English language History Stavanger

Stavanger’s beer history from 1503 to 2003. Part 3: A city at war

Everyone who worked at the brewery at Tau, even the brew master, was fired in 1918.

Nedre Holmegate, Stavanger ca 1915

World War I was ongoing, and although Norway was neutral, there was limited access to grains. A national rationing was introduced. It meant that breweries could only produce Landsøl (low alcohol pilsner type, probably less than 2,5 % alcohol), Maltøl (advertised as a non-alcoholic energy drink), Bjor (low alcohol bock) and Vørterøl (malt beer, Maltzbier in German). This matured Tou’s decision to merge the two breweries at Tau and at Lervig, and to sack everyone at Tau. All brewing took place in Lervig from 1918, whereas the mill and the malt house continued their operations at Tau. The rationing didn’t last that long. By 1919, the breweries were allowed, yet again, to brew Munich Dunkel and Pilsner, and the following year also Bock.

The brewery in Lervig, ca 1915

In the interwar period, Stavanger was a dry city. In 1919 67.7% of the population voted for prohibition in a nationwide, advisory referendum. A second referendum was held in 1926, and this time the prohibition movement lost the war over Norway, but won the battle of Stavanger. Stavanger remained dry until 1940, even though prohibition was lifted elsewhere.

Blueprint from an expansion at Lervig, 1923

Still, the capacity at Tou’s brewery in Lervig was 400 000 halfbottles per week. The eagerness of the city council to cut, as described in part 2, meant that Tou was now the only entity allowed to sell beer in Stavanger – there where no other shops or bars selling alcohol legally. At the same time, there was a lack of decent drinking water. Tou announced their readiness to donate 1 million kroner, around GBP 2.6 million in today’s money, to the construction of improved water infrastructure, on the condition that the council increased the number of off-licenses to 15. This lead to enormous activity. And by that we mean debate. The local newspaper, Stavanger Aftenblad, every moralist’s best friend, wrote:

“A problem with such extensive social magnitude, and the fateful importance of the issue of sobriety to the individual cannot be weighed against the offer of a loan from a brewery.”

So that was the end of that.

In the 1930s, the Norwegian breweries agreed to refrain from a turf war. They divided Norway between them, and sold only in their own home region. This meant that all Norwegians basically grew up with one beer. It strengthened the monopoly of Tau in Rogaland and formed a strong bond of patriotism between the consumers and “their” brewery.

During World War II, the importation of grains came to a halt again. As a consequence, from 1941, breweries in occupied Norway produced only Landsøl and Vørterøl, and the quality was declining. The Nazis demanded an increase in production, and kept the best beer to themselves. Norwegians were left with the poorer quality brews. In the years before the war, the brewery in Lervig had produced around 2.6 million liters per year. By 1940, they produced 3.8 million to keep up with the German thirst. A lot of extra shifts had to be put in, and the wear and tear on the equipment was considerable.

Another referendum on prohibition followed after the war, and finally the good side won. Stavanger was a no longer dry – 3 government run liquor stores (Norway still to this day has government run liquor stores for all alcoholic drinks above 4.7% ABV) were established and 40 shops were granted off-licenses.

Queueing for beer in Nedre Holmegate, 1941

Tou’s production facilities were moved to the largely industrial area of Forus, just south of Stavanger, in 1974. By 1987 there were only 15 breweries left in Norway. Tau had merged with CB in Kristiansand, and then with Nora, which meant it was now a subsidiary of Ringnes. Ringnes in turn merged with Pripps of Sweden, and the newly formed company was subsequently bought by Danish giant Carlsberg.

In 1999, the antiquated “Beer Law” of 1912 was finally repealed. The law had made it virtually impossible to home brew. The only exception was if you made your own malt, but hardly anyone did that. The law, in combination with urbanisation, had taken its toll on the old brewing traditions while serving to strengthen the position of the industrial beer. In many regions, home brewing traditions vanished completely. We described these traditions in detail in part 1.

The source of our knowledge of exactly how people brewed at home, is a questionnaire from 1952. Norwegian Ethnological Research sent 103 detailed questions to home brewers all over the country, and their answers are a gold mine of information. A lot of it was compiled by Odd Nordland in his 1969 book ‘Brewing and beer traditions in Norway’ which is almost impossible to get hold of now. We have begged the publisher, Universitetsforlaget, to print a new edition, but they don’t want to. They don’t even want to do it as an ebook, even though second hand copies sell for more than 1000 kroner, and the book is sought after both in Norway and abroad. The Stavanger library has just one copy, and it’s sitting on my desk as I am typing this.

When the Beer Law was repealed, it was because the authorities felt it was no longer “in line with the times”. From 1999 on, Norwegians have been allowed to brew at home as long as the product has less than 22% ABV and is intended for their own consumption only.

The law hadn’t knocked out home brewing – indeed, it is said that at Voss even the chief of police brewed – but the old tradition was on the ropes. Methods, equipment and, not least, kveik, which had survived for generations were gone. Luckily home brewing is now very popular again, but modern DIY-ers tend to brew foreign styles on modern equipment and with different ingredients to those used in the old days. Today, Norbrygg, the Norwegian home brewer’s association, counts more than 400 members from Rogaland.

There was also a second effect of the Beer Law. It meant a shift from taxing the raw material – grains or malt as discussed in part 2 – to taxing the finished product – the beer. This meant that the term ‘beer’ had to clearly defined, and the 1912 definition was:

“By beer we mean any fermented… alcoholic, not distilled drink which has not been brewed with, or has had added to it, anything other than water, malt, hops and yeast”.

This was a Norwegian purity law, completely in line with the Bavarian original from 1516. A law that would last for 82 years! In 1994, Norway became the last country in the world to repeal the purity law, but only after the European Court had declared it a trade barrier conflicting EU laws. The purity law is still followed, voluntarily, by many breweries, but its repeal meant that it was finally legal to import and brew beer with ingredients such as rice, fruit, herbs and berries. We would never have had The Second Beer Revolution if the law had still existed. Thank you, EU! On the other hand, we wouldn’t have had Corona either.

Fra Stavanger Aftenblads forside 15. februar, 2003

On February 15, 2003, Stavanger Aftenblad published an article headlined “Tou Brewery may be sacrificed”. This was the first time the rumours of the potential closure were aired in public. Carlsberg had done the math and figured out that there was excessive capacity in the Norwegian brewing industry. There were other reasons to feel threatened as well. One reason was the battle against the large grocery chains who wanted to take over beer distribution from the breweries. Another reason was Lidl, the German low cost chain, who was entering the Norwegian market; The breweries feared that the public would prefer cheap, German beer. A third reason was the ongoing political debate concerning the possible abolishment of the return policy for used bottles. It secured the jobs of those working in the bottle sorting departments, and at Forus, all beer was bottled. Canned Tou was tapped at Ringnes’ facility at Gjelleråsen near Oslo.

In the end, it was between the three breweries Tou, E.C. Dahls og Arendals. Carlsberg wanted to keep E.C. Dahls as they had a canning line and cans were taking over from bottles. Stavanger Aftenblad encouraged everyone to only buy Tou in bottles to support their local brewery. The sale of bottled Tou went up 80%, while the sale of canned Tou decreased by 20%. Meanwhile, in bars and pubs around Stavanger, Tou had 90% of the market.

The major of Stavanger, Sevland, grabbed his pen and wrote to Ringnes:

“Tou has, through more than 100 years, been an important company in Stavanger. Tou is a strong brand here in Rogaland and the company is an important part of the region’s focus on the food industry.”

We hope our local politicians still see brewing as a vital part of the brand “Food County Rogaland”. Unfortunately, there’s nothing to indicate that the industry is thought highly of. We’re probably going to need another brewery closure before we hear anything positive from them.

The Tou employees took part in the May 1 procession wearing their coveralls with tape covering the Ringnes logo. Not for the last time were brewery logos hidden behind tape in this city. One of the banners read “No brewery, no city!”. Clearly the view on alcohol had changed dramatically since the days of prohibition. Perhaps brewery employee Per Westby, with 38 years of experience, said it the best:

“A city with any self respect should have a good football team, a cathedral and a brewery.”

Union leader Inge Rønneberg said this about the Carlsberg management:

“These people hardly know where Stavanger is. This provokes me as a Rogalending, not just as a Tou employee. Both in Oslo and in Copenhagen they combine ignorance with arrogance. That’s the worst combination of them all.”

Tou had a profit of 362 million kroner in its final year, but it was located on a property deemed too valuable not to sell. Perhaps the rapid growth of the oil industry at Forus contributed to its closure?

On June 2 it became public knowledge that the board of Ringnes had recommended that Tou should be closed. The approval came two days later. Carlsberg, at the time the world’s fifth largest brewery, shut down the production at Forus. That was the end of the journey for Tou, even tough canned Tou Pilsner is still produced in Oslo.

But we had not yet come full circle. In 2003, the same year Tou was closed, Lervig Aktiebryggeri was founded as a protest against the closure of Tou and the relocation of Tou Pilsner. Since 2005, Lervig have produced some of the world’s best beers where Stavanger’s first brewery was located – in Hillevåg.

Artwork on Lervig’s wall

This ends our series about the history of beer in Stavanger. If we should take anything away from this story, it is how essential it is that we care for our local breweries and brewing traditions, as well as the restaurants, bars, and shops that sell our local beer. This is our identity. Our history. Our cultural heritage. If we don’t care for it, it goes away. So head out and buy a beer from your local brewery – whether it’s in Lervig, or in Skudenes or in Egersund. Cheers to the brewery workers, cheers to the women who brewed at home in the 1500s, and cheers to those who uphold our traditions today!


As always, we love hearing from you.

Sources: See part 1

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