Handcrafted Norwegian apple juices and ciders come out on top in international competitions and are created with a rock'n roll attitude. Learn more about the long traditions and latest trends at fruit farms in the fjords and the valleys.
Handcrafted cider in Norway
In Norway, apples used for juices and cider are as diverse as grapes in France. Although the most common varieties are Aroma, Summered, Discovery, and Gravenstein, some farms cultivate dozens of others varieties, including French and English varieties.
Development and breakthrough
Norwegian cider traditions likely date back to the Viking Age. Production experienced a peak in the late 19th century before being abruptly halted in the 1920s by prohibition. In 2016, cider makers were licenced to sell cider with an alcoholic content above 4.7 % on their farms. In 2019, cider was the fastest-growing product category at Vinmonopolet (The Norwegian Wine Monopoly).
Annual competitions in Norway, such as the Hardanger Cider Festival, have boosted both the ambitions and quality of Norwegian cider makers.
Each May, tens of thousands of apple trees bloom in the beautiful southwestern Sognefjord and Hardangerfjord area. In the autumn, 'the world’s best apples', according to one of the world’s leading champagne experts, Richard Juhlin, are harvested by hand, and turned into world-class ciders and apple juices.
“We have an almost anarchistic, slightly rock’n roll-like approach to fruit cultivation,” says Åge Eitungjerde.
Eitungjerde and his wife Eli-Grethe run Balholm, the award-winning company that makes handcrafted fruit juices and ciders. Balholm is located in the village of Balestrand by Norway’s largest fjord, the Sognefjord.
In the 1980s, several farms in this area started farming organically. For the numerous small fruit farms in the steep terrain, fresh thinking, diversity, and the ability to adapt has been crucial for survival.
Today, connoisseurs go so far as to compare Norwegian cider to champagne.
An ideal microclimate
The unique microclimate along the narrow fjords has turned out to be ideal for apple cultivation.
“The sunlight reflected off the fjord increases the amount of light in our steep slopes. The fjord also has a cooling effect on hot summer days, while the warm Gulf Stream provides mild winters and mid-seasonal temperatures, even though we are located at about the same latitude as Alaska and Siberia,” says Åge Eitungjerde.
Balholm's restaurant and farm shop, Ciderhuset (The Cider House), is labelled as an Economusée. Here, you can learn about the roots of cider production, participate in tastings and courses, and sample local food, perfectly paired with the liquid gold.
The epicentre of cider
But, you need to head a bit further south, to the Hardangerfjord, to find the country’s handcrafted apple juice and cider production epicentre.
Since 2011, the designations 'Hardanger cider' and 'Apple juice from Hardanger' have been geographically protected in the same way as ‘Champagne’.
Today, more than 50 fruit farmers are members of the Cider Guild of Hardanger.
“The unique combination of sweetness and acidity in the same fruit adds up to an explosion of flavours in the beverages,” says Joar Aga. According to him, the terroir continually benefits from the rich minerals that flow down from the surrounding mountains.
The young cider craftsman has turned his traditional family farm into an award-winning cider company.
Looking almost like a modern-day Viking, Joar takes a big bite of a bright and fresh apple as he gazes out across the Instagramable Sørfjord, the southern branch of the Hardangerfjord.
A taste of Viking roots
Aga farm is located a mere 50 metres from Agatunet, Norway’s oldest cluster of wooden houses with roots all the way back to the Viking Age.
Thirsty Vikings made their brew, called Bjor, from apples and honey. In fact, archaeologists found traces of 54 apples when excavating the Oseberg Viking ship in Vestfold. Later, in the 13th century, monks who immigrated from England taught fjord farmers how to plant apple trees, kick-starting fruit cultivation in the region.
In the Hardangerfjord area, you can also enjoy the incredibly beautiful Fruit and Cider Route, where you can indulge in tasting, sample local food, visit farms, and try out a variety of cool activities. Don't miss the annual Hardanger Fruit & Cider Festival in Øystese, held in October.
Another unique experience is the daily cider class at 6 PM in historic Utne Hotel, which will celebrate its 300th anniversary in 2022. The class is hosted by organised by hotel host Bente Raaen Widding and her husband, Kjetil.
“Hardanger has a beverage for every taste. Just the other day, I invited a guest to sample eight different varieties. I never give up until I find the perfect match!” says Bent
The number of high-quality apple juice and cider producers is growing every year, as is the diversity of new flavours.
“Norwegian producers measure up with the best international beverage producers. The Norwegian climate, with its great variation between daytime and nighttime temperatures, preserves the freshness of the fruit, and provides a long growth process, developing multiple layers of fragrance and flavour,” says Ingvild Tennfjord, an award-winning Norwegian wine journalist and author.
“Now, we mostly serve Norwegian cider. The quality can be as perfect as the best champagne!” Odd says. And reveals that some customers come to drink cider and smoke cigars in the backyard under the open sky. “That is such a great combo!” he emphasizes.
Thirsty connoisseurs should also try Norwegian eplemost (juice made from pressed apples). It is an excellent non-alcoholic alternative, a popular drink in Norway for both special occasions and everyday pleasure. Eplemost also comes in an impressive variety of flavours that can be paired with all kinds of food.
Egge Gård, in the Lier area, near Drammen, half an hour from Oslo, received no less than two gold and multiple silver medals at the 2019 Cider World Awards. Visit its farm shop, located in a charming storehouse from the 1600s, full of new flavours and old history.
Learn more about ciders and eplemost, a new and exciting way to experience the most beautiful parts of Norway.
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