Norwegians enjoy a robust pub culture and a burgeoning culinary scene, especially in the larger cities of Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim, and Tromsø. They started brewing beer 3,000 years ago, and modern Norwegians carry on that tradition with traditional lagers and innovative craft brews. A more recent interest in wine led to an increase in imports from their southern grape-growing neighbors in Italy, France, and Spain.
Though the heavily regulated Norwegian alcohol industry loosened up some during the first decades of the aughts, prices for alcoholic beverages throughout Norway remain high, and a near-zero tolerance policy makes drinking even one adult beverage before driving a risky proposition. But with Norway's efficient public transportation system, you can join the locals in raising a toast without worry.
Norwegians started distilling akevitt, also known as aquavit or akvavit, in the 1500s. Common throughout Scandinavia, akevitt resembles gin, with the dominant flavor of caraway instead of juniper. A neutral spirit derived from potatoes or grain, akevitt may include other spices such as fennel, cumin, or cardamom, and the zest of citrus fruits.
The beverage's golden hue varies from clear to light brown depending on the vintage. Norway's famous Linie Aquavit gets shipped to Australia and back in an unusual aging process. Scandinavians often consume akevitt, ideally in tulip-shaped glasses, during festive gatherings such as Christmas, New Year's Eve, and weddings.
Mead plays an important role in many Scandinavian celebrations that originated in Viking times, such as at Midsummer festivals. In winter, Norwegians often consume the drink hot alongside ginger biscuits. The majority of the drink's fermented sugar comes from honey, giving it the popular nickname of honey wine.
The traditional Scandinavian mulled wine called glogg adds aquavit to red wine simmered with cloves and cinnamon to produce a subtly sweet but powerful drink best served hot. Norwegians traditionally consume it during winter, especially around Christmas. A spoon may accompany the glogg, useful for scooping out the raisins and almonds customarily added to the glass.
Introduced to Scandinavia from Java, Indonesia, by Dutch traders in the 18th century, the name "punsch" derives from the Hindi word for five, referring to the number of ingredients that make up the beverage: alcohol, water, sugar, fruit, and spices.
Originally based on arrack, a Southeast Asian distilled spirit made from fermented fruit and rice or the sap from coconut palms, Norwegian punsch may be flavored with liqueur to add the characteristic notes of almond, chocolate, and banana. Like many adult beverages in Norway, where about a third of the country sits within the Arctic Circle, punsch is served hot during the winter.
Though more closely associated with Iceland than Norwegian, Brennivin can be found throughout Scandinavia. Translating to "burn-wine," Brennivin, technically a type of aquavit, most closely resembles a strong brandy, with an alcohol content of 30 to 38 percent.
Beer production in Norway dates back 3,000 years, but until the recent aughts, most pubs served only lager. Popular Norwegian beer styles include Pilsner, a pale golden lager with a distinctive hoppy flavor; bayer, a dark malt larger with a sweet flavor; and stronger lagers such as juleøl and bokko. Nowadays you can find an international menu of craft beer styles, too and a rising number of thriving microbreweries.
In Norway, apple cider may be served either chilled or hot. In some regions, the beverage is called apple wine, and its golden hue varies from light to dark depending on the preparation process and ingredients. You can go right to the source in the Hardangerfjord region, where English monks introduced the locals to apples in the 13th century and 40 percent of the country's fruit trees now grow.
Vikingfjord, a well-known brand of Norwegian vodka distilled using water from the Jostedalsbreen glacier, won a gold medal at the international Wine and Spirit competition in London in 2016. A bestseller in Norway, you can now purchase it in stores around the world. Vikingfjord comes in both plain and flavored varieties with an alcohol content of 40 percent.
Although Norway claims the northernmost commercial vineyard in the world, Lerkekåsa Vineyard in Gvarv, the country produces only a tiny percentage of the wine it consumes. Most of the bottles found at restaurants come from France, Italy, and Spain, though the country's Vinmonopolet (Wine Monopoly) chain—the only store authorized to sell wine by the bottle—carries a more global selection.
Fruit beers brewed with Arctic crowberries (like a cross between a blackberry and a blueberry) come flavored with various herbs and spices. Other flavors may include cherry, raspberry, and peach, and brewers often produce these in the slightly sour lambic style.