January 9th, 2017

Τhe Norwegian journalist Ηugo Hatland, the man behind the best beer blog of Norway and author of the book “The Norwegian Beer Revolution”, met Kjetil Jikiun after a long time. Here is what they talked about as Hugo noted on his blog

It’s been 15 years since Kjetil Jikiun started Nøgne Ø. Now the commander of the Norwegian beer revolution has embarked on new adventures. Almost a year and a half has passed since Kjetil’s last working day at Nøgne Ø, but the enthusiast entrepreneur has not spent his time staring at the wall. He is already involved in two breweries, a winery and in addition, he experinments on the production of alcoholic products such as gin, raki, mead and beer at his Kitchen in Norway.

Breweries Prvo Visko Pivo and Σόλο – the latter established by Kjetil alone while Prvo Visko Pivo is run by Kjetil, Kjell Einar Karlsen (former General Manager of Nøgne Ø) and three Croats – are already on air having produced several beers for the Croatian and the Greek market respectively. So far Kjetil contract – brews at Arendal brewery but the goal is to transfer production in Greece soon.

Xianyang “Sure, I want my own brewery! I want to be as close to production as possible” says Kjetil.

The Greek beer revolution: Greece, the cradle of civilization, is a developing country when it comes to craft beer. Greeks swear primarily to Mythos and Amstel, light lagers which cannot be compared to craft beer. The Greek market adapts in slow rates while Greeks are hard to convert. Opposite to that, the switch in Croatia seems to take place easier and faster.

Tianfu “We are almost bigger in the export market than what we are in Greece” says Kjetil.

It sounds like the start of Nøgne Ø?

Kjetil is laughing. Brunoy “Yeah indeed ! I had the idea to convert Norwegians, letting them know how real beer tastes … but Greeks are different, this is not done quickly. Croatia is fortunately easier.”

You did it in Norway…

Macia “Yes, and Greece will surely not be any different from other southern European countries. The population here is eleven million, and every year 26 million tourists visit the country. The potential is huge, and I would imagine that many of these visitors are already interested in craft beer.”

Unique products: Σόλο has so far brewed nine different beers (Prvo Visko Pivo has brewed six), and all Σόλο beers are safely placed on Ratebeer list of the 50 best beers produced by Greek breweries. The beers range from light Pale Ales and Saisons to Porters and Imperial Stouts. There is no doubt that Kjetil still knows how to brew good beer.

“Initially the plan was to brew many kinds of beer, but we had to revise the plan. We are committed to getting up the volume on beers, and operate with lower margins. Our slogan is that good beer is a human right, and these beers should not cost too much.”

Although Kjetil has lately decreased the number of new releases, this does not mean that there will be no more new ones. In fact, there will be a separate series of beers under the label “Σόλο Protagonist”. The first one is already brewed.

“The philosophy is to create unique products that will only be made once, created for storage and only in limited volume,” says Kjetil and becomes philosophical: “Beer is like people, they are always in their best age, but the qualities vary from time to time.”

Dark Horizon 6: The first beer in the series is darker than night, it is fermented in two stages and will land somewhere between 15 and 17 percent. It sounds undeniably like Dark Horizon?

“The Horizon series of beers was my biggest single project in Nøgne Ø and I am proud that my last creation of the series (Dark Horizon 5th Editon) is coming into market this January. I do not see Horizon beers like products, but as a concept of contemporary beers. I promise that there will be more beer in this spirit.”

And these will come out under the label “Σόλο Protagonist” as the hero of the adventure, then?

“I like the fact that this word has the same meaning in many different languages. Protagonist (Πρωταγωνιστής), the lead actor … It’s a lovely name!”

Is the first brew of protagonist series, turning into a beer with coffee aromas ?

“Each one of these beers are like a journey in itself, living their own lives … Much is predetermined, while other things – factors are not so easy to predict. I do not know whether there will be coffee in this one, we’ll see how it evolves. It’s a bit like with their own children; you have an idea about what and where they will end up, and then they do something completely different, but it is good anyway …”

Accustomed to turbulence: Kjetil gave himself the name “the uncompromising brewer” long before Nøgne Ø became a reality. The double meaning is easy to spot. The ex-Scandinavian airline pilot is used to turbulence, and he is happy to ride off storms. It is not a badly kept secret that there was noise around Kjetil when he left Nøgne Ø, but he has not been willing to say much about it.

“I’ve learned a lot from my time at Nøgne Ø,” he says, “but when partners disagree on how a company should be run, then it is natural that the minority gives in or leaves. I chose the latter.”

Kjetil still has a 10% share in Nøgne Ø, and when he sold out, he also set himself in quarantine since Σόλο beers cannot be exported to markets where Nøgne Ø is already established, and for that reason Σόλο beers are hard to find in Norway. How can we get them?

“You can go on holidays to Greece or Luxembourg where beers are available,” says Kjetil and laughs, “otherwise it’s probably possible to get them at online stores around.”

The circle is closed: Kjetil’s interest in alcoholic beverages started early. But it was not the beer that piqued his interest, it was wine. Already at age 16 he immersed himself in wines from Bordeaux, but to start a winery in Norway was never an option. A few years ago, he bought a vineyard and established the company Grapes and Gratifications not far away from Heraklion, the capital of the Greek island of Crete, where the plan among others is the production of orange wine in clay amphoras.

“I started with beer, went, and was then the first in Europe to make sake commercially, so it is quite natural that I start with wine now,” he says.

Currently, production is at an experimental stage since there is much that should be in place before the wine lands in the commercial market. Kjetil talks with investors, searching as well through EU subsidies. The goal is to get up production facilities for both beer and wine as soon as possible.

Back to the roots: The urge to experiment has led Kjetil back to the kitchen, where it all started. He divides his time between Norway and Greece, developing spirits on rustic apparatus in his Kitchen in Norway.

“I’ve made raki and craft gin. My gin is the best I have ever tasted ! I have also made hops snaps ! My enthusiasm may sound childish, but this enthusiasm has also a commercial approach” says Kjetil. Already, this week, the first gin with cretan botanicals gets into production in England. And we can probably expect more creativities in the future.

Have you started home brewing again too?

“I have brewed at home only for a few months, so I cannot quite call myself a homebrewer yet. The other day a friend came over with a bucket of honey, 20 liters, so now I’ll make mead. I’ve never made mead before”

“I am loyal to my background as a homebrewer, I feel that I have to go back to the roots. I will participate as a volunteer during a Norbrygg homebrew event in Oslo on January 21. I’m very much looking forward to this.”