The facts

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.

Bergen International Whisky & Beer 2015 - Frode
Frode Harring announcing the opening of the festival. (Photo: Whisky Saga)

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).

Bergen International Whisky & Beer 2015 - Daracha
The Daracha stand. From left we have Espen Johannessen (Daracha), and Tommy Andersen (Svenska Eldvatten). In the front to the right is David Roussier (Distillerie Warenghem). (Photo: Whisky Saga)

The awards

Most festivals give out awards to the best <whatever> on show, so also this festival. Here are the winners:

Whisky:

Bergen International Whisky & Beer 2015 - Edrington
Martin Markvardsen and Vegar Hafstad hard at work at the Edrington stand. (Photo: Whisky Saga)

Beer:

  • 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).

Bergen International Whisky & Beer 2015 - Louisa
Louisa Young (Arran) and David Allen (Springbank) at the Jon’s Utvalgte stand. (Photo: Whisky Saga)

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.

Bergen International Whisky & Beer 2015 - Cask Norway
Bernard Thunder Smith (Cask Norway) and Miika Lipiäinen (Kyrö Distillery) at the Cask Norway stand. (Photo: Whisky Saga)

Summary

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.

Bergen International Whisky & Beer 2015 - Daracha
Lots of bottles at the Daracha stand (Photo: Whisky Saga)
Bergen International Whisky & Beer 2015 - Det Norske Brenneri
Deep in thought at Det Norske Brenneri, presenting Norwegian single malt. (Photo: Whisky Saga)
Bergen International Whisky & Beer 2015 - Prizelius
Magnus Johansen at the Prizelius stand, explaining what it’s all about. (Photo: Whisky Saga)

Sláinte!
– Thomas

2 COMMENTS

  1. Well you’ve made me want to come along too for 2016!! I think too (and here this is another imponderable and personal interest) you need to consider the location. Of course, it cannot replace the quality of the goods on display and to try, but it is hard to pretend that most people are location agnostic. So, a really sensible and practical choice to say “Bergen” – I must be honest and say I have yet to visit – but for location, scenery, transport links, other things to do etc etc then this is excellent indeed. Now, as for adding in the Ol to the whisky, I think this is really tricky to do well. In the end, having seen “no beer at all”, and “beer in the next hall” and “beer and whisky all mixed up together” I think I would plump for the “middle way” which is some mild physical separation, but, not making it mandatory to mix, or, to be separate. Possibly the best of both worlds. Now, the next question is “the ideal numbers” – again tricky. I don’t (personally) want to be number 7,609 of 35,140! I would prefer a few 100s to low 1000s – but commercial factors come into play here too. Good luck Bergen, and I hope to see you next year!!

  2. […] Maître de Chai means “master of the warehouse”, and is the term usually for the master blender of a distillery in France. For this release Warenghem used 1st fill Oloroso casks for the first 4 years, and then they gave the whisky a 2 year finish in refill bourbon casks. This whisky is sold out from the distillery now. We got to try it at the recent Bergen International Whisky & Beer Festival. […]

  3. […] Fjord Line AS is the organiser of the cruise, but they are leaning heavily on Frode Harring for ideas and all whisky related content for the festival. Frode Harring should be well known by most whisky fans in Norway, and many outside of Norway as well. He runs a great whisky bar in Bergen (The Tasting Room), and is also the man behind the Bergen International Whisky & Beer Festival. […]

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