The Bergen International Whisky & Beer Festival is a brand new festival. Hopefully this is the start of a great new tradition. It is impossible to talk about this new festival without also mentioning Whisky-Meet, which has been around for a few years (six times in total, see more here). Frode Harring was the festival general at Whisky-Meet, and he is now the man behind this new festival.
The festival was held at Scandic Bergen City, a few hundred meters from downtown Bergen. The festival hours were 4 pm till 10 pm on Friday February 13, and 2 pm till 9 pm on the following Saturday.
Mixing whisky and beer
This is the first big festival in Norway mixing whisky and beer. We see such a mix more often in Sweden, where you have several very large festivals. I was very curious to see if such a mix would be a positive in Norway. Would we get a synergy where beer people would cross over to whisky, and vice versa?
Well, I would say I still have mixed feelings about the mix… I think it would have been a good idea to have the beer and the whisky in two separate areas, rather than having them share the same space. The overall impression now was a bit haphazard and random.
The basic idea of having both whisky and beer at a festival is good though. It works well I think. I am still very much a beginner when it comes to beer, but it is fun to try new beers. It is great to take a short break from the whisky from time to time as well, cleanse the palate and refresh the taste buds. Trying to match whisky and beer is a fun exercise (more on this later).
Most festivals give out awards to the best <whatever> on show, so also this festival. Here are the winners:
- Best Scotch single malt up to 12 YO: Arran 10 YO
- Best Scotch single malt older than 12 YO: Lagavulin 16 YO
- Best Blend: Nikka Whisky From the Barrel
- Best Whisky not from Scotland: Nikka Taketsuru 17 YO
- Best in Show: Lagavulin 12 YO (older version reviewed)
- Best in show: Oregonian (Voss Bryggeri)
- Best IPA: Oregonian (Voss Bryggeri)
- Best weissbier: Wisby Weisse (Gotland)
- Best stout: Breakfast Stout (Founders)
- Best sour beer: Boon Oude Geuze
- Best barrel aged brew: Malt Whisky Trail (Innis & Gunn)
For more details on the beers, and how the festival was received from a beer perspective, head over to Ølportalen for their review (in Norwegian).
Frode Harring – the man of the hour
We managed to squeeze in a few questions to the festival manager himself, Frode Harring, a couple of days after the festival ended. Here’s what he had to tell us:
How would you summarize the whole experience now that the dust has started to settle?
We do have some improvement points when it comes to the event itself, but all in all I feel we managed really well. Remember that on my team only Stefan (beer general) and I had any past experience in doing an event like this, the around 20 others that worked with me were new to this, and I am impressed with how they performed. The feedback from the audience has been very positive, so I am a happy man now!
Did it all go according to plan, and meet your expectations?
Judging from the interest we got before the festival started, I was actually expecting even more people to show up, but, by all means, the turn out was great and we are very happy as it is.
What do you feel you should work on improving for next year?
There’s a number of small things – adjustments really. Improve communication, the presentations on the stage, themes for the masterclasses rather than mainly vertical tastings, more beer tastings.
How many people attended the festival in total?
The total attendance over the two days was about 3100.
How well did the whole mixing of whisky and beer work out, in your opinion?
I think it worked great, a match made in heaven really! Again adjustments should be made for next year; maybe the two should be more clearly separated on the festival floor. We will see.
All in all we are very happy to have survived and done well. This will hopefully be the first of many festivals over the years to come. We plan on doing the 2016 festival at about the same time as this year. The dates will be announced shortly.
This festival was a like a great, young whisky from a Nordic distillery. It was very well crafted, had lots of flavor and character, showed real promise of what we can expect in the years to come, and it was thoroughly enjoyable. At the same time it was not perfect and it did reveal its young age on occasion, but overall it had a lot of heart and warmth.
You might have noticed that I did not write anything about the masterclasses. Well, you are right and you are wrong. I did write about the masterclasses, and I wrote a lot. So much, in fact, that I had to split that off into a separate blog post. Look for it on the blog in a day or two.