It all got started way back in the 1990s when an airline pilot, flying long haul routes for SAS, got the taste for good craft beer in the USA. He then got to homebrew back in his native Norway, with ingredients purchased on the other side of the Atlantic. A few years later he started Nøgne Ø, Norway’s first modern craft brewery. This guy, the pilot who became a brewer is me, Kjetil Jikiun.
Nøgne Ø became quite a venture. We brewed the first of many beer styles in the country: IPA, Tripel, Imperial Stout, Saison, etc. It is fair to say that we revolutionized the Norwegian beer culture. And we did success abroad as well, exporting our beers to more than 40 countries.In 2010 I started to make sake. With my wife. In Nøgne Ø. We were the first to ever make sake commercially in Europe.
But it is not easy to run a company with business partners. My partners wanted to take Nøgne Ø in new directions. Directions I did not believe in. And in 2015 I left the company. “ What do we do now ? ” my wife and I asked each other. We concluded that we had never made wine. To make a long story short: We ended up buying a vineyard on the island of Crete. I would like to tell a lot more about the vineyard and the wine. But this story is about the beer.
Soon after arriving in Greece, we were struck by the absence of good craft beer in the country. And before we knew it, we had launched a Greek beer brand, Σολο. We contract brewed these beers. Mainly in Norway and Poland. With good friends. Again, we impacted a nation’s beer culture, by making the first Saison, Imperial Stout and sour beer for the Greek market. But we quickly realized that there was one hitch: The Greeks did not appreciate that a Greek beer brand was brewed in another country. They would have no problems with Mikkeller, Omnipollo and To Øl, originating from Belgium. But our brand was Greek. And then it mattered. A lot! Another long story short: We started our own brewery in beautiful Kalithea in the hills south of Heraklion on Crete.
But what about Norway?
Well, I had to stay away, as the company who took over our shares in Nøgne Ø made me sign a non-compete agreement. But this agreement expired in 2019. My feelings about the Norwegian craft beer culture would surely never just fade or go away. And as we came closer to the time when I could come back to the craft beer scene in my home country, I started contemplating of how this could be done.
My most immediate thoughts were:
1. In 2019, there were way too many breweries in Norway. Maybe as much as 250. Most of these were unprofitable and have a lot of excess capacity. Did Norway need yet another craft brewery ? I concluded “No”.
2. We already have a brewery. In Crete. I know the challenges of running a venture like this. Did I have to have another brewery, which means double set of challenges in my life ? Again, the answer was “No”.
3. The solution became obvious: Contract brewing!
But what is a contract brewer ? A recipe writer ? A businessman ? A sales guy ? Well, everyone who knows me, knows that I do not fit any of these characteristics. I am a hands-on brewer. And the solution to my challenges was so close. I mean geographically and physically close. Arendals Bryggeri is a 10-minute drive from my home in Norway. And they allow me to brew there. Physically. Myself.
And this is what I do. Being back in Norway is simply wonderful. Interactions with beer enthusiasts I have known for years is unbeatable.
I usually sum up my role in craft beer with three words: Process, Product, People. (Or the 3 Ps, as I refer to them). Most contract brewers have only a relation to Product. And some even to People. But at Arendals Bryggeri I also control and participate in Process. And for me, this makes the concept of bringing Jikiun Beer to Norway complete.
But this story would not be complete without mentioning Fludium. Fludium is our distributor, and they are to my knowledge the only distributor with a complete cold chain in Norway. It is quite remarkable that most craft brewers in Norway do not have refrigerated warehouses. And for that reason, hoppy beers in Norway are very often not so great. It is interesting that if you buy a hoppy beer in Vietnam or Thailand, then the freshness is usually way better. And the reason is that in these tropical countries, they all have old chain for craft beers. This we have learned from the hot summers in Crete, and we appreciate Fludium’s focus on refrigeration and freshness. Together, we can bring this to the attention of Norwegian craft beer drinkers. Obviously, there are still things to educate the craft beer crowd about.