in Norway on 22 September. I wanted to brew with the kveik from the NCYC but first I needed to know what vossaøl tasted like. I needed to track down a traditional brewer, make friends with him and get him to share a bottle with me. So I decided to head for Voss and take it from there. I would land in Rygge airport, take a train to Oslo, stay overnight in a cheap hotel and continue the journey by train to Voss the following day. When I set off I still had no contacts to follow but thought I might get some leads if I visited the Voss Brgyggeri or the Ægir pub and brewery at Flåm. And then another one of my amazing coincidences kicked in.
|Aass Brewery at Drammen. One of the breweries I wasn't interested in, photographed from the train.|
|View of Klevavatn (I think) from the train between Finse and Myrdal|
“Well”, she said, “I am going to Voss, I live there. And I also know Sigmund Gjernes. I used to work with him.” You should have seen the look on my face. I was incredulous. What were the chances? I was in a foreign country to seek an audience with a particular brewer and found that not only had I booked a seat on a train that carried someone who knew him but I had actually plonked myself in her pre-booked seat!
“I also have a brother and he brews in the old way, with kveik. I could see if he would meet with you if you like. He lives in Bergen but he is coming to Voss on Saturday.” What? I mean WHAT!? It couldn’t get any better if I had planned this for a year. But it just happened, spontaneously. When we got to Voss, her daughter was there waiting with the car and they kindly took me on a short detour through the town, pointing out a couple of bars I might to visit and there were the offices where Sigmund worked.