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Archive for October, 2009

Changing times

Some of the interesting Norwegian stuff this autumn. And that is excluding the whisky cask beers from Nøgne ø. And now the Christmas beers are coming…

Sept 09 197

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Sure, there is the CAMRA Good Beer Guide to Germany, but it’s a few year’s old, and it’s not too handy when you’re visiting just one city. The Berlin information at ratebeer is helpful as well.

But for anyone reading Scandinavian, the new book just out by Danish beer writer Carsten Berthelsen is well worth the investment. A handy format that fits into your jacket pocket, well illustrated with both photos and maps, and with what looks to me like a good selection of pubs, bars and restaurants. 

All of my favourites among the brewpubs are included, and I generally share his views on the places we’ve both visited. The book is updated to include brewpubs I did not know of, like one in the spanking new Hauptbahnhof.

A potted history of beer and brewing in Berlin, too, perhaps with a bit more Ostalgie than to my liking, but that is not the main point.

The book recommends an excursion to Potsdam, and after reading the relevant chapter, I am convinced to make a day trip the next time I’m in the German capital.

The publisher of the book has a good web site, and you can browse through some of the pages online, a nifty feature.

Well worth 150 Danish kroner.

Pages from Berlin cover

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According to the newsletter from Oppigårds Bryggeri, next year is worth looking forwards to. Systembolaget will launch more beers from Swedish micros during spring and summer 2010 than they have ever done. They predict that 2010 will be the most interesting year for Swedish beers at Systembolaget ever. And that’s good news for those of us living an hour or two from the border as well!

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Sept 09 190

All smiles in Drammen

Well, not the participants, being the usual graying suspects, most of us. But the beers..

Some of us beer geeks were invited back to Haandbryggeriet in Drammen recently, as thye had a few new beers as well as some adjustements to old ones they wanted feedback on. We were probably a bit too polite the last time we were around, as we were explicitely asked to give critical remarks this time.

Well, for free beer, we’ll do just about everything.

The highlight?

Well, for me it was the disappointment from last year. The Aquavit Porter. This was a heavily oxidized beer, with the vineager overpowering everytung else. Now? A velvet porter with a nice lining of caraway seeds, with a little alcohol warming in the background. This is what they should serve as an aperitif when foreign dignitaries visit town. Maybe it could be a way to convince Obama that craft beer is the way to go?

But there are other fine beers coming as well. Some of them new, some of them adjusted.

A lovely refreshing beer is Wild Thing, brewed with redcurrants and lingonberries. Fine sourness which is not overpowering, lovely berry flavour.

Hesjeøl will be available in all Vinmonopolet shops, a Belgian style blond, brewed with the same yeast as the Blondie now to be found on tap in selected pubs.

A sligtly less sour version of the Haandbakk is also on the list.

Sept 09 191

Aquavit Porter

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Sept 09 008

Shortly before five, a text message told me Max had arrived at my hotel. I handed over the beers from the Norwegian micros, and we set off for Zlý Časy. Half an hour and two tram rides later, we arrived.

The first time I visited, last year, this pub has some sort of festival going on, meaning that they had an outstanding range of beers from micros on tap. Well, they have moved beyond that.

There are16 beers on tap in this fairly small bar right now, a new Prague record. Two Germans, an Oktoberfest and the Sclenkerla Märtzen, the rest quality Czech brews. A few Weissen, a Scottish ale and a long list of lagers, some of them yeast beers, some of them just lovely pilseners.

Sept 09 010Max has described our beers of the evening very well, while omitting a nice meal of smoked pork, horseradish and mustard, just as beery food should be. I will not point out any of these beers as outshining the others, though the unfiltered yeast beers are always a special treat…

Fast and friendly service, and they seemed to treat all customers well. But it is very nice to be with one of the regulars – who also knows the language -in a place like this.

I hope this concept will work, though having such a broad range of beers in such a small pub sounds risky, especially with a number of beers that have to be sold in a day or two after opening the keg. But this is not the place for tickers sipping from small glasses, you need to ask for the half liter and let the golden liquid flow freely down your throat!

A pleasant time spent in pleasant company. Max and I have only met twice, but we get along very well, with no uncomfortable gaps in the conversation.

Sure, there are lots of beer bars in Prague I haven’t visited. But I’ll make sure I’ll hit Zlý Časy the first evening the next time I’m in town as well. And even if they have Nøgne ø beers on their list then, I’ll always go for the local brews.

They have reorganized their web site over the last week, making it easier to see the ever changing beer list. Today they have Chimay Tripel on tap if you want a small break in your lager consumption.

Zly Casy beers

Instead of pump clips

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Back to Prague

To Prague for a meeting this week, and I, obviously, used the opportunity to do some beery things as well.

I had an appointment with Max, the Beer Philosopher, and I even brought along quite a few beers to him from Nøgne ø and Haandbryggeriet. He is considering importing some of their beers. While they obviously cannot compete with the price level of the domestic brews, it will be interesting to see if there is a market for ales in this land og lagers. I’m sure he will blog about this himself.

I knew the routines for public transport from my last visit, and within an hour of touchdown I checked into my hotel, despite having used both the airport bus, the Metro and a tram.

It was still early afternoon, and I had an hour or so to spare.

My hotel was in the Castle district, right at the top of the steep street leading down in the direction of the Charles bridge. I had done my homework, meaning reading Evan Rail’s Good Beer Guide to Prague and the Czech Republic. This informed me that there was a fine tavern just around the corner, U Cerneho Vola. (Sorry for omitting all accents and stuff from the names, they are beyond my scope!)

This place is a bit of a paradox. Across the street from one of the major churches on the castle hill as well as the palace housing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this is still an unpretentious bar with wooden furniture and a menu that’s blissfully short.

There is cheese. And sausages. And beer.

The beer in question is Kozel, which may not sound too exotic. Their dark variety is a global brand, but having it fresh from tap is very different. Lots of sweet malt, but there are lots of other complex elements there as you sip your pint. I tried a glass of the pale Kozel, too, a crisp and clean pilsener that also does its job very well when it is served under optimal conditions.

Mixed clientelle – students and tourists in smaller groups. When I see people lighting their cigarettes, I realize that this was common across Europe just a few years ago. I don’t know if there is any pending legislation in the Czech Republic.

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Pig’s Ear 2009

 

2009festival1

If you want a broad range of English cask ales, festival specials, hand picked imports, friendly natives and participatory observation among the tickers, this is the one for you. Pork scratchings, too.

1-5 December. Hackney, East London. Expect to see me there!

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Well, almost. Craft beer to Prague. If anyone had told me this ten years ago…

Sept 09 193

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Sept 09 330Another recommendation from Simon at Cave á Bulles.  This was actually five minutes from my hotel, and I had actually walked past it without giving it a second glass glance.

As location is everything in a city like Paris, the street right in front of the Gare de Lyon is filled with brasseries serving food and drinks at all hours. Some of them offer Alsatian specialities, others have shellfish etc. They all have macro beers at rather stiff prices.

Sept 09 327But a few steps away from this strip is a simple bar, not far above the hall in the wall level. During my evening, there was soccer on several screens, I assume you may find it more quiet at other times.

They have 11 beers on tap, 11 in bottles. Macro lagers, sure, but also some fine Belgian stuff. I had never tried the wheat beer from St Bernardus, and there was even a sour Belgian ale, Borurgogne des Flandres (which could have been more on the sour side). A French Tripel, too, Secret des Moines.

I found a sidewalk table.

I think more bars like this is what’s needed for French beer culture to really take off. Specialized places which you travel across town to seek out is fine for the converted. A hand picked selection of good beers in places where people pop in for a quick glass before going on with their business is more important.

Sept 09 324

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I don’t often sing the praises of the only brewpub in town, it has had its ups and downs.

But they have two new beers on, both very drinkable. One is a Märzen, quite true to style, the other is their 20th anniversary beer, an American Pale Ale.

My tasting notes: Hazy golden beer. Lovely flowery aroma. Flowers, dust, fruit. Light, easy drinking. Crisp finish. A welcome addition to their range.

You should probably hurry up, as I predict that these will be replaced by their Christmas beers soon…

Happy anniversary, OMB!

Sept 09 188

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