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Archive for October, 2010

Just time for a visit to la cave à bulles to fill my suitcase before going to the airport. I had e-mailed Simon beforehand, so he knew I was coming. I remembered his request from last year, so I had even brought along an Imperial Brown Ale from Nøgne Ø for him.

It is very pleasant to be in the company of real beer enthusiasts, and Simon knows excactly what he is doing. Personal advice for all customers in the shop, and, as all the beers are carefully selected, you are likely to get excactly what you need.

A fine range of French beers, a few imports such as Mikkeller and BrewDog and some Belgians.

No need to look closely at the imports, I just asked about new beers and the table soon held a dozen French craft beers which were then carefully packed in bubble wrap at no extra cost.

Simon tried to call me a taxi, as my luggage was getting quite heavy by now. I had bought a bag full of food as well…

No taxis to be had, but the shop is just two blaocs away from the rail station with direct conenctions to the main airport. I dragged my loot through the streets, down the escalator and into the train. I was perspirating freely by now. It did not help that the air conditioning was turned off in the train compartment and that is was packed.

But I made it to the airport, the luggage survived all the way home  and I have some hand picked treasures to enjoy when I please. Still, there are occations when I wonder why I bother.

One could, possibly, argue for travelling lignt and drinking beer close to the source. Some other time, maybe.

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I have stopped by Hall’s Beer tavern before, very centrally located in rue Saint Denis if you are in the Centre Pompiodou or Les Halles area. (Add accents at your pleasure). It is also very convenient for the most interesting Parisian beer shop, La cave a bulles, so I thought I would have lunch there.

Alsatian fare again, fermented cabbage with pig’s knuckle. Tasty autumn food, even if the weather was still pleasant enough for me to sit at a sidewalk table.

The beer list is extensive, though 90 per cent is the same swill you can get everywhere. Nice then that there are a few French and Belgian bottles that are more hard to find. The service was a bit frosty, but fairsly fast.

La Choulotte Ambré is a gently carbonated amber beer. Very fruity, plums and peaches, some sour cherries. Feels related to a German Altbier. Well balanced, quite complex. A little hint of barnyard, a small edge of vinegar.

I almost forgot the food!

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A can of Davelghem Blonde from a Paris supermarket. Biere d’abbaye, they claim on the can. Nice dark blond, I’d call it amber, fluffy head. I’m trying hard to find some positive notes here, right?

Dishwater aroma, boiled vegetables. Malty beer base, flat, no dryness, no sourness, no monkiness. Drain pour.

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So, I ordered a box of 16 beers from beermerchants.com. They arrived at some customs warehouse, I gave the post office my blessing to do the customs clearance, and a week later I got a slip in my mailbox that for the princely sum of  100 Euros or so, I was welcome to pick it up.

When I came home and opened it, I found that two bottles were broken. They were not the most interesting ones, the new and rare stuff from new English breweries were intact. Beer from breweries like Gadd’s, Hardknott and The Kernel.

The broken bottles had soaked into the cardboard, making a smelly papier mache. Some of the labels of the remaining bottles were also ruined, but I was not going to enter them into any beauty contes anyway.

No, the problem were the uninvited visitors they had attracted. Fruit flies.

I immediately cleaned all the remaining bottles on the outside, throwing away the soiled cardboard.

But here we are, five days later. They are still hanging around in the kitchen, expecting more beer. Any good remedies short of doing the whole pesticide routine?

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Paris: O’Neil brewpub

Th O'Neil smokers

Paris. I was here last year in the beginning of October, and it has the same lovely weather. The problem is that this time I’m not here as a tourist, I am stuck in a subterranean meeting room for most of the day.

Still a few evening hours left after the official proceedings, though, so I find my way to O’Neil, the one brewpub in town that does not belong to the Frog chain I tried last year but did not enjoy much. And don’t worry. O’Neil might sound as fake Oirish as they come, but there is no need to worry about that. Just don’t go for the no, nay, never singalong if that’s your thing.

I digress.

It’s not only the beer that appeals; they also have the Alsatian specialty Flammekueche.

I get out of my taxi and find the place heaving, the pavement is spilling over with smokers, but I am lucky to be allocated a vacant seat at a bistro-style table. I order a blond beer and a Flammekueche (should be an umlaut in there, I suppose, but in Paris they use the French, not the German spelling.) This Alsace speciality looks similar to a pizza, but is more of a thin and crispy pie, often without cheese – the original has, I believe, no cheese but just some onions and some unsmoked bacon as a garnish.

This is splendid pub food – it arrives within a few minutes, so does my blond beer, a Czech style pilsener. It has a fine hoppy aroma, probably Saaz, and it tastes of bread, grain and dusty hops. Not a great pilsener, perhaps, but a very decent one. The pie is excellent, warm, crisp and fresh.

The English of the staff is not more than adequate, but it is more than compensated by the sheer charm.

The interior of O’Neil is fairly typical brewpub – brick, glass, black painted iron and gleaming copper. The lagering tanks are prominently displayed by the entrance, the brewing itself can be spotted though a semi opaque window next to my seat.

The clientele is mixed, lots of bright young things sharing pitchers of beer, more adult people enjoying the food as much as the brew. I am informed that Thursday night is the big party night for students, as they go home for the weekend on Friday afternoon. They tend to sleep through their lectures on Friday. O’Neil is quite close to the Sorbonne, which seems to be excellent for business.

I sample their other beers as well, a wit, an amber and a brown ale. The amber is the best. Au malt grillé, says the menu. Sure, there are lots of roasted malts here. Chewy, bready cereals. Fine use of hops, too, giving a pumpernickel type of sour dryness. Caramel and a little yeast on the tongue.

What I enjoy here is what you find in some of the best brewpubs. Even when the beers don’t aspire to any elevated status, you get an unpasteurized freshness that lifts the beers and leaves a grin on your face. It is like the Czech beers – best consumed when fresh. This freshness cannot be transferred to a bottle.

A pint and a pie

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I read, gaping, the piece in the Morning Advertiser. I was nursing a cold, trying to make the kids do their homework and I had family coming over, so I decided to write about this tomorrow, which is today.

Martyn Cornell, the Zythophile, had the same gut reaction. And, being both awake and articulate, he wrote a blog post I can only applaud. I don’t think I have anything to add to this.

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I have written about this concept earlier – the long term plan is to start brewing, but there are some logistics meaning this is not happening for a year or two. This establishment is just a few minutes walk from Schouskjelleren, and it is more or less next door to some of the other parts of the Jan Vardøen restaurant empire.

It’s a nice place with a central seating area as well as a few tables and stools on a mezzanine where the bar is. The beer list is at a blackboard at the far end of the room, while close tot he bar there are no signs of what is on offer. The selection is not that inventive. A specially brewed steamer from Haandbryggeriet, a single hop IPA from Nøgne Ø. The rest are mostly boring macros, nothing daring in this range at all. There is no list of bottles available, but I expect one fairly soon.

As I arrive, there are problems with the beer engines. The valves in their fake hand pumps are giving them trouble, and there are several brewery representatives working to sort this out.

Five on a Friday afternoon it is almost full, I can only envisage how it must look at midnight.

This is also a place for eating. It’s not fine dining, but you can have oysters, fish and chips, sausges, home cooked crisps or Scotch eggs.

With the beer pumps not being very helpful and a slightly chaotic system for ordering food, there are lines of people trying to order drinks.

Sure, this is a welcome addition to the Oslo beer scene, and is seems quite successful already. On the other hand, I think they might have slightly wrong ambitions.

I’d reconsider the offering of fried food. If the waiters have to fight their way through the crowd to serve the food before it gets too cold, it is perhaps not the way to do it. Perhaps serving cold plates of cured meat, a selection of cheese or salads could be alternatives?

They should, however, be more ambitious about the beers. More Scandinavian micros instead of the global names, one rotating beer that could be more challenging, be it a Belgian sour ale, a monster from Mikkeller or a German smoked beer.

But the more the merrier, and I fully understand that there is a need for beer places that appeal to other market segments than grumpy old men like me.

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