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Archive for February, 2008

From the Evening Standard about the changing face of London pubs, which is not as bleak as some portray it:

Bewilderingly, food is now considered as important as drink – pork scratchings do not count. The market is now increasingly about “food, family and females”.

A wail of lamentation can be heard from those diehards who are opposed to this formula. The best boozers will tolerate families up to a point, will serve food as long as it comes in packets, and have a strict policy on females which is that they must not interfere in any way with the business in hand.

Of course, these old fools should learn to live with the times. Pubs must reflect the communities they serve. No one these days wants to sit nursing a milk stout and scowling at the world as it passes by.

There have been persistent whispers that the London pub is dying, but that is far from the truth. At the beginning of 2007, there were around 5,700 pubs in the city and, since then, only 54 have closed, with half that number converted into restaurants.

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Photos for this post kindly provided by Lars Marius, as  I left my camera at home!

Buen StoutThe Lillehammer brewery was among the small Norwegian brewers that was bought up by Ringnes to be closed down in 1983. (This means that I have tasted their beers, but I am afraid they did not leave any lasting expression..)

A group of local enthusiasts wanted to revive the brewing traditions in town, whose claim to fame is having hosted the 1994 Winter Olympics. They were able to establish themselves in the old brewery itself, and they even managed to snap the name Lillehammer Bryggeri under the nose of Carlsberg/Ringnes, who presently are busy registering old trade marks. The brewpub opened in 2006.

Lillehammer is 2 hours north of Oslo, and the train timetable allow just a one hour visit before returning to the capital. I have never gotten around to taking the trip on my own, but with four of my beer buddies it made more sense. A beer tasting on the train both ways made this a real day out. The conductors of both trains were muttering something about this being prohibited, but we were much bigger than them, so we got away with it!

We were standing outside the brewpub when they opened at seven, and were greeted with a warm welcome.

The place is like a local museum, you can still see marks on the floor from the old brewing vessels, and there are lots of items linked to local history. (If you have time to spend in Lillehammer, they actually have two fine museums, the open air Maihaugen with its historical buildings and the Lillehammer Art Museum with both a hand picked permanent collection and interesting temporary exhibitions).

The brewpub is owned and run by a number of local enthusiasts, with only one of them drawing a salary. The concept is based on local food and cooperation with other small scale producers, and they are in no rush to grow bigger. They hope to deliver kegged beers to to the local market. There will be bottled versions as well, but that does not have the highest priority.

There are four beer regularly available, with the occasional seasonal like Christmas beer in addition.

We had samples of their four beers, but the time available means I cannot give any decent reviews of them, just some short impressions:

  • A lovely aromatic pilsener with lots of fruit and malt and a rather low bitterness.
  • A wheat beer which was perfectly adequate, but not as outstanding as the rest of their range.
  • An English style ale packed with flavour, generous hoppiness makes it both sweet and bitter. (Note: They change the recipe for the ale for each batch)
  • A dark stout with a ruby tinge – sweet liquorice, nuts, grain and a hint of ashes.

All the beer had a freshness and full flavour in common. Let’s hope this stuff gets a wider distribution.

One word of advice – they have limited opening hours, so check their web page if you intend to make the excursion.

A quick walk back to the station, a quiet compartment – and soon we were back to tasting everything from African lager to a US raspberry ale. It was a rather jolly bunch that left the train at Oslo Central Station shortly after ten!

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From an article in Beverage Daily on the strong growth of craft beer in the US: 

Keith Levy, vice president of brand management for Budweiser maker Anheuser Busch, said that while the brewer was looking to capitalise on recent growth in craft beers, the segment was not a new market for the company.

“Anheuser Busch’s brew masters have been crafting specialty lagers and ales in the world’s most intricate beer styles for more than 130 years such as our all-malt Michelob, Michelob Light and Michelob AmberBock craft brands,” he stated.  “In addition to brewing our own specialty beers, our alliances with the regional breweries help us reach a wide range of craft beer drinkers.”

Levy claimed that rather than damaging the smaller craft beer labels, the presence of groups like Anheuser Busch had long been aiding smaller brewers.

Who do these guys think they are fooling? I hope this type of arrogance will be thir downfall as their profits diminish and they start axing their vice presidents.

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The Bavarian way

I used Google to try to find out more about Obazdem the other day, and, unsurprisingly, the sites that came up had a rather Bavarian slant. One page caught my interest – a page offering promotional material for those who want to set up a biergarten in Bavaria. We are talking about an official page from the Ministry of Agriculture here, and they have a number of suggestions, including menu items:

  • Bayerischer Biergarten-Schmankerl-Korb mit Brezn, Radieserl, Tomaten, Radi, Obazda, Schnittlauch, Allgäuer Emmentaler, Gewürzgurken und süßem Senf
  • Regensburger Wurstsalat (Regensburger Würste in einer Marinade aus Essig, öl, Senf und fein gewürfelten Zwiebeln), dazu Brot oder Brezn
  • Obazda (Camembert, Butter, Salz, Pfeffer, Paprikapulver, fein gehackte Zwiebeln) mit hellem Lagerbier angerührt, dazu Brezn Bunte Biergarten-Brote: Schnittlauchbrot, Schmalzbrot, Brot mit Obazdem und/oder Radikas, Radieschen- oder Radibrot auf einem großen Teller anrichten und mit Petersilie dekorieren
  • Bayerischer Leberkäse mit Kartoffelsalat
  • Schweinshaxe mit Kartoffelsalat
  • Fleischpflanzerl mit Kartoffelsalat
  • ½ Hendl mit Petersilie gefüllt, dazu Brot
  • Auszogne (Schmalzgebäck)
  • Here we have another recipe for Obazda again – Camembert, butter, salt, pepper, paprika powder and chopped onions. The menu actually has a fair resemblance to the one in the Airbräu.

    But there is more. There are make believe border control signs proclaiming the Free State of Bavaria, there are lovely beer posters.

    But, what stands out most for a Norwegian with a Lutheran background where alcohol is considered a sin – and certainly not what the government would promote:

    Typical for a beer garden is the Maß(the one litre glass). You should offer half litre glasses as well. 0,33 litre glasses do not evoke any Biergarten feeling…

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    Back to Parma last week, and, as I wrote recently, I had used Google and Babelfish to do some research beforehand. Nothing much new and exciting at the places I have blogged about before, Mentana 104 and Birreria Underground, although I managed to find a salumeria delicatessen that had a few beers from the new Birrificio del Ducato that I dragged home. (They survived intact, although I was worried when I stood waiting for the express train from Oslo airport to stop and I saw a small puddle underneath my suitcase. No Italian beers, fine wines or olive oil were harmed, but there was a leaky bottle from Unibroue and a smashed bottle of English barely wine. I’ll have to think more about packaging..)

    So, I set out in the early evening for the outskirts of town. 40 minutes brisk walk led me to the Chelsea Pub, a place you have to look for to find it. Sure, it is on one of the main roads out of Parma, but the frontage towards the road is very unassuming, and there is no sign telling passers by that this is a bar and beer store.

    And, at first sight, it is not a very inviting place, neither in the mock Oirish/ Olde English style nor in the slick Italian chrome and glass sort of style. There are plain tables and chairs and very harsh industrial style lightning. (This type of glaring lights is actually quite common in Italy). The coziness is made up by the place being two thirds full of friends enjoying their panini and beer. No music, no TV screens, just beer, bread and conversation. That is what it’s all about.

    A long list of sandwiches with all the best bread, cheese and meat Italy can offer plus a fair number of beers on tap and bottled. No beer list, but luckily there is a corner of the bar that functions as a shop where you can look more closely at the range on offer.

    They have several ales from the St. Peter’s range, some nice Scottish beers, Belgians, Germans, but no Italian micros. They even have rather elusive beers like a few from Fantome.

    I had a lovely speck and Gorgonzola toast and started with a Bornem Trippel, which was on tap. A fairly standard Belgian strong blond with full body and the right amount of sourness.

    The decor of the place is fairly rustic, with soccer flags and b&w movie memorabilia. The counter i heaped with English crisps. I tried a horseradish and sour cream – a first!

    I followed up with St. Peter’s Summer Ale (lovely) and Broughton’s Scottish Oatmeal Stout, which lacked enough body to lift it.

    It was getting late, so I decided to ask them to call for a taxi instead of walking back. But it is a place worth walking to if you find yourself in Parma. The only downside with some of these pubs is that they don’t stock the local micro brews. There might be snobbery involved, it might be the price level of the craft beers, it might just be a market that is not very mature. (I hasten to add that the market where I come from is much less mature!)

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    Traceability is a buzz word for everything connected with food in Europe and, I believe, globally.  There are many reasons for this: 

    • Public and animal health,
    • Consumer confidence in food,
    • Varying degrees of honesty in the market place
    • Marketing opportunities (slow food, local food, spinning stories about the farmer or the brewer)
    • Governments and EU bodies’ wish to enforce legislation/taxation/control subsidies.

    According to a report in Beverage Daily, the European Union has recently announced proposals for a new electronic system (EMCS) for manufacturers of products requiring excise duties. 

    The measures can reduce losses and fraud during the transportation of products like alcoholic beverages, and simplify the current system of excise charges for beer.

    Rodolphe de Looz-Corswarem, secretary general for the Brewers of Europe, welcomed the system, which he believes can simplify the administrative process for manufacturers and encourage greater trade of national beers in the bloc.
    “We hope that Member States will finally enable consumers to benefit from the internal market for goods such as beer and approve the Commission proposal, where beer acquired for personal consumption is subject to taxes from the country of purchase,” he stated.  “In today’s world of online shopping, consumers in Europe should not be restricted as to where they order their favourite beer.”

    If there is one thing that makes me wary, it is industry associations claiming to speak for the consumers….

    On the other hand, beer drinkers across Europe will welcome measures making it easier to find out where their beers really come from. It will also make it easier for small scale brewers to show what is real craft beer and what is macro brewers sailing under a false flag.

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    A Munich stopover

    I prefer Munich airport to Frankfurt when I have to fly via Germany, probably because the new light and airy terminal buildings make me feel more comfortable. In Frankfurt I feel more like a rat in a maze, and sometimes I feel like I am going through a dozen security checks when pressed for time.

    I had a few hours in Munich last week, not enough time to go into the city or any neighbouring towns, but luckily there is a beer destination at the airport, right between the two terminals. There is even a beer garden of sorts with a glass ceiling far above, allowing for an outdoor feeling year round.

    The place is a brewpub called Airbräu, and I have briefly blogged about it a few year ago, when I was a bit lukewarm about their hefe weissbier. This time I wanted something more substantial, as the snack on the plane had been very modest.

    There were no sampler glasses, and my waitress recommended the following platter from the weekly menu: Aviatorbrotzeit mit kalter Schweinehaxe, Obazdem und Schnittlauchbrot, which with eine Halbe Starkbierwas a very reasonable 8,60 €.

    I tried to look up Obazdem, as I thought it was the name of the radish-like slices on the plate, after some time I found out it was the dative form of Obazda, a cheese/butter/dried paprika spread the Bavarians use on bread. End of language lesson.

    The pork roast was nice, so was the buttered bread with chives and the salad, too – the Obazda would probably been better with just a plain chunk of bread.

    The Starkbierturned out to be a very pleasant Doppelbock at 7.8%, a proper wintry type of dark beer full of malty goodness, though certainly strong enough for lunchtime drinking, especially in half litre glasses. Lots of fruitiness, sour cherries come to mind. The sour/alcohol edge makes this a beer for sipping rather than quaffing.

    The Fliegerquell was a honest, cloudy and fresh Helles. Some yeast, some bread. More sour than sweet, which gives it character. More sourish than bitter, which makes it a Helles rather than a Pils.

    To sum up: A warm welcome, home brewed beers, good German food at sensible prices. Every airport should have one. The main Airbräu is in the public access area between the two terminals. There is an outlet in Terminal 2 as well, but I have not been able to access it – it is possible outside the Schengen security barrier.

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    Back from Italy

    Regular blogging to be resumed shortly. A few new discoveries, a few negative surprises, but overall a very pleasant trip.

    Meanwhile, some Italian bottles I bet you haven’t seen before:

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    It is winter holidays in schools over here this week, meaning that we have to do something to keep them occupied – we don’t want them to sit inside killing monsters on various consoles, do we?

    So I took my kids to ØstfoldbadetWater Park in Askim, an hour by train to the southeast of Oslo. There are no decent swimming pools in Oslo, nothing like the magnificent Pirbadet in Trondheim. There are pools closer than Østfoldbadet, and I find them more civilized, too, but they keep the water a few degrees warmer than the other facilities, which does the trick.

    Askim is on the outskirts of the computer belt for Oslo, but it is like another world. The locals in various degrees of undress had mostly pent their money on tattoos, and it var a relief that I felt almost skinny compared to the natives.

    There was a smell of stale cooking oil hanging over the premises, mixed with the special pommes frites-krydder, a spice mix consisting of equal parts salt, MSG, paprika and dried onions. The pools were cramped, and there was half an hour of queuing for lunch. But the kids loved it.

    On our way back to the station, I discovered that Askim is an overlooked beer destination. They have their own beer guru, Gustav Jørgensen, who is going to speak to the faithful next Thursday. The sign for the event did not, unfortunately, say anything about what beers he will present. I’ll have to see if the online version of their local paper covers the evening. Looking at Mr. Jørgensens web site, it seems that he is actually promoting decent beers and that he is not in the pocket of Ringnes/Carlsberg. It is encouraging that such events are held – I hope he is busy!

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    Rather more local than I usually am:

    Saturday 8 March, BTIZ in Keysersgate.

    4 Norwegian bocks, so seemingly no festival specials.

    Quite a few German bocks, among them Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock.

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