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There is a very heated discussion in Sweden at the moment, as the government retail monopoly Systembolaget has changed its policy on the distribution of beer from small domestic breweries.

There is a general election coming up, which means that this also is of interest for the politicians.  Lawmakers and bureaucrats are in a bit of a twist – one one side there is pressure for a more liberal approach, allowing direct sales of beer, cider and wine from the producers to the public. On the other hand, this could undermine the monopoly, as foreign producers and their importers won’t have the same possibilities and will probably use legal means to challenge the changes. We are talking about a lucrative market with lots of buying power.

Systembolaget, obviously, want to keep their retail monopoly intact, and they have made some changes from 1 September. Their new rules include: Beer from small scale breweries may be sold in up to ten Systembolaget shops within a 100 kilometer radius from the brewery. The brewery is allowed to do the deliveries themselves. In town and cities, this will mean that the customers will have to visit a number of shops to find beers from different breweries. In rural areas, there will  often be less than ten shops within the 100 km radius.

The breweries will still have the option of listing their beers for specioal order through the Systembolaget shops. But they will then have to deliver the beers to the central depot in Örebro. Systembolaget claims that the depot does not have any warehouse capacity, meaning the breweries have to deliver every order by itself, at the brewery’s expense. This does not make sense economically for most of the smaller ones, who are now withdrawing their beers from the special order list.

A better account than the above is to be found on the BeerSweden site, they have published a press release from small scale brewery Beerbliotek (in English).

But I have a personal story to add. Later this week, I plan to visit a new micro brewery in Teveldalen, a conference/ tourist resort an hour’s drive from Trondheim, a stones’s throw from the border with Sweden. I thought I’d use the opportunity to cross the border to Storlien and buy a few Swedish beers. It is some distance to the nearest Systembolaget shop, but they have a network of ombud, meaning you can order your alcohol from Systembolaget and have them delivered to a local supermarket.

This is a modern, hi-tech Nordic country, scoring well on all the indicators for good living, so there is of course a web order form on the web page of the shop in Storlien. I carefully select four beers from the Åre brewery, 60 kilometers further into Sweden, add a few of the more interesting Oktoberfest beers listed in the Systembolaget app, plus a dozen imports from their special order list. I click send on the form, and hope a week is enough for the delivery.

 Screen dump, Systembolaget

Ten minutes later I get a call. From Sweden. From the man handling the alcohol deliveries at Konsum Storlien. Tyvärr, noen of the beers you have ordered are available through our shop.

-Nor even the ones from the local Åre brewery?

-We don’t get our supplies from Åre. We get them from the regional warehouse in Sundsvall. and they do not carry the Åre beers. And the ones from the special order list – we do not carry them.

One more argument for reforming the system, then. What looks like an impressive network of shops boils down to delivery of Carlsberg and Koskenkorva.

 

Breaking news this morning: BrewDog bar to open in Norway. Or, on closer scrutiny: One step closer to one or more BrewDog bars opening in Norway. I’m sorry that I forgot to credit Ølportalen (in Norwegian) as the source for this.

Three Norwegians have secured a franchise agreement with BrewDog, establishing BrewDog Bar AS. They will not run the bars themselves, but in McDonald’s style deliver everything. Beer engines, interior design, cash registers .. and beer.

Two of the three investors are involved in newly established 7 Fjell Bryggeri in Bergen, which is rapidly making a reputation for high quality beers. They are distributed nationally by Cask Norway, who also distributes BrewDog along with other acclaimed breweries from around the globe.

I am not in the restaurant industry, and I am no accountant, either, so I cannot give an economic analysis of this venture. Of course BrewDog is a familiar name in Norway, Cask Norway has done a great job, getting their beers on the supermarket and Vinmonopolet shelves in remote outskirts of the land. The market is also ready for trendy beer bars appealing to the younger crowd – there are a number of them already, at least in Oslo.

But on the other hand, there are some extra obstacles around here.

  • They cannot name it BrewDog. The rest of the graphic design also has to be toned down to follow the rather draconian Norwegian legislation when it comes to advertising alcoholic beverages. Pump clips seem to be all right, but apart from that they have to limit themselves to a clinical list of the beers on offer. This means that a lot of the promotional effect of using the well established brand name will be lost.
  • The concept of these bars is expensive beer in small glasses, even in markets where beer is cheap compared to Norway. If you add an extra link in the supply chain – the Norwegian franchise holders – and top up with Norwegian taxes and Norwegian wages, the cost of a beer could be astronomical.

They could go for low rent neighbourhoods, playing on the rough, no frills style of their bars. OR they could go for the other end of the market, finding prime spots where the customers don’t worry too much about the prices.

I have followed, with amazement and amusement, the BrewDog penomenon from its early days. I have enjoyed (most of) their beers, and I have praised them on this blog before they became a world famous brand.

I welcome BrewDog Bar to the Norwegian scene. I doubt that their bars (singular or plural) will be my favourite hangouts. But, as I wrote about Mikkeller Stockholm recently, all beer bars or pubs do not need to appeal to all discerning beer drinkers any more. There will be niches for various segments – and we old-timers will have to adjust. What a luxury!

I knew there were Portuguese craft breweries. They have Facebook pages. They are in the ratebeer data base. But they all seem to be located between Lisbon and Porto.

And I was nowhere near Lisbon or Porto, but on the southern Algarve coast. There was nothing in the immediate area, so I had to cast my net a bit wider.

An exchange of e-mails with the Mean Sardine brewery informed me that they had only one outlet in the south, a place called Algarve and friends in the town of Alvor. I tried to google this establishment, but with no result.

Anyway. I needed to rest my skin a bit from the sun, and Alvor was just 40 minutes away on an air conditioned bus. If I did not find the place, I could surely have lunch there before returning.

Alvor seemed like a fairly typical holiday resort, quiet at midday, but offering plenty of options in the evening. When the bus approached the town, a banner proclaimed the All day 90 cent pint, while a more classy place across the road was charging a Euro. A brief survey revealed a fair number of Irish pubs with and without resident troubadours.

After a stroll through town I found the Praca de Republica, and Algarve and company turned out to be a cafe/delicatessen, promoting craft produce. Cheese, sausages, wine, honey, tinned tuna and sardines … and a number of beers.

I order a (very nice ) cup of coffee and looked around. The beers are from two Portuguese Micros,  Sovina and Mean Sardine.

Nuno Miguel Vieira Dos Santos runs the shop. I tell him that I tried to look it up on the web. He apologizes, and tells me the reason is that he has been far to busy. He actually opened the same week I visited. That also explains why there is a steady traffic of people with various foodstuff, handing over samples for him to try out.

I try an amber ale from Sovina. Hazy amber, lively carbonation. Malty aroma, some funk and barnyard, Belgian yeast character.  Cereals and sweetness, very pleasant.

My lunch is a plate of assorted cheeses and cured sausages, which  are all very good. Some are chorizo-style with paprika, but the pepper is not very strong. I get an extra side dish of two types of blood sausage, one of them made with rice. A rich sweetness which show how honest food does not need to taste of more than its ingredients. With this I try a Mean Sardine Amura, an American pale ale. This is clear amber, with a fluffy head and a flowery aroma. The flavor is bittersweet. Malt and bitter herbs, some eucalyptus. Well crafted, by no means extreme.

I fill my backpack with sea salt, honey, almond cakes, beer, tinned sardines and anchovies.

Surely a place to return to. Easy to find, across the street from the Alvor tourist office.

If you want to explore the wonderful world of Portuguese craft beer further, here is a list of Cerveja Artesanal Portuguesa.

 

There were lean years when there were no beer festivals in Norway whatsoever. Now it’s difficult to keep track of them all, and I do not have the time or resources to visit more than a few.

Luckily my old home town Trondheim has one of the most interesting events. Trondheim beer festival, or Bryggerifestivalen i Trondheim to use its official name, has established itself as a great place to visit  in just a few years. It is a part of a bigger regional food festival taking place in the first weekend in August, showcasing fruit and vegetables, game and fish, cheese and sweets. This far north, this is when the vegetables are in their prime, the berries and fruit are beginning to ripen.

And in the middle of this, the beer festival is evolving. This year they had a custom built long wooden bar, plenty of seating both in the sun and the shade – and loads of good beer. Some of the national breweries are there, Kinn, Haand and Nøgne Ø – but most interesting are the beers form the smaller producers.

The brewer from Røros

Røros Bryggeri

They were close to cancelling the beer part of the festival just a month ago, as an official in the city administration refused to give them the necessary license to buy in the strongest beers. When this was know, there were several politicians from both the local and the regional level cutting through the red tape. This has become an integrated part of the annual celebration of the regional food culture – beer is finding its proper place alongside other food and drink.

Several breweries manned their own parts of the bar, meaning this was a great possibility for the public to talk the the brewers – and for the brewers to get spontaneous feedback.

Alongside the professional brewers there were volunteers with ample knowledge of beers.  And they had a splendid range to choose from. Along the medium strength beers there were a few barley wines, but, showing how the low alcohol trend continues,  also a number of milds. Two types of traditional Stjørdalsøl made with home made smoked malt. Very appropriate in the sunny weather were some very refreshing saisons from Klostergården and Namdalsbryggeriet. There were also authors of beer books promoting their publications.

Klostergården (To Tårn in the background)

New breweries were present, most prominently Namdalsbryggeriet, started just before Christmas. To say something about the speedy changes, Austmann, who made their debut last summer, is now one of the established breweries in the region. To Tårn has been around a bit longer, but they did not attend the festival last year, so they made their debut in this context. Røros Bryggeri has focused on beers with a broad appeal – they sold out their special oaked festival beers very fast. Rein Drikke were also newcomers with highly drinkable session beers.

Add sunny weather, no entrance fee, moderate prices for most beers. A dozen Norwegian breweries represented, half of them from the region. I was happy to meet new people from the breweries, I hope to get back to some of them on the blog later.

Haandbryggeriet and To Tårn

I am sure there are ways to develop the concept even further, and I have no idea about the economical side of the event. But I will do what I can to attend next year as well. Maybe I’ll even volunteer for a session behind the bar.

Austmann

On the sunny side

When your expectations are low, the potential is better for nice surprises. Great beaches, a lovely house, good food.

And the supermarket up the road has more than just pale Portugese lagers.

Vi kjenner historien fra før – en gjeng med entusiaster som ønsker å starte bryggeri, som finner et gammelt industrilokale pog setter igang. Dette gjelder også Nøisom Craft Beer i Fredrikstad. Men her har det faktisk gått mye raskere å få etablert seg enn man trodde på forhånd.

Da Nøisom etablerte seg i et gammelt industriområde – faktisk i det som en gang var et tapperi for matolje – i 2013, var håpet at de skulle holde på i disse lokalene i to år, forteller Stig, en av gründerne. Etterspørselen har langt overgått forventningene, så nå etablerer de seg på nytt noen hundre meter unna. Denne gang er det Haandbryggeriets gamle utstyr de overtar. Skjønt gamle utstyr, det er jo ikke mer enn et par år siden Handbryggeriet flyttet til Sundland heller, så det går raskt i svingene.

To årsverk foreløpig, mye skjer fremdeles på dugnad. Pål er den eneste heltidsansatte, man leier også inn noe hjelp til flasking. Av det som virkelig vil gjøre utslag i de nye lokalene er en flaskelinje, i dag skjer alt pr. hånd.

Fokus er i stor grad på butikkøl, det er det som gir penger i kassen. Hvete  (med lite hvetepreg), ulike PA og IPA-typer. Hvete og blond er bestsellerne. Men det er også et par mer avanserte øl som modnes på flaske – en stout og en imperial stout som begge lover bra.

Det nye anlegget skal settes opp i september, og man håper å være klare til brygging i oktober. Da går kapasiteten opp fra knapt 3000 liter i uken til 9000 liter i uken.

 

Soon to be replaced

 

Nøisom is the name of an old farm in Fredrikstad – but it also means prudent. They were anticicating leaner times whent they started brewing last year – but the growth has been far better then they planned for. They thought they would use their current setup for two years, but they have already bought new equipment and will move to biger facitilties during september.

This is another bunch of friends with a vision. Most of them have kept teir dey jobs, Per is the only one currently working full time.

The focus right now is to supply supermarkets, mostly in the Fredrikstad area, but also a number of shops in Oslo. This means beers 4.7%ABV and below. A wheat beer and a blond are the best sellers – also the beers with the lowest treshold for lager drinkers lokking for an alternative. There are more hoppy APAs, IPAs and a porter, too. This is where the money is right now. But there are also plans for stornger beers, for the pub/restaunnat market and for sale through the Vinmonopolet stores.

Industrial heritage

 

Ego Brygghus

Last Saturday, I gathered a few beer geeks and set out on a field trip in Østfold, the Norwegian county furthest to the southeast, on the Swedish border. My friend Henrik was generously our designated driver for the day and picked us up at the railway station in Fredrikstad.

We managed to visit four breweries during the day, and they show the range of activities on the Norwegian beer scene. We have to remember that ten years ago, there were just a few men in a garage producing craft beer in Norway.

Fredrikstad has a long industrial heritage, situated along the Glomma river, which has given electric power and transported timber from the inland forests. The industrial heydays are over, but this means there are buildings available for new activities. Both Nøisom Craft Beer and Ego Brygghus.

Tellef from Christianssand guest brews at Nøisom

The old traditions of farm brewing have died out in this region, but that hasn’t stopped the farmer at Gjerstad gård from running brewery courses and other events at his farm.

We ended up at Halden Mikrobryggeri, which I also visited last year.

I’ll do presentations of these breweries as soon as I get around to it. It was a warm and sunny day, with generous hosts along the way.

Gjerberg gård

 

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