Norway, like many countries, is experiencing a healthy growth in the number of startup breweries but it also has a farmhouse brewing tradition going back centuries that it is alive and well in the districts of Voss, Møndal and elsewhere. On my first day in Voss I got to see examples of both: the old at the wooden farmstead of Mølstertunet, part of Voss Folkemuseum (this post) and the new brewhouse at Voss Bryggeri some 12 kilometres away from Voss (see Part 3).
[By the way: the o slash character ø is fairly common in Norwegian and is pronounced somewhat like a German o umlaut ö. To say the word for ale - øl - round your lips and push them forward while saying "earl". Hope that helps.]
My trusty mobile has become an invaluable tool and now I almost entirely depend on it to run my life. A bewildering array of tools and services that only a few years ago would require a van load of devices and documents to provide its functions are now available in my trouser pocket. It is truly marvellous and yet my careless reading of the digital map of Norway on my phone would twice lead me the wrong way. Eventually I found the path up the hillside to the Voss Folkemuseum but not before I had the opportunity to inspect a lot of Norwegian domestic architecture and garages on the outskirts of town. More interesting than you would think actually.
|A genuine turf roof, laid on layers of birch bark|
I was probably the only visitor up there that morning so Brita Tveite, the museum attendant, had to take a great bunch of keys to open up the ancient farm buildings for my inspection. Abandoned in 1927 when the two farming families who had occupied its 16 buildings built themselves new houses nearby, Mølstertunet remains untouched by the passage of time. Its dark wooden buildings beneath turf roofs and local slates (skifer in Norwegian) look just as if the old inhabitants would come around the corner at any moment.
I was left to my own devices and I wandered from building to building. Though it was a museum, the intervention of labels was almost non-existent and that made it easier to be transported one hundred, two hundred, three, even five hundred years into the past and I imagined the hearth alight, the smell of wood smoke and the conversations in Norwegian dialect as the days' chores were done. Everything was of wood: walls, ceilings and floor, utensils and containers. In contrast to the echoing terrazzo and marble of Italian rooms, the atmosphere is hushed, homely and wonderfully warm to the touch. And yet, when I looked closely I could see through the gaps where the walls meet the floor. "Wasn't it cold and draughty?", I enquired. "No", I was assure. "When it was occupied, all the gaps were stopped up and when the fire was lit they were very cosy."
|The farmhouse with hops growing beside the door|
Outside, the small farmyard was perhaps greener now than when rough shod boots tramped over it but there were huge slabs of flat rock laid in strategic places. Hops grew up the wall beside the farmhouse door.
|This open hearth room dates from around 1500 AD.|
|Mash tun (left) and fermentor|
I asked Brita Tveite about traditional brewing but she professed her ignorance of the details, saying she would try to contact one of their joiners who was a traditional brewer. "They must be fairly thick on the ground", I thought. "That's three I know of already."
|The modern Voss Folkemuseum building, cast in concrete using coarse wooden shuttering in imitation of the wooden farm buildings just downhill (to the left).|
|Magnar Garatun, the museum joiner|
In Voss they have had a competition for the last 5 years, although last year may have been the last as the numbers had dropped off. It took place in a small guest house on the way to Bordalen (about 20 minutes from Voss) and 30 or 40 brewers used to enter one and a half litres of beer and there were 4 or 5 judges. They tasted all the beers and ranked them. There was a variety of beer, both good and bad and sometimes there was some discussion because some were thought not to be in the traditional Vossaøl style. I asked if many of the brewers used kveik and he hesitated. He said there was one man he knew of who was regarded as a good traditional brewer, his name was Himmler, but it is not so usual to use kveik nowadays as it was easier to buy yeast from the store.
I wandered around the museum and enjoyed the display but I didn't see a yeast ring; that would have been good. I wonder if they have one in the collection. The centre-piece is a beautifully carved wedding procession (Ridande vossabryllaup) made by a well known carver, Gudleik Brekkus. A similar second set was lost in a fire, so this is the only one surviving. I was also very taken with a temporary exhibition of cartoons by the talented and much loved Voss man, Ivar Kvåle. He was a little older than me and died only recently although he looked very fit and athletic in his recent photos (he was a marathon runner too and a musician). The clock ticked round and soon it was time to head back
down the hill to take the bus to Voss Bryggeri (see Part 3).
|A Voss marriage procession. Note the bride in the third row wearing the headgear unique to Voss|
|The wood carver made two identical sets but only this one survives.|
|The toastmaster on the left is carrying an ølkjenge for the vossaøl.|