Trøndelag Food Festival
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One of the oldest breweries in Norway, EC Dahls, received gold medal in European Beer Challenge for their beer E.C. Dahls Gullvåg. It’s a beer that tells the story of world travel, world-renowned art, and world-class beer brewing
Photo main picture: Anne ReischText: Mai Løvaas
Master brewer Wolfgang Lindell and brewery ambassador Kristian Berger tell the story of the Gullvåg beer, from inception to Gullvåg in a bottle.-This has been such a great project from start to finish, and to receive gold medal in European Beer Challenge is the cream on top, says master brewer Wolfgang Lindell.
Wolfgang Lindell, master brewer at E.C. Dahls Brewery had a lot of fun creating a beer with world renowned artist Håkon Gullvåg. Photo: Mai Løvaas
Lindell, originally from Montana, has lived in Trondheim working for E.C. Dahls for 4 years after living in Denmark working for Carlsberg for 5 years.Kristian Berger is the brewery ambassador and explains that the brewery has many stories.-When you work in a place like E.C. Dahls, a brewery founded in 1856, you come across so many stories, it’s never ending, he says.Lindell agrees.-There are so many people involved in this beer from the beginning, from the conceptualization to discussing how we should brew it, to the art and labelling it. It’s also a collaboration with Garrett Oliver from Brooklyn Brewery and of course with our friend Håkon Gullvåg, Lindell says.
Berger explains that the story began some 50 years ago, when Håkon Gullvåg was a young boy. He grew up in an area of Trondheim called Ladehammeren, which is high up on a hill looking out to Lade and Lademoen. Every day on his way to school he would walk by ‘the white castle,’ as he would call E.C. Dahls Brewery, the large white building in Lademoen.With time he developed a strong relationship to the building, he would hear the clinking of the bottles, the smell of the beer, the men inside yelling at each other and the women laughing. These sounds were his childhood.
Kristian Berger, brewery ambassador at E.C. Dahls Brewery, keeps finding great stories about the brewery from the past . Photo: Mai Løvaas
-E.C. Dahls Brewery was a big part of Håkon Gullvåg’s childhood memories, says Berger.-Then he grew up to be an artist and today he is one of Norway’s most important painters, having showed his work all over the world, from New York and China to Rome.In 2016 E.C. Dahls restored the brewery, with the idea that they wanted more people to be able to visit the brewery. Through a series of coincidences they came into contact with Håkon Gullvåg, and he did an art exhibit at the brewery and in the restaurant. It was a huge success.One night Berger and Lindell were having a beer with Gullvåg, and they started thinking out loud; what if they brewed a beer together?
-We noticed that Håkon Gullvåg had a lot of respect for our craft, and he also has an incredible understanding of flavor, way more than most people, says Berger.-As an artist he is also very occupied with the color of the beer. Upon discussing what kind of beer we would brew we all agreed it had to be dark, and it had to be strong, Berger says with a smile.They sat down and tested many different flavors and discussing various directions the beer could take.-It’s very important for us when we do something like this, that it’s a collaboration. We couldn’t just make something for him. Håkon Gullvåg has been an active part of the creation and brewing of this beer. He’s one of the makers.When they had figured out which beer to brew it was celebrated with an aquavit, and that’s when the idea struck; what if they matured the beer in aquavit casks?
Aquavit is a typical Norwegian staple; distilled from grain and potatoes, and flavored with a variety of herbs.With a thin coating of aquavit inside the beer glass they poured the Gullvåg in, and tasted and tested, and found that they would store half the beer in aquavit casks, so as not to have the flavor of the aquavit overpower the beer.The casks come from oak trees from the 1800s and were built in 1930.The interesting story about the Lysholm Linie Aquavit is that it was stored in casks on ships traveling around the world, maturing the Aquavit at different temperatures, from the tropics to the North Sea. The Lysholm Line Aquavit casks have crossed the Equator twice.
The aquavit casks maturing the Gullvåg Beer are original Lysholm Linie Aquavit casks from 1930. Photo: Mai Løvaas
Lindell explains how the former master blender at Arcus -the company that brews the Linie Aquavit in the same barrels that were used for the Gullvåg beer - came to the brewery for an event, and he individually recognized the barrels. Lindell points to the barrel standing in the middle of the room.-He even knew this specific barrel here, he recognized it. I think that's really something special that nowadays tends to be lost in mass industrialization and commodification. This is what we believe in here at E.C. Dahls Brewery. We are trying to keep arts and crafts and the mystery and the art of brewing alive, without making beer a machine. Beer is all about stories, he says.
E.C. Dahls Gullvåg is an Imperial Baltic Porter at 12% and a beer that is good for 60 months. It is meant to last.-We purposely wanted to make something dark and strong and very complex. Håkon Gullvåg works a lot with colors and the ‘mørketid’ (dark winter) is the perfect time for beautiful colors. I don't think people outside of Scandinavia know about the different shades of blue and dark colors in the winter. We wanted to make a dark beer to reflect Håkon’s work; light and dark, Lindell says.
Håkon Gullvåg made art of the bottoms of the aquavit casks for the launch in New York. Photo: Mai Løvaas
-Håkon Gullvåg is fantastic to work with, you can sit down with him and have a Gullvåg and smoke a cigar with him. We were fortunate that we were able to do that at his atelier. Some of his paintings tend to be darker but there's a lot of darkness also in Norway half of the year and life is not always light, it's also dark. Håkon is really down to earth, and he has humor, which is important. I just think it's amazing to have gotten to know him, so I think Norway is really fortunate to have such a great living artist, Lindell says.Lindell explains that originally porters are top fermented beers but E.C. Dahls Gullvåg is a bottom fermented beer. Because of this they call it a Baltic Porter. Porters around the Baltic have evolved to be bottom fermented beers, there are several good examples in Finland and in the Baltics. A Swedish New Carnegie Porter also goes along this tradition.E.C. Dahls Gullvåg is brewed with a lot of dark rich malts and has a deep chocolate flavor, and even coffee flavor. It has been brewed with dark molasses sugar from Mauritius. But before they started to brew the final recipe, they went to visit Håkon Gullvåg’s art studio in Trondheim.Wolfgang Lindell says Norway is lucky to have such a prolific painter as Håkon Gullvåg. Photo: Mai Løvaas
-When you walk into the studio you smell the linseed oil and the canvas he uses in his studio. We wanted to try to get as much of this whole artist background into the beer; the colors, the smells. We really love the result, Lindell says.-We wanted a dark strong complex Nordic taste, and a taste of Trondheim, adding the local touch. And aging in barrels gives it a dry touch, plus you get the herbs and spices from the aquavit. When you taste it, you will notice a little bit of wood flavor, and a bit of dry, it’s not too sweet, he says.
-This project, this beer, is inspirational for me in the sense that it has traveled around the world, Lindell says.E.C. Dahls Brewery has been collaborating with Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery in New York for a number of years. When Oliver visits Trondheim he gets to stay at the Gullvåg-suite at the Scandic Nidelven Hotel, a room decorated with Håkon Gullvåg’s paintings. Oliver had already cultivated a relationship to Gullvåg’s art, so when he found out about the Gullvåg beer project he wanted to be part of it.
He participated on the day of the brewing of the beer, and suggested they launch the beer in New York with an exhibit of Gullvåg’s art.And so they did. They packed up the art from the permanent Gullvåg exhibit at E.C. Dahls Brewery, and they also took out the bottoms of the aquavit casks the beer had been matured in, Gullvåg painted them and they were brought to New York.
Wolfgang Lindell, Håkon Gullvåg and Garrett Oliver. Photo: Anne Reisch
The launch in New York was a success. There were locals from Brooklyn and Williamsburg, people from the Norwegian embassy in New York, and tourists from Trondheim. There were presentations, and food was brought in directly from Trondheim.-The exhibit and the launch in New York was fantastic, says Berger. We got to present our Gullvåg beer, as well as the culture of the city of Trondheim out in the world.
Lindell reflects on beer in a local and international context.-This whole kind of thing about being interconnected is related here. We very much believe in local beer too and the local touch, but it's nice to also be part of something bigger. The whole world of beer is about that, it's about expanding our knowledge and about celebrating beer and the different traditions, he says.Lindell talks about his time working for Carlsberg in Denmark, and how that gave him the international lens on beer.-Carlsberg is a big one of the largest breweries in the world and is found in Myanmar and China to many places in the world. It’s nice to be both international and to have a local aspect as well. I think that is something that bodes very well for Trøndelag because the beer was brewed here celebrating a local artist, and Håkon Gullvåg is known all over the world. He is something that Norway and Trøndelag can be really proud of, he says.Håkon Gullvåg's art work from the exhibit in New York can now be seen at the permanent Gullvåg exhibit at E.C. Dahls Brewery in Trondheim. Photo: Mai Løvaas
-Håkon Gullvåg is an amazing artist. I'm really inspired by him and I think Norway is really fortunate to have such a prolific painter. Have you seen how many paintings he’s made? There are hundreds and hundreds and they will go on for I would say hundreds of years! His whole legacy will go on. It's just starting, he says with a smile.
Håkon Gullvåg made the label for the Gullvåg beer; the painting is of a dog. Kristian had half-jokingly asked whether he was portraying the classic beer hound, to which the artist replied that, no, this was from his own experience. Håkon Gullvåg had been sitting in a bar somewhere in Europe, having a drink and doing some writing. A man with his dog walked into the bar, they sat down next to each other, and the dog also got to drink beer. The dog and the man were regulars at the bar.-The dog is coming straight at you, just as the beer, Berger says with a smile.-The question is, is he coming to give you a hug or to knock you over?! he laughs.
Håkon Gullvåg had mentioned that ‘the dog is crossing the threshold’, which is a concept in Asian mysticism, and the symbology is important.-You can do that with this beer! Lindell laughs.The Gullvåg beer is a limited edition, and when asked if E.C. Dahls will brew the beer again Lindell has no doubt.-We would love to brew this beer again. Basically, a brewery brews what people buy.