We’re always banging on about the North. It’s our home and we’re proud to be from it. 41.6% of our name is NORTH. But, when planning our series of tenth anniversary releases, we looked even further North. We looked towards skies lit up by the Northern Lights. We looked for the Most Northernly Brewery in the World. We found Mack, in Tromsø, Norway.
A collab beer seemed inevitable. What could be more Northern, than Northern Monk and the Most Northernly Brewery in the World? Sean Bean drinking a pint of cask with Sarah Lancashire somewhere in the Dales, maybe. We settled for our collab. What we found was more than a collab. A new friend to Monk, a Leeds United fan from the cold Norwegian North, Christian Riksheim – the most welcome Norwegian in Leeds since Alfie Haaland.
Hello Christian. For those who don’t know, who are you?
Where do I start? Male, closing in on fifty, father to two, and married to Marit, a pretty blonde girl from the neighboring city, nine hours drive from Tromsø. I worked in sales for most of my life but turned brewery founder in 2014 with a friend. I now work at Mack. I have a deep and intense love of music. Standing in a crowded room, or in a festival, beer in hand, with Marit by my side is just great.
Tell us about Mack Brewery?
The Mack Brewery was founded by Ludwig Mack in 1877. Ludwig was the son of a German baker who arrived from Braunschweig, Germany to start a bakery in Tromsø. So the knowledge of yeast was already running through the family veins. One of the first beers produced was a Bayer, and we still make it to this day.
Today the brewery has moved out of the town center and is situated just beneath the Lyngen Alps and has one of the best water sources in the world. Over the last 20 years, breweries in Norway have been bought by foreign owners, but we are proud to say we are the largest Norwegian-owned brewery.
The microbrewery is still in the oldest part of the old factory. Here I produce close to 80,000 litres a year, mostly ales. Most of these beers go to local bars, and customers across the rest of Norway. And this is where the fun begins. Pales, IPAs, sours, pastries, farmhouse beers and a few lagers get rolled out from my doors weekly.
As luck would have it, you’re a Leeds United fan. How did that come about?
Ooooh, Leeds. Bring on the pain right! Life, football, and beer isn’t easy. Sixteen years of pain, how did we manage to get through it? Beer! Joke aside, my first Leeds love was Gordon Strachan. All the other guys playing football here were wearing red jerseys, but that was not the team for me. I was the only one supporting Leeds while getting abrasions from the gravel on the pitches up here, trying to slide tackle like Vinnie Jones. But I stuck with it, hurting when we got relegated, and fighting our way back up to where we belong (for a bit).
Music is a big part of your brewery, why is that?
Have you seen Fight Club with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton? Do you remember the first rule of Fight Club? Never talk about Fight Club! In Norway it is illegal with to show beer commercials, or anything regarding alcohol. We can’t advertise, talk about, or show beer. What can we talk about? Music! We started a profile where we use music as the fifth ingredient in beer! All organisms, including yeast, deserves good music. We installed a vinyl player and started buying records. We have produced music, well, beer, for festivals ever since. Not even to mention me, getting to play music, all day. Keeps me quite happy I can tell you.
What have you got at your brewery?
The microbrewery is a special place, and a playground for me and the brewmaster Rune. I get to express myself through the beers. I decided to build a stage with a drumset, bass and guitars in the corner, so we could start having concerts here when there is no production. The microbrewery is a part of the visitors’ centre and a large part of the tour where we present the history of the Mack family and the brewery. In the fermentation room, all the tanks are painted with rockstars like Elvis, Patti Smith, Ringo, Johnny Cash, Iggy Pop and a few Norwegians. Somewhere between four and five thousand people walk across my dancefloor each year.
How was your trip over to Northern Monk for the brew?
I did not know what to expect, so I did what felt natural for me; go there and do an honest day’s work. I arrived at 7.30am, scratching at the door, eager to start. I was greeted by a happy Italian brewer, Vito, and was shown everything, including the deepest darkest secrets of the brewery. And conversations brewer to brewer never get boring. We like to learn from meeting minds attuned to the same thing, and spending the first day as one of the Monks was inspiring. Actually, I was a Monk. Or I felt I was. What I did not expect at all, was the second day where I got to go to the Old Flax Store with Fraser and brew our beer! This was even closer to my heart, and the spirit of Northern Monk.
Are there any similarities between the North of England and Northern Norway?
Never say die! We are incredibly proud of being Northerners. The spirit of the North is something we often talk about. At Mack we talk about Norwegian rawness and North Norwegian pride. We are proud to represent a part of the country that is something different to the rest. I think that also represents the people I met while in Leeds. Some of the pictures of the North of the UK could just as well be behind my house. However, we do have more snow. And we have reindeer roaming around our houses almost all year.
You brought some hops with you from the brewery – what were they?
I brought North Norwegian hops, grown at the Mack family cabin. These hops were planted there by Ludvig Mack Bredrup in 1980. However, this is a plant he moved with him so it will most certainly be 30 years older than that. After doing a rub ’n’ sniff with the quality department we determined that that were quite citrusy. Because of our long summer nights where the sun never sets, there is not a lot of bitterness to them. But the plant has most definitely seen its share of the Aurora Borealis.
What’s a typical session in a Norwegian pub like?
Coloured by having a pub beneath the microbrewery hosting 72 different Norwegian beers on tap, it is best described as diverse. But most Norwegians mostly drink lagers and lots of it. The pubs function as after-work safe havens. They drain out around seven and are full again at 11 until closing time. Norwegians drink late in the evenings and, maybe, too much.
What’s a traditional Norwegian toast?
We mostly just say “skål”, where all in the group in turn clink their glass together with the person that said skål. If I asked my children they would say two pieces of white bread, joined with ham and cheese, heated until the cheese melts, and devoured as quickly as possible.
Takk skal du ha, Christian!