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Archive for January, 2009

Some interesting stories from Colorado right now, where the supermarkets are not allowed to sell beer above 3.2% (by weight, not volume). This sounds like the watered down versions of beers you can find in Swedish supermarkets, which I can assure you is pretty bland stuff.

 

They used to sell some of the 3.2 beer on Sundays, but not any longer. The reason is that the liquor stores throughout the state are now allowed to open on Sundays, and they sell real beer.

 

This is, of course, a cosy arrangement for the liquor stores. There are about 1650 of them, and, they are, apparently, independent businesses, while the supermarkets tend to be franchises.

 

To make this more complicated, some of the craft brewers have teamed up with the liquor stores to argue that the present system gives the consumers a better choice.

 

According to the Associated Press, Brewers say beer selection could suffer if corporate buyers, rather than independent owners, are deciding which brands end up on the shelves.

Eric Wallace, president of Left Hand Brewery in Longmont and head of the Colorado Brewers Guild, said Colorado’s network of 1,650 independent liquor stores has helped foster what he said is the nation’s highest concentration of craft brewers.

The present system sounds fine in principle, but when you give a certain segment of the market a monopoly, you open for lots of interesting deals behind the scenes. What if someone opens a liquor store next door to a supermarket, maybe in the same building? Maybe someone makes sure that they pay a low rent to establish themselves where they will draw traffic to the other shops in the building or area?

I’m sorry, but at the end of the day, free markets where everyone competes on the same terms and a freedom of choice for consumers is the only viable option. And I think the best of the Colorado craft brewers will be doing just fine out in the market, even if it’s cold out there…

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The Norwegian beer scene is dominated by Carlsberg, but there are still a few family controlled breweries who dominate their home regions and compete in the national market. I have no access to their internal strategies, but there has been a discussion in  a Norwegian online forum about one of them recently.

Reflecting on this, there are some questions facing breweries like Mack and Aass. They are facing one of the most aggressive brewing empires on the planet, and they should use their resources wisely to keep their market shares and their profit margins.

So, what would I do?

  • Prune the beer list. Get rid of some of the relabeled pilsners celebrating the seasons or some region or another.
  • Set up a micro brewery or brewpub to test new beers. Mack has already done this, let’s hope they follow this up when they hire new staff. This lets you try out whatever you want, without needing to worry about the 4.7 % limit to beers being sold in supermarkets.
  • Some drinkers are put off by beer tasting of beer. They will probably be the same as the ones wanting low carb as well. OK. Make one beer without calories and flavout, not half a dozen.
  • Be daring. For the rest, try to tempt them into trying something new. Establish a reference group of drinkers who want to be involved. Use the labels and cans to say that this has more flavour, but be honest. Using caramel color is not enough! Be inspired by English beers with low alcohol content and lots of flavour.
  • Make sure you have a graphic profile which identifies the brewery clearly and communicates that you are are the ones with the tasty beer.
  • Stick with the graphic profile for a while – spend some money on what’s inside the bottle rather than outside.
  • Consider brewing more strong beers, inspired by breweries in other countries. They will not have a huge volume, but you already have the distribution channels, so use them. These beers can be the flagships where you show what you are really able to do! Maybe canned quality beer – there is not much on the market right now.
  • Look at the Christmas beers – they are not extreme by any means, but they show that there is a market for premium beers despite all the efforts to get rid of them!

bilde-003

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The NY Bites newsletter from the Village Voice, which I never got around to stopping after my visit to NYC last year, reports that beer is turning up at the menus at the more upmarket restaurants.
 
Top chefs from Daniel Boulud to Thomas Keller are deigning to add beer to their menus as their customers look to spend a bit less. Boulud’s Daniel (60 East 65th Street) will host its first ever beer-tasting dinner in the coming weeks, while Keller recently added a custom-made Brooklyn Brewery brew to the menu at his restaurants. Aquavit (65 East 55th Street) and Hearth (403 East 12th Street) have also recently hosted their first-ever beer dinners. Le Bernardin (155 West 51st Street) however, is still holding out on the beer trend. Beverage director Aldo Sohm says “You would not expect to get a beer at Le Bernardin.”
 
I noticed this (the beer availability, not the snobbery of Mr. Sohm) when I was there. I did not go much for fine dining, but I was very pleased to find a hand picked list of craft beers available at Gordon Ramsey at the London, a place I can warmly recommend for the food, too. Go for lunch, it’s easier on the wallet.

ny-068

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A sensible decision

For once, the local newspaper here in Oslo has done its job, questioning the decisions made by bureaucrats in charge of services for the elderly. And, for once, the local politicians in charge have acted swiftly.

I won’t say beer is often in the headlines here in Norway. If so, it would often be about teenagers having one too many, and adults complaining about the shocking state of today’s youth.

Some of the local administrators of social services here in Oslo had found another segment of the populations that needed supervision – the elderly. Not just any old age pensioners, mind you, but these who apply for help with their daily chores such as cleaning or shopping. About half of the local administrations had adopted a “no alcohol” policy.

Aage Pedersen is 86 and lives alone. When he broke his leg, he applied for, and was granted, help to do shopping and cleaning.

Last week he handed over his shopping list. Bread, milk, something for lunch and dinner – and a six pack of beer.

I enjoy a glass of beer with a meal, once in a while, Mr. Pedersen says to the newspaper Aftenposten.

His assistant crossed out the beer on his shopping list, and told Pedersen they had orders not to buy beer for their clients.

I was, to put it mildly, provoked, says Pedersen. I am an adult who can decide these things myself.  Just because I cannot walk don the stairs does not mean that I cannot cope with a glass of beer with my dinner if I so wish. It is not as if I desperately need the beer, but they should not decide what I should buy from the supermarket! 

He tried to get through to the local administration on the phone, but without success. Aftenposten, however, managed to get through, and they found out that this policy was carried out in many parts of the city.

After the media coverage, there was a very clear message from the politician in charge of the services:

This is a service we offer to those who need it, and we cannot refuse to buy beer for senior citizens if they want it. This is a moralist mentality we need to get rid of.

The result?

Pedersen got his beer, and so will others who put it on their shopping lists in reasonable amounts.

If I ran a brewery, I would give Aage Pedersen a six pack per week for the rest of his life. Just in case he ran into the control freaks again.

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Sure, I’ve been lucky enough to do a fair amount of travelling over the last few years, giving me the opportunity to report first hand on the beer scene in many countries. But, as I have mentioned recently, there have been some positive changes here in Norway, too.
Some of the Norwegian micros seem to be doing fairly well, and they are getting better distribution month by month.
 
But there is a whole beer world out there, and we would really like access to that as well.
 
We can only dream about finding Belgian Trappist beers in our supermarkets, as there is a limit of 4.7% ABV to what can be sold there. But there are other countries producing fine beers below that threshold.
 
Centra Colosseum here in Oslo is almost my local supermarket, I can walk there in 15 minutes. They are among the biggest in town, and they have carried more or less the full range of Norwegian macro beers since they opened. The have a fair number of imported beers, too, and among the red stripes and cobras you can find some very decent German lagers.
 
The have, however, set aside a section for domestic and imported craft beers, and over the last couple of years, they must have had about 50 British beers on sale. They seem to have arrangements with a wholesaler that sends a few dozen bottles of each new beer along, while doing the same for the Cardinal pub in Stavanger. The best sellers will sometimes get re-ordered, but mostly you can expect to find 1-5 new beers every month or so. Some are from larger regional breweries like Adnams, but most are from smaller companies, some of them very small.
The quality? Very few of them are bad, some of them are a bit boring, but surprisingly many are flavourful and well worth drinking.

Yesterday they had three beers from the North Yorkshire Copper Dragon, the two I’ve tasted so far are splendid. They even had an IPA from the Okells brewery in the Isle of Man.
 
The downside? They are far too expensive. 40 Norwegian kroner would have been a decent price. And with all the tempting food on offer, you will probably end up buying something else, too. Some bread and cheese, perhaps. I bought the fish wok mix yesterday – great stuff.

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Gloomy news from the British trade newspaper the Morning Advertiser – pubs are now closing at a rate of six per day.

Last year, 1,973 pubs shut — 40% up on 2007 levels.

Suburban pubs seem to be hit worse then others, but the figures are grim for rural and town centers as well.

Indutry voices consern that new legislation will cripple the pubs further, this includes  compulsory training , making the provision of 125ml wine glasses mandatory and introducing alcohol warnings at the point of sale.

I can see that expensive training courses can be of importence, but I hardly believe introducing new wine glasses will be decisive. I assume the breakage over time will lead to replacement of glasses anyway.

What I miss in this atmosphere of doom are the success stories.  You can complain about the government all you want, but that is hardly a strategy to survive, let alone succeed.

Tough times

Tough times

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Useful advice

The Eating in Translation blog asks the question

When you don’t speak the language, how do you order a dish that’s not on the regular menu?

You download a photo to your mobile phone. Clever.

It won’t do much good when you are looking for a beer, though. In countries where they don’t understand your need for a beer, they will usually only have mediocre pale lagers, anyway.

The only place where I have had problems explaining to the waitress that I wanted a beer was in Vilnius. 1998. But it was, luckily, in the menu, so I guessed and pointed at some beverage that came in both 0,3 and 0,5 measures. That did the trick.

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Stick to beer

I assume that most of my readers, belonging to the more educated part of the global village, follow the leading academic journals in most fields. Some of you might, however, have overseen an article indicating that the intake of caffeine may cause hallucinations. Yes, that is right. Large amounts of coffee, tea, chocolate or energy drinks increases the risk of hearing voices, seeing ghosts and whatever.

So, if you are being abducted by aliens or otherwise experience things your rational side cannot explain, you should cut down your coffee intake.
 
Yet another reason to advocate moderate beer consumption instead of other beverages…..

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Death of a pub

Old memories by the cubic metre

Old memories by the cubic metre

There is hardly a thing such as Norwegian pub culture. We would not dream of having a pint for lunch, and the local would usual be a cafeteria connected to the local coop supermarket, where coffee is the main drink.

Sure, there are bars here, too, of various shapes and sizes. Some of them are replicas of English or Irish pubs, shipped over from companies specializing in this sort of thing.

The Churchill was such a pub. Not a part of any chain, but with filled with dusty bric-a-brac more or less connected with Winston Churchill and his times. Newspaper clippings, statuettes from India, model airplanes from WW II, you get the idea.

It was very centrally located, between the National Theatre and City Hall, which meant that business was good for many years. After office hours or shopping, on your way to the cinema, a useful spot for meeting friends.

Their beer range was never very sophisticated – your usual lagers plus Guinness. The most interesting beer was the canned Bombardier, and every time I suggested a broader selection, they argued that it didn’t sell. Their coffee was vile, the only food on offer was toasted ham and cheese sandwiches.

But people came in, had their beers or other drinks, and they obviously offered an atmosphere that lots of customers enjoyed.

Well, after more of twenty years, the show is over. The bust of Queen Victoria is put in a box, the rest of the memorabilia is going into storage, and everything else is being ripped out. The owners of the building wanted three times the previous rent, so it was not viable to continue.

I was only in there a few times a year lately, but I will miss it anyway. It was, after all, where I met my wife.

Last orders for Victoria

Last orders for Victoria

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Around here

Sure, the air here is heavily polluted on cold winter days. The air stands still, and it is filled with dust and emissions from cars and antiquated ovens and heaters. But it nice to look at…

Oslo, January 2009

Oslo, January 2009 - no photoshopping!

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