Located in the city of Drammen1, about 50km south-west of Oslo, Aass is the oldest brewery in Norway. It was founded in 1834, and at the start of the 21st Century about 150 people work there. It still occupies its original site in central Drammen, overlooking the Drammens fjord. There have been numerous expansions during the years, all of which have been built in the same classic style - the most recent was completed in 1989.
What's in a Name?
There's a quiet debate on the world's beer websites as to the correct pronunciation of 'Aass' - it's impossible to provide a definitive answer without hearing someone else say it, but suggestions include:
If you have an American accent, 'toast' without the 't's.
Or simply to say it like the word 'awe' with an 's' on the end.
However you pronounce it, there is no doubt that the name was given to the brewery by Poul Lauritz Aass, who bought the site in 1860. It is still independent and privately owned by the Aass family - the business is currently being run by the fourth generation. Compared to the majority of bland, mass-produced Pils beers in Norway, the independence and distinctive nature of Aass products has inspired the largest 'fan club' of any brewery in Norway. the club is called Drammens-ølets Venner(Friends of Drammen's beer) and their slogan is, quite simply, 'Aass for oss!'.
Incidentally, 'Aass' is one old spelling of the Norwegian word for hill. It's not unusual as a name for farms of a particular age, and not uncommon as a last name either.
In 1516, Duke Wilhelm of Bavaria established a purity law which allowed only malted barley, hops, yeast and water to be used as ingredients in the production of beer.
The law is known as the 'purity law', and Aass Brewery still make their beer according to it. The breweries are not bound by the purity law, but Norwegian consumers prefer the taste of beer brewed in this way. Aass use pure clean water from a lake called Glitre, which is in the forest just outside Drammen.
Aass brew approximately 85,000 barrels of beer every year, including over 30 different brands for the Norwegian market, which makes them one of the smallest breweries in Norway3. Only four brands are exported - Juleøl (Christmas Beer), Genuine Pilsner, Aass Classic and Bock Beer- and these aren't aggressively marketed.
This is a dark lager produced with hops from the Hallertau area of Germany, and pure Norwegian mountain water. It is brewed according to strict regulations - and in fact brews for a full three months to produce a smooth, rich flavour. This maturing process, and the fact that it is produced in limited quantities, makes it a most sought-after specialty beer in Scandinavia.
Dark Christmas ales, brewed with extra malts for sheer alcohol strength4, are something of a Norwegian tradition. The Gulatingslov5 has a chapter on brewing beer for the mid-winter solstice celebration in January. These festivities originally celebrated the Norse Gods and the return of the Sun, but the Vikings adapted the tradition after bringing Christianity to the country by moving the festivities to December. By the Middle Ages, the Church had gained the ascendancy and the brewing business was more tightly regulated - a farmer who did not set aside his very best grain to make the Juleøl could lose his farm to the King and the Church.
Aass Genuine Pilsner
This is a pale-coloured premium lager which makes the most of its ingredients - pure Norwegian mountain water and Sazer and Hallertau hops.
Aass Classic is slightly darker in colour than the Genuine Pilsner, and is slightly hazy, with a light hoppy and flowery aroma.
Bock is a dark lager - the type that makes beer drinkers out of those who ordinarily won't touch the stuff. It's medium to dark brown, but you can almost see through it. Aass' bock is an unusually thirst-quenching example of the genre, which basically means you'll be on your third or fourth bottle before you know it.
The Beer Advocate Website rates Aass beers pretty highly, particularly the Aass Classic.