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Archive for May, 2008

I’m going to Prague next month. Oh, you’ll sure say. You mean going back to Prague? As a beer hound you must have been there before?

Yes, I’ve been there, but that was way back. 1988. I won’t bore you with the endless hours of haggling with our totalitarian hosts, nor with the long discussion we had with a chain smoking playwright just out of prison, as I try to stay clear of this type of discussions on the blog. But I exchanged a few dollars for local currency in a bar, and enjoyed a fair number of good beers in bars like U Fleku and the Golden Tiger.

I have enjoyed some of the Czech beers entering the European market in more recent years, too, but not in a systematic way. I am really looking forward to trying some of the unpasteurized beers on their home turf, and I have already enlisted the help of Evan  to advise me on how to go straight for the best pubs and avoid the tourist traps.

It was therefore quite convenient for me to have a look inside the Czech Inn in Dublin the other week, as The Beer Nut had mentioned that they had several interesting beers on tap.

This is a pub that seems to cater for a mixed crowd, offering an alternative to the endless pints of stout. There is probably a market of Central European expats making a core market, as the buzz of conversation I picked up during my afternoon visit seemed to confirm. (Hardly statistical evidence, but what do you expect from a blog?)

I did not see any food menus inside, but out front there were signs promising sturdy Austro-Hungarian fare like dumplings and goulash. I went for the beer list instead, which celebrates their two year anniversary by extra beers on tap in addition to the regular list of Czech and Slovak beers.

The Konrad Premium beer is a bit stronger than the ordinary Bohemian pilsner at 5.4%. It is biscuity, with lots of cereal flavour. Rather sweet, but there are enough hops to make a well composed beer.

Kvasar from the Cerna Hora brewery is brewed with honey. This has a very full flavour, with the honey clearly evident, giving an extra dimension to the beer without making it cloyingly sweet. It is similar to some of the best beers I tried in Latvia earlier this year. This beer would be wonderful for cooking, I would love to poach some salmon in this brew and make a sauce of it afterwards.

A medium body, a very quaffable beer. There are even hops in the background making sure the honey does not steal the show totally.

The scene? Rather 1980s retro, lists of cocktails at 8 Euro a glass, very quiet and civilized in the afternoon. But, this being Temple Bar, I imagine it is more suited to a younger crowd around midnight. By then I was safely tucked up.

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The final party

I never even considered drinking alcohol on the London Tube – if asked I would probably have thought it was illegal, I still remember being told that smoking was banned throughout the system when lighting a cigarette in the open air at Turnham Green about 25 years ago. 

And, even if I knew it was allowed, the Tube functions as a convenient rest between pints – when in London I focus on cask ale.

Well, even if I have behaved decently, others have been more naughty. and one of the campaign promises made by Boris Johnson in the recent election campaign was to ban drinking on public transport.

Well, he won, and the ban will be effective from 1 June.

A group called Last orders on the Underground (you have to be British to think up concepts like this) will be organizing a final session on the Circle Line on Saturday.

After that it’s brown paper bags, I assume.

Thanks to the Going Underground’s blog for the info.

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Busy, busy

I’m terribly sorry, but there is a life outside the blogsphere intruding on my time and priorities. In the meantime, I would like to proclaim the first floor beer hall of the Bull and Castle, Christ Church, Dublin, as the most photo-friendly pub on the planet.

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Yes, it’s been a while. I’ve been in Dublin again, and I have some stuff to attend to both at work and at home. But you’re not forgotten.

The weekly business magazine of Danish daily Berlingske Tidende has a major article (available online, but in Danish) on Carlsberg’s strategy following the acquisition of Scottish and Newcastle. Carlsberg is now established as one of the five major players in the global beer scene, and Berlingske Nyhetsmagasin has interviewed the CEO, Jørgen Buhl Rasmussen, who talks quite openly about their four pillar strategy for how to earn money after spending a fortune on the latest acquisition.

The four value drivers are Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Asia and properties. They will not look at totally new markets, and do not envisage a move into, say, South America, even in a ten to fifteen year term.

The key factor in Eastern Europe is, naturally, Baltic Beverage Holdings, which was a joint venture between Carlsberg and S&N. BBH has a market share in Russia that has grown from 20 to 37 per cent in ten years, and is far in front of the four global competitors. The  BBH brand Baltika is the second fastest growing beer brand globally – and has a very high profit margin.

An independent analyst is quoted saying that BBH’s current market in Russia and the former Soviet republics will grow by 54 million hectoliters by 2011 – this expansion is bigger than the total British market.

The Western European market does not allow for such an expansion, so here it is more a matter of cutting costs and running the operations better. The overheads are being cut, as they have been higher then for the competition. They are closing down breweries, even the historical Copenhagen brewery is winding down. Nine or ten of 21 breweries in Western Europe are facing closure. (Including two Norwegian ones, I presume! Ed.)

There are limits to what can be done in Western Europe, but the hopes are very high in Asia, where Carlsberg is going for an expansion similar to the one in Russia. They have been present for some years in mature markets like Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. The expansion now will happen in China, Vietnam and India.

Developing properties is the last part of the four pillar strategy. The development of the old Tuborg brewery area is almost finished, and the Carlsberg brewery in Valby, Copenhagen is next. They also have some very attractive real estate in cities like Leeds and Hamburg. An estiamate prices their real estate at about a thousand million Euros – serious money if you want to reduce your debt.

Puh.

Expect more beer and less beer industry next. I’m getting thirsty! But no Baltika, thank you!

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At last I got along to try the three beers from Inderøy Gårdsbryggeri I have written about over the last month or so. Anders in Trondheim had picked up some bottles for me, which I got last weekend, and yesterday I thought they had enough time for the sediments to settle.

I was not too exciting about the Kalfaret beers earlier in the week, but these were in another league.

I started with the Kvamsholmer, which they say is “inspired by” the German Kölsch. I presume this means it is technically an ale, since it is top fermented, but it is easily mistaken for a lager.

The beer has a fruity aroma with a little yeast, and it pours a cloudy yellow.

The taste? Apples and citrus, with a fine bitterness lingering in the mouth. Inspired by Kölsch, maybe, but I found this more balanced than most of the originals. Full body. This would be great with food.

The Soddøl is cloudy brown with hoppy flowers in the aroma. Sodd is a clear soup or broth, served with potatoes, meatballs, carrot and mutton, served on festivitive occations in the region. 

 You can always discuss the finer points of wether this type of beer is a pale ale or a bitter, the important thing is that it is a very decent and well composed beer. A light, but not watery, body and a mouthful of bitterness. I loved it, and those who are serious about their beer will enjoy it. But it might have too much bitterness in the finish to win over the locals. I hope I am wrong, and this is a beer that really should have a national distribution. But maybe the Kvasholmen is actually better with sodd?

The Ankerøl – Anchor ale – is a fresh, easy-drinking porter. Grain, a hint of smoke, toast and anise. Not as exciting as the other two, but a very fine beer.

These are not extreme beers, but they are fresh and flavourful, with a standard that most professional brewers would be proud to be associated with.

Inderøy bottles

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Like all other Norwegian town of some size, the local beer market in Bergen has been dominated by one brewery, in this case Hansa. They have generally moved with the crowd, sticking to the usual range of lagers with the pils as the dominating beer. They have in more recent years merged with Borg brewery in another part of the country, but they are still brewing outside Bergen. They have a slogan similar to Brains of Cardiff – Brewed in the rain.

Before they grew to their present size, Hansa was located at Kalfaret, at walking distance from the centre of town. While moving out, they kept some of the old buildings, and last year they opened a micro brewery in one of them, Kalfaret Bryghus.

The brewpub is stylish, if not very original, it is the same post industrial chic as most brewpubs with tiled floor, copper brewing vessels and brass beer engines. They have a small Hansa museum on the premises, showing some of the highlights of the brewing history. A nice touch.

A very friendly barman pours me samples of the five beers on offer, and tells me right away that they are not too pleased with their wheat beer. They have just ordered yeast from Weienstephan, and hope this will improve it. There is nothing particularly wrong with the beer, but it is rather boring, with no characteristic wheat beer aroma – neither citrus nor banana.

Their pils is a bit bland, too. Soft and round, with a little nice bitterness in the finish.

The pale ale has aromatic hops, flowers and a little dust. Some bitterness and an almost oaky finish-

The bayer has a decent body, caramel sweetness, but it is a bit too watery, with a short finish. Almost there.

Finally, the Bock is a bit stronger than the other beers, lifting it to another level. It is true to type, sweet and sour, malty, not too heavy. Lovely dark ruby, too.

The bar has a decent selection of bottled beers,  including some good stuff from Nøgne ø and Haandbryggeriet. Their list even includes the Dark Horizon from Nøgne ø at 1000 kroner for a bottle, (that’s $200) but that was sold out a few days ago. The best sellers among the bottled beers are Rochefour and Samuel Smith’s Porter.

The general public tend to prefer the pils. This is brewed with Hansa yeast, giving the locals a familiar taste profile.

The verdict? An inviting brewpub with a good range of beers fro Norway, with a friendly manager who knows his stuff. The beer was too much on the safe side for me – I know that the market will generally go for the lager range, but one experimental beer would be a nice addition to the range. If you are in Bergen, it is definitely worth a visit. The 15 minute walk will do you good, too.

The pic on the bottom is from a film contiously shown in the museum.

 

 

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Umbrella town

Bergen is the gateway to the fjords and with plenty of scenery of its own, encircled by mountains and sea. I feel a bit worn out already at touchdown. The plane took off at 06:40. Which means the airport express train at 05:15. Which means the alarm going off at 04:30. The next time I take an evening flight and book a hotel!

I land just in time for the rush hour, and the 30 km taxi ride into town takes an hour and costs about the same as my plane ticket. The sun is threatening to break through the clouds, but the enthusiastic host of the local radi in the taxi can promise rain in the afternoon. It will, presumably, stay nice for as long as I am stuck in a windowless conference room, then. Luckily there is an umbrella included in teh conference material – it’s not as if it’s the first time it is raining here..

My meeting is over, I walk to the centre of town – with the waterfront as its focus. This is an area where you can easily part with your money. Bergen has always been a trading town, with traditions back to the Hanseatic league. The outdoor fish market is is much better shape than the last time I was here a decade or so ago. Salmon and shellfish dominate. One stall has a sign boasting that they speak a dozen languages, another has canned delicacies priced in Yen. You can buy reindeer pelts and seal fur – if you can get it through customs back home.

The old woodne warehouses are on the UNESCO world heritage lists – and the restaurants have prices to match. I stroll off in the general direction of my next destination instead. Time for a beer!

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The Danish Herslev Bryghus has brewed a carrot beer, containing carrot juice, malted oat and heather honey. This is a part of the drive for a spectre of Nordic beers as an answer to German or Belgian beers. They are also experimenting with asparagus.

I applaud the innovative spirit, but I have a strong feeling this is more a novelty than the future of beer. And I have had enough Belgian fruit and veg beers to be a bit vary, although the Danes seem to be using this more as an ingredient in the brew than as a simple flavouring.

The story, and the photo, comes from the Danish Beer Academy. Lots of interesting stuff if you read Danish, if not you can look at the photos and try to figure it out!

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At least it used to be home. I moved to Oslo more than 20 years ago, but when I visit Trondheim and the surrounding region, especially just when everything is turning green, I get nostalgic.

But I am not getting into that today, I’d just like to inform you that the Inderøy Gårdsbryggeri has officially opened. I’ve mentioned their first three brews before, and they promise an English ESB and a stout in a month or so if you happen to pass by. Their beers are also available at a few restaurants and pubs in Levanger and Trondheim – and they have a licence to sell it directly to thirsty travellers too, albeit with limited opening hours.

I have managed to get hold of their first beers, which I’ll blog about as soon as I get around to a proper tasting. I tried two so far, and they were very nice.

Later in the year, Trondhjem Mikrobryggeri is celebrating its 10th anniversary. They plan to do that with a special hoppy brew, which should be available around the beginning of December.

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Off for an oval weekend

In Trondheim. No blogging. But I have plans to pick up a few beers..

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