English language History Stavanger

Stavanger’s beer history from 1503 to 2003. Part 2: Enter Tou

In the early 1840s the first Bavarian lager could be had in Stavanger. Unfortunately it wasn’t brewed locally, but at Schous Bryggeri in Christiania (Oslo).

Schous was, when founded, the only brewery in Oslo, and the first Norwegian brewery to attempt a bottom fermented beer. The public were requesting beers that tasted the way the imported beers from Germany did, so Schous had employed a brew master from Denmark in 1839 to teach them how to brew lagers, but it wasn’t until 1842, after several months of exchanging letters, that they got their hands on their – and Norway’s – first shipment of lager yeast from Germany. In the interim, they’d been brewing lagers with ale yeast. Schous was, at this point, ahead of Carlsberg who started selling lagers in 1846 after the owner, Mr Jacobsen, had brought back lager yeast from Bavaria in his own hat. Before then, Carlsberg had attempted to use Weissbier yeast for their lagers.

Lagers, i.e. bottom fermented beers such as Pilsner and the aforementioned Bavarian lager (BJCP: Munich Dunkel), became so popular that they resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of breweries. The introduction of lager yeast was The First Beer Revolution in Norway. Already by 1857, just 81 years after the establishment of Norway’s first brewery, there were 343 breweries in the country. Contemporary cook book author Hanna Winsnes declared that lagers had all but wiped out home brewing, but by 1890 there were just 46 breweries left.

This rapid increase in the number of breweries is comparable to the current, massive growth – The Second Beer Revolution caused by the re-introduction of ale yeast and the emergence of the so-called craft beer. We wonder whether we will also be witnessing a similar collapse?

Grand Café in Stavanger’s Øvre Strandgate had the license to serve both beer and wine. From around the turn of the century (No, the previous one, smartass).

At this time, Stavanger was a small but wealthy city. The population was 12-13 000, and the huge profits made from fishing and shipping, meant that money was burning holes in many pockets. Still, there was not much industry in the city. A contemporary report briefly mentions the industry by noting that a garment factory had been established and a tannery had been closed.

Meanwhile, in Hillevåg, just south of Stavanger in what was then the Hetland municipal area, the trading house of Køhler owned an industrial complex consisting of a ship yard, several mills, a ropewalk, a tannery, a bakery, a malt house, a distillery, and a brewery. Their grand family residence was also there, and in it’s vast gardens was a stable with 20 horses, 2 of them Arabian, which were looked after by stable masters from Denmark; 100 cows; the largest ox in Stavanger; an aquarium with turtles; and pens with peacocks, parrots, turkeys and guinea fowls. The name Køhler was synonymous with wealth. If someone tried to overcharge you, you might reply “Nei, eg e’kje någen Køhler heller” – “No, I’m not exactly a Køhler.”

The family sold their Hillevaags Munchen Dunkel, called Bayerskøl in Norwegian, from their shop in the Nygaden street in Stavanger, competing with beers from Schous and beers imported from Germany, The Netherlands or Denmark. Hillevaags was Stavanger’s first proper brewery. Exactly when they started brewing is unknown, but it was likely in the late 1830s as a report from 1840 states that there used to be a distillery in Hillevåg, but “this has now been replaced by a considerable brewery, owned by the widow of the trader Køhler in Stavanger”. The brewery employed 8-10 men and produced 24 barrels of beer daily.

Køhler’s facilities by the fjord in Hillevåg
The Køhler family residence

Despite the fact that beer was now brewed large scale locally, home brewing was still going strong. In Randaberg, just north of Stavanger, it was common to brew 4 to 6 barrels of ale for a wedding. Another 1 or 2 barrels of booze had to be bought. The weddings normally took place on Thursdays, but the relatives would kick off the party Wednesday night and keep it going until Sunday.

Access to water mills was crucial for factory breweries. There was no electricity – money was only allocated for the first power station as late as 1907 – so without mills, no power, no milled grains and no brewery. In Hillevåg, the mills were fed by a canal leading water from the lake Mosvatnet. Tau (formerly written Tou), across the fjord from Stavanger, was also a good location for mills, as there was a ten meter drop from the Korsvatnet lake to the fjord. This is where Tou Interessentskab, founded in 1855 by seven wealthy businessmen wanting on capitalise on the rapid economic growth, constructed their mills, a malt house and a brewery. The turbine mill was erected in 1856, and by 1858 the first Tou beer was sold. From now on and until modern times, the history of beer in Stavanger is more or less the history of the Tou brewery.

Other famous breweries established around the same time, are Murphy’s in Ireland, McEwan’s in England and E.C. Dahls in Trondheim, Norway. All of them were established in 1856, the year the mill was put to work at Tau.

The Tau facilities: 13 is the mill, 18 is the malt house, 20 is the brew house, 21 is fermentation, and 22 is lagering.

Norway’s first prohibition movement was founded in Stavanger in 1859 by the Quaker Asbjørn Kloster, and it grew into a nationwide organisation by the 1870s. It kept close ties with the labor movement which was emerging in parallel, but the two had different views on how to reduce alcohol consumption. Where as the prohibition movement naturally wanted to ban alcohol entirely, the labor movement wanted to change the society; it was the poor conditions the working class suffered under that drove them to the bottle.

The Køhler family shut down the brewery by 1866. The brewery workers were drinking too hard. The brewery was turned into a bakery.

Stavanger was struck by a downturn in the 1880s. The important herring fisheries had failed, and the growth in the merchant fleet had stopped. Banks went tits up. In Hillevåg, the Køhler family were bankrupted and their facilities were taken over by the Stavanger municipality and closed down in 1889. The company had been Stavanger’s largest, and their closure sent shockwaves through the city. Wasn’t this company too large to fail?

At Tau, they kept it going. The milling operation wasn’t going well, but the brewery was their bread and butter anyway. 3 new lagering cellars had been constructed in 1877, in a period when Tou produced about 800 000 to 900 000 liters of beer per year, and in 1887 they introduced pasteurisation tanks.

With Hillevaags out of the way, Tou now had a local monopoly on beer production, but had to compete with imported beers and home brewing, which was still legal but in decline. The price war was so hard that a truce had to be negotiated. In 1882 it was agreed that a bottle of beer should cost 0,20 kroner (around £1.25 in today’s money), while a half bottle should cost 0,11 kroner. A factory worker was making less than 50 kroner per month back then, so he could afford about 250 bottles a month if he didn’t pay taxes but spent his entire salary on beer. Check how many bottles of craft beer you could afford if you did the same. (Don’t go running to the corner shop, just do the math.)

Tau was far from any civilisation – it still is – and because the workers lived at the facility with their families, a school had to be built for their children. The Tou factory area became a small society of its own with a school, a grocery shop, the steam boat “Tou”, and the docks. In Stavanger, where the head office was located, the company acquired more and more real estate, but in 1889 the crisis hit Tou. They were unable to pay their bills, went into administration and was put up for sale. A limited company was established to purchase Tou, and 425 000 kroner – around £3 million in today’s money – was raised. 350 000 was spent acquiring Tou, the remainder was spent modernising the mill and the brewery. The daily beer production was around 7000 liter. The mill delivered 350 horsepower, of which 50 went to the brewery.

It was around this time that our government discovered that breweries are ideal for taxation purposes. The tax on malt, which had been just 0,04 kroner per kilo in 1857, increased to 0,37 kroner in 1896. Almost a tenfold increase in just 30 years. In fact, beer produced in Norway was taxed harder than wine imported from Europe. The breweries had to do something to survive, so they formed a union and increased the price on beer, thereby handing the tax bill over to the consumers. Isn’t it always so?

By 1899, there was finally a local competitor to Tou; Stavanger Aktiebryggeri built a brewery in Lervig in East Stavanger. The place is now Tou Scene, the venue for one of Europe’s best beer festivals What’s Brewing, and ØST, the beer bar located in the very room where the brewery workers went to relax and drink their beer.

This was a modern brewery – the plans and drawings were prepared by a German specialist company – and the capacity was 15 to 20 hectolitres with the option to double it though expansion The brewery was doing well, but could not compete financially with Tou who had already written off their equipment over several years. It all came to an end when Tou bought Stavanger Aktiebryggeri in 1907 for 325 000 kroner, thereby re-establishing their monopoly after just 18 years of local competition.

From now on, all new investments and modernisation was concentrated on the Lervig brewery. It made little sense to be pouring money into two breweries.

Stavanger Aktiebryggeri in Lervig

There were 200 venues licensed to sell beer over the counter in Stavanger in 1890, but by the turn of the century, the local municipality got more and more power over alcohol legislation. So obviously they had to make cuts. The number of licenses was reduced to 129 while the number of bars was set to 16. They also discussed establishing a beer monopoly, but this never happened. But they continued to cut. The number of off-licenses was cut to 10, and then again to 5, while the number of on-licenses was reduced to just 10. Tou fought the cuts bravely, lashing out against the prohibitionists and their supporters in the local newspaper, accusing them of incentivising “smuggling and other illegalities”, thereby turning normal people into criminals. Alcohol regulation is still a contentious topic in Stavanger. Presumably there hasn’t been many changes to the municipality over the years.

Workers at Tau, 1905
Tou’s brew house, 1905
Lagering beer at Tau, 1905

In 1905 Tou celebrated their 50th anniversary. 160 guests were invited to the party, among them the local mayors, shareholders, business associates and the press. The mayor of Stavanger, Hans L. Falck, made an appeal:

“Tou is essentially a Stavanger business, and the company has contributed considerably over the years to the city and the region by paying salaries and taxes. Such an enterprise is a good, and thus deserving, not just of our sympathy, but also of our support in its accomplishments.”

“I have, on a previous occasion, permitted myself to say that one should purchase Norwegian goods, but I added, for the benefit of the Stavanger audience: Purchase goods from Stavanger first and foremost, and I repeat those words here because I think they are valid. We must remember that it is good to be able to stand on your own two feet. I propose a toast to Tou, wishing it continued progress and wellbeing, not only for the benefit of the company and its shareholders, but also for the city and the region where it has its business. And, Gentlemen, we toast not with French wine but with Tou beer!

You could replace ‘Tou’ with the name of any of the four current Stavanger breweries – Lervig, Jåttå, Salikatt or Yeastside – and those words would still ring true. But it is not likely that a current politician would utter them with the same gusto and conviction.


As always, we love hearing from you. Please send us your comments, good or bad.

Part 3, which is launched in a week, will cover the period up until 2003. This is a period of four wars: the first and second world wars, the war against prohibition and the much more serious war against Carlsberg.

Sources: Ref part 1.

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