The Svalbard archipelago is an Arctic wilderness and lies pretty much halfway between the Norwegian mainland and the North Pole. Despite strong winds, freezing temperatures and the polar night from November to February, the main town of Longyearbyen is home to almost 2,500 inhabitants. In summer, during the high season, it can be twice as much when cruise ships arrive.
The 63-year-old Robert Johansen moved to Svalbard for the first time at the age of 22. His dream of finding a job as a pilot failed for the first time and he eventually found work in one of the coal mines for the next 12 years.
But the dream of flying never left Johansen. After seven years as a seaplane pilot on the mainland, he returned to Svalbard in 2001 to work in aviation. While there, he found employment as a pilot and base commander with Lufttransport AS, based at Longyearbyen Airport. Johansen still works there today.
Johansen, an avid home brewer, wanted to start a microbrewery as a next step to produce a real Svalbard beer. For the time being, an old Norwegian law from 1928 stood in the way. This banned the production of alcohol on Spitsbergen in order to combat alcoholism among the miners.
After more than five years of negotiations with the authorities in Oslo, Johansen was finally able to push through the necessary change in the law in 2014.
Thus was born a brewery in a cold, unusual place. This was only possible through strong will and vision.
Spitsbergen Bryggeri AS offers a standard range of eight classic beers. In addition, local specialities are still brewed for special seasons, cultural events and traditional festivals. A special feature for all Svalbard beers is that 16% of the high quality water used for brewing comes from the 2000 year old glacier Bogerbreen.
Svalbard Bryggeri now employs several full-time staff, supplies every bar and restaurant in Svalbard and exports to Norway and Europe. The brewery’s top products are Spitsbergen Pilsner, followed by Pale Ale and IPA.
Norwegian Air’s two-year contract with Svalbard Bryggeri was another step in the right direction. The airline offers canned beer on all long-haul flights. “This, in addition to increasing production, is also a great commercial for us and for Svalbard. I can’t even count how many people have visited us for a tasting because they flew Norwegian a few years ago.” Johansen said.
Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal