Liquor in the sheep barn

Alcohol, local berries and herbs become artisanal gin and aquavit on the small farm in Sunnmøre.

Liquor in the sheep barn

Sykkylven in Sunnmøre had a beer monopoly, mayor from KrF and a priest who did not want to marry gays. Far into the 2000s. Harald Strømmegjerde had taken over a small farm in Straumgjerde, between Sykkylven and Velledalen. He did not want to work with sheep, like his father. What was he to do with the garden, the barn and all the free time that existed after the job in the furniture company Ekornes, now that the children were soon out of the house?

He was interested in beer brewing, but it felt a little late to throw himself into that trend. When he visited the Irish Teeling Destillery in Dublin, and saw how they made whiskey, an idea ignited in him.
- It looked like something I could also achieve.

But he feared what people would say. Garden is not deserted, but inside a residential area, on a slope in the small village Straumgjerde, a stone's throw from the prayer house.
- It's unheard of to do something like this. I was very low about what was going on in the beginning, he says.
- Probably not everyone liked it. But Innovation Norway was positive. Finally something new, something that did not include a tractor, I was told. Now I feel it is accepted among people in the village as well.

Harald's father, Hans Strømmegjerde, monitors whether the barley grain germinates ("floor malting"), before it is later smoked and used in the production of whiskey.

Brennevinsgrova it says on a large sign in the garage. In here he has the distillery. A giant, shiny construction in brass, with pipes and tanks and round protractors. Bought in Germany, after thorough research and visits to several manufacturers, for 70,000 euros.

Potato spirit, water and spices are heated in the distillery and become steam before it then becomes liquid in the cooling tower. The distillate is then mixed with water in a stepwise process, where the alcohol percentage goes from 83 percent, to 60, 52, 48, finally one down per day to the desired percentage. This process is done in one day at large manufacturers. Electric fence allows it to run over 10-12 days, to preserve more flavor. Craft gin , he calls it.

Alcohol is the only thing that comes from outside. The water he uses flows down from glaciers in the mountains at an altitude of 1200 meters. All of the berries and herbs are local. Blueberries he has picked in the mountains, raspberries grown in Valldal, rhubarb and apples, chervil and bronze fennel grown on farms in the district.

It gives its own taste and products with a history and identity, which are often named after mountain peaks or mountaineers, such as Randers and Patchell. He has won international awards for Ginen Strawberry Pink. Several types of gin and aquavits from Strømmegjerde are now available in Vinmonopolet's additional selection. And at fine restaurants in Ålesund.
What he dreams of, a step further, is to make a good whiskey.
- It's exciting. More complicated process and much longer storage.
He's up and running. Whiskey stands on barrels in the old sheep barn, first on used bourbon barrels, before being transferred to used sherry barrels. Smoked malt is usually used to make whiskey. Straumgjerdet has its own twist, with grain from Sunndalsøra, which he smokes himself, by burning peat taken from Sykkylven.

Here too, among conservative Christianity in Sunnmøre, there are traditions for drinking alcohol. The name Brennevinsgrova originates from a place where people stopped to give the horse water from a water source, and even took a year of strength. The road home to Velledalen was found only because the horse knew it so well.

Harald Strømmegjerde does everything himself, except invoicing. He fills pots, takes care of cooking times and temperatures, taps bottles, makes labels. He sold 10,000 bottles in 2020 and this year it could be up to 15,000.
He is rarely free. That's how he wants it. Tonight he is parting deer. With a little dram to?
- No. If everyone drank as little as I did, this would go badly.

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