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Archive for April, 2008

While I don’t worry much about Ringnes/Carlsberg whimpering about the rising price of raw materials, the same problems are now hitting the whole industry in Noiray, according to business daily Dagens Næringsliv. (The article is not online.)

Jens Maudal at Haandbryggeriet says that the price of malt is up 45 % this year, while hops is  up 200%. They are raising their prices by 10-15%.

Nøgne ø is also forced to raise prices by up to 20%, but they had the foresight to order hops at last year’s prices. Kjell Einar Karlsen at Nøgne ø is worried, however, that the prices will rise as much next year.

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After many years of decline, the value of the Danish beer market is growing again. The volume continues to slid, but the demand for more expensive craft beers compensate for the hectoliters of Tuborg lager.

Denmark is know as a market for dedicated beer drinkers, but, as in other core countries in the beer belt, the consumption has been in decline for a number of years.

A change of lifestyle, changing drinking habits, even slightly more rigid legislation has probably contributed. (It’s not as if it is difficult to get a beer. My elderly relative in Odense felt they had done quite enough when they banned the sale of alcohol in petrol stations after 8 in the evening!) The days of midweek liquid lunches are probably gone forever.

But the stagnating market has turned, thanks to both expesive imports and domestic micro brews. The giant in the market, Carlsberg, can also report growing sales for its most expensive speciality beers, while the sale discount bottles fall year by year. The total volume of beer sold in 2003 was above 500 million liters, in 2007 ti was 450 million liters.

Both industry spokesmen and independent analysts point out that this is due to a strategy developed over a number of years. The wide range of new breweries has contributed to turn the public conception of beer.

To earn more money on a smaller volume is of course in the interest of many actors in the market. A few years ago, you would find crates with 30 bottles of beer retailing for about 70 kroner. Now you could easily find a single bottle at the same price, either hand brewed in Denmark or imported for Belgium or the US.

In four years, the number of breweries has grown from 20 to 97, and old and new brewers have launched 556 new beers. We are talking about a country with a population af about 5,5 million here!

I’m the first to wish all the new Danish breweries welcome, I no longer have any illusion about tasting a beer from each of them as they keep popping up! But I would be much surprised if the number of breweries does not stabilize on a somewhat lower level within a few years. But they should be able to get along with 70 or 80 of them as well!

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It is funny. I manage to get myself, usually on time, to meetings and leisure activities, all across Europe. I can figure out rather cryptic airline timetables, matching decent prices with convenient schedules. But when I try to organise an excursion to Drammen, forty minutes from Oslo by train, I manage to arrive at the station just as the train departs the platform.

Luckily, this is commuterland, so there is a new train in 20 minutes, and a short taxi ride brings me to my destination.

A bit in the shadow of the success of Nøgne ø, Haandbryggeriet has established itself as a innovative micro brewery with a commitment to quality. They struggle with the same distribution problems as everyone else, particularly when it comes to their stronger beer types. When news leaked out that they had two new beers which would hardly have any national distribution, I rounded up a dozen beer hounds and booked us a guided tour of the brewery and a tasting.

So, the rest of the guys were already there when I arrived, and they had started the programme. I will not get into the technical details here, but it is worth mentioning that they are still expanding their capacity – and they have beer maturing which will enhance their status even more.

On to the tasting, some of the highlights were:

Norwegian wood – trying several batches and comparing how aging and freshness plays a role. This is a beer made with juniper twigs, giving a wooden dryness and smokiness.

We had some lovely samples of experimental brews, too. Miklagard is brewed with figs. The highlight for me was the lingonberry porter, with a magnificent interplay between the beer base and the berries. Sadly, the cost of the berries makes the beer to expensive to brew commercially.

They have two beers on their way, the Dobble Dose IPA, which will be renamed for the North American market combines lots of flowery, dusty hops and plenty of malty sweetness.

They were a bit disappointed with their Haandbak, their version of a Rodenbach-style Belgian sour ale. This has been aged two years in oak casks, and you have wonderful wood aroma and a lingering dryness. They felt, however, that they had not achieved the carbonation level they wanted in the final product – in my opinion the beer was splendid.

There are more interesting brews on their way – one is a beer maturing in old aquavit casks which I will be happy to help them test if so required.

It was a great evening out, chatting with the brewery guys and developing the camaraderie between the visitors. It is nice that we have established a loose community that is big enough to arrange events like this – and we must have manage to fool the brewers to think that we know what we are talking about, as we have been asked to come back later to give our views on forthcoming beers.

 

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It had to happen sooner or later. I travel a lot, and while I do not actively seek out the seedy parts of town, I sometimes stumble across them. I booked a Brussels hotel on the web focusing on the rate and proximity to the centre. It was only when I returned there in the evening I saw what kind of neighbourhood I was in, with ladies winking at me from every window.

I navigated through the streets of the Hague looking for a brewpub last year, and encountered a very non-inviting street that made me speed up a bit and find another route back later.

But, generally, I am not even approached by ladies offering their services. More often, in any city, people walk up to me and ask directions. In Finnish, Italian or Greek. I suppose with my glasses, my hair a bit long and a slightly bewildered look on my face I look like a graying teacher, someone it is safe to approach and ask for the fastest route to the railway station.

I was, therefore, anticipating a new experience when my fellow beer blogger the Beer Nut offered to introduce me to a Galway hooker. I have chatted with the Beer Nut quite frequently over the last year or two, but we have actually met in person only once, on neutral territory. I do not know the customs of the Emerald Isle too well, and I would certainly not want to offend the natives.

It turned out the Galway Hooker is a beer. And it is named after a boat. (I don’t know where the boat got its name!) And, while beers with slightly risque references often turn out to be boring, this turned out to be the best beer I have had on tap in Ireland. It is a lovely IPA, refreshing with lots of hops, grass, flowers and bitterness. A long lingering finish.

The place where they serve this beer, alongside a good range of imports and a number of Irish micro brews is the Bull and Castle. This is a two story pub, with the upstairs function room transferred into a mock German beer hall, complete with tables and benches.

Apart from the Beer Nut, I had the chance to meet up with some other members of the Irish Craft Brewer group, but I’m afraid I had to make my excuses fairly early in the afternoon. I managed to sample the Galway Hooker Coffee Porter as well as two beers from Franciscan Well, too. And even the Brooklyn/Schneider Hopfen Weisse, who the landlord kindly let us taste. Too little time, good company, hope I have some more time on my next visit! One thing is for sure, this pub should be the first watering hole to aim for when arriving in Dublin.

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They claim that this is the smallest pub in London – the tied lease for the pub behind Marlebone station is yours for £16,900 per year.

Flowers Original and London Pride are on tap. The sort of pub you wished was at the bottom of your street, according to Fancyapint.

I don’t know if you can influence the beer range with the tied licence, you’d have to ask Stonch.

It may not be the best time of entering the English pub market, but if it’s your dream…

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The Washington Post has an article on wood aged beers, both the local beer from the ChopHouse restaurants and bottled beers from across the US like Stone Brewing and Dogfish Head.

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That’s in Sweden.

This is what happens if they close down the Swedish alcohol monopoly. According to  – the Swedish alcohol monopoly.

It takes one to know one.

Presumably there will be rivers of blood, too, but they do not have the exact figures for that yet.

A brilliant blog post about this on the Reason Hit and Run blog.

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When I was told I had a business meeting in Dublin, I was not hard to convince. There are direct flights, the taxi drivers are friendly, there are good beers to be had if you know where to find them.

Since my last visit two years ago, it seems the micro movement has evolved further, and I happily boarded my flight, which took off right on schedule in contrast to the Zürich plane the week before that stayed on the tarmac for hours. The plane was full, mostly of men my age with classy leisure wear. I discover by the baggage belt on the other end that they all had checked in golf clubs – luckily they did not smash any of the beers I had brought along for the Beer Nut.

Being a fair bit longer than average, I always go for an aisle seat, but there was only one row in flexible economy, so I had a window seat for a change. Lovely weather gave first a view of the Norwegian mountains, still with meters of snow for those who want to prolong the winter. Onwards towards the coast near Stavanger and across the North Sea. There were only a few fluffy clouds, which mean you could see both ships and oil rigs down below.

We landed in Dublin ahead of schedule, and the coach for the hotel left as soon as I hand entered.

I checked in and found the station for the Dart train just behind my hotel. The trains are not too frequent, but it is a comfortable means of mass transit, especially outside rush hours.

I was meeting up with John and a few others from the Irish Craft Brewer community in a few hours, so I had a sweep through the two brewpubs in central Dublin, Messrrs Maguire and the Porterhouse.

Messrrs Maguire plays it very safe, with a standard range of ales and lagers that are rather boring. They had a special beer on, however, what they called an Imperial Stout. This was a seriously good smoked stout, but probably not strong enough to call it imperial. Lovely smokiness in an easy-drinking stout body. Beige head over a very dark ruby beer. My only objection is that they could have brewed this a bit stronger – but I would not mind drinking my way through a few more of this.

Their best bitter was a disappointment. I was told later that a cask version of this had appeared at beer festival. This was, however, a keg version, subjected to a heavy-handed nitrogen treatment. If you want a reference, some of the more bland British canned bitters with a nitro widget, like Boddington, comes close.  I did not finish my half.

I was sorely tempted to renew my acquaintance with the range of stouts at the Porterhouse, but instead I focused at their occasional Chocolate Truffle Stout.

The taste was very much chocolate truffle and very little stout. Somehow they have managed to blend the chocolate seamlessly with the stout base, but it erases any trace of the character of the beer itself. I suppose they have gone for a rather bland flavour in the stout before adding the flavour.

How is it? Like O’boy, but slightly less sweet and milky. It is better than it sounds – but a half pint was enough!

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To show that I am impartial beween the English and the Scots and that I’n not totally bought by a box of BrewDog beers, I will raise a glass tonight. At 10:30 Central European Time, then.

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Some brewers, often anonymous, grumble about the beer rating sites like ratebeer and Beer Advocate, nicknaming them hatebeer. They feel that they are put down by a small number of geeks who make hasty judgements and don’t appreciate the high quality some of the craft brewers are offering.

Some take the other approach – they embrace the online beer community and use it for spreading the gospel. Here is a clip from a Scottish paper about BrewDog, which I have covered repeatedly:

James, 25, said: “I spent a lot of time in the beginning trying to create some interest in the product in Scotland but a lot of places wouldn’t even take free samples from us.

“They just didn’t want to know.

“It was frustrating, as well, because Fraserburgh gets such a lot of bad publicity and attention for all the wrong reasons. But here we were, two young lads trying to do something positive for the area and give the community something to be proud of and no one wanted to know.”

……..

Thankfully, the pair had access to thousands of more appreciative beer drinkers on the internet.

After selling no beer at all for four months, the two pals decided to focus on the export market and began sending samples out to “beer bloggers” around the world.

In a matter of weeks, BrewDog was the hottest name on the lips of those in the know in the world of beer and, before the duo knew where they were, they were being lauded by fans and connoisseurs around the world.

The problem was, they still hadn’t sold a bottle. But as interest grew, retailers across the globe started putting in orders and they suddenly found themselves shipping as many as 25,000 bottles at a time to countries including America, Canada, Japan, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Italy.

James said: “A lot of the beers we make are quite strong, so they are not for those looking to down 10 pints in a few hours.

“So we found a perfect audience among the beer geeks and hard-core beer fans who use the internet. They just got really excited about what we were doing and, unlike retailers here, once retailers abroad got wind of the beer, they were quite happy to try samples.

“We got fantastic coverage across the world and, suddenly, around last August, the orders started flowing in.”

Since then, the boys have shipped out around a quarter of a million bottles to Sweden and half a million to the US.

There are probably several lessons to be learned here. I think one major point is that you should try to start a business when you are 24 and do not have decades of antiquated information on how things should be done…

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