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Archive for September, 2011

I don’t really go back reading my old blog posts, though the basic philosophy behind these scribblings will be evident for anyone reading over time. Sure, I know which countries I have covered, but when it comes to comments on the Norwegian beer scene, I know some of them are already snapshots of dark ages we have left behind us. And we tend to forgot how recent those days actually were.

I talked to Evan from Ægir brewery on the Norwegian West Coast last week. He was on a double bill with James from BrewDog, they were having tastings both for pub/restaurant professionals and for the general public. Evan told me he had visited his family in the US recently, and his mother had shown him a printout of one of my blog posts from 2008.

Three years ago I was of the impression that the pubs, bars and restaurants of Oslo were hopeless, and that the craft breweries needed to establish a pub of their own to have an outlet in Oslo.

Things have certainly changed.

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This summer has been quite warm, but it has been pouring down most of the time here in Oslo. This has, however, a few advantages. Hydroelectric electricity will be cheaper the coming winter. And the forests are full of mushrooms. You don’t have to go far to fill you baskets.

We have picked many kilos of Craterellus tubaeformis or Funnel Chantarelle. Most of it is now safely in the freezer after being sautéed in its own juice. Some of it is for the dinner table. What to drink with it? Perhaps it is time to try the new India Saison from Nøgne Ø? Brewed in cooperation with Bridge Road Brewers in Australia, who also brought some Australian hops, according to the label.
Funnel chantarelles

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Jumping on the bandwagon

I’ve told you before about my time in the Science Fiction fan community – fandom. You have mixed feelings when your subculture is enthusiastically embraced by the mainstream. While I have enjoyed the Harry Potter books and movies, and been thrilled by the movie adaptions of the LoTR, the feeling of exclusivity is long gone. The fantasy and SF authors of today are superstars, while in the late Eighties we could get the top names in the field to visit our humble conventions on the Oslo University campus.

The beer community has developed in a similar way. While I have enjoyed craft beer through my adult life, this enjoyment has been limited to travels abroad (or what I managed to drag home in my suitcase). It is just during the last decade that the Norwegian beer market has changed, starting with Nøgne Ø. The feeling of exclusivity has been there over this decade. Sure, I am applauding that there are breweries and bars now making decent money from their efforts, I still know most of the key players in the business and discuss with them as fellow enthusiasts.

But now the analysts and accountants of the Norwegian restaurant industry are linking up with the macro brewers to get a slice of the action. And I can tell you there is little magic about this, it is the muggles moving in.

Let me give you the contrasts.

Last weekend there was a food festival in Oslo. It was professionally arranged, with government promotion funds enabling small scale producers from the whole country to take part. The core was an enlarged farmer’s market, but there were lots of seafood as well. You could buy food to take home, but there were also hot and cold delicacies to be eaten at the spot. And in the central are there was also a beer bar. Five craft breweries were selling a fine range of beers, about 30 in all. The prices were modest, and you could buy samples if you did not want a whole bottle. For legal reasons, the bar was run buy a licensed restaurant, but there were representatives from the breweries present to talk about their beers. The festival closed in the early evening both on Friday and Saturday, so there was no danger that this led to excessive drinking. While I don’t find beer promotion to be a core part of government activities, I found this a fine way of showing craft beer as a part of the artisan food movement and a way of reaching out to new customer groups. This is particularly important when most of these beers are not available in ordinary shops, some are even on special order in the Vinmonopolet stores.

The other way of doing things is the beer festival taking place in two week’s time at Aker Brygge in Oslo. This is a gentrified shipyard in downtown Oslo with lots of bars and restaurants, I’d guess about 20 of them. Only one of them has a decent beer selection, Beer Palace. For some reason they have decided to have a beer festival. Yes, there will be a tent with small glasses of expensive samples, and then there will be events spread across the area. Nice? Let’s look a bit closer at what they are promoting at Facebook:

Druen is a wine bar, and they claim to present the Best of Brooklyn. Well. It’s not. It is Carlsberg importing three of the bestsellers from the Brooklyn Brewery, while avoiding any of the more experimental or challenging beers they make. And those beers are readily available in many places where Carlberg is the sole supplier.

Latter is a venue for stand up comedy, where you may also have dinner before the show. They have decided to host a beer maker’s dinner, featuring beers from Hansa, the Bergen-based Norwegian macro.
The beer list? Hansa wheat beer. Newcastle Brown Ale, Hansa Bayer, Murphy Irish Stout, Borg Bokkøl. All everyday fare which will not challenge anyone’s taste buds.

Yes, of course Hansa is probably the sole beer supplier of this venue. And I am sure they sponsor this dinner as well. And Latter is not a place you’d choose for fine dining anyway. But this is ripping off customers who expect something special.

We have had beer maker’s dinners in Oslo before, particularly at Haandverkerstuene. With craft breweries presenting special beers, showing the true diversity of domestic and imported beers. Let’s hope the coming festival won’t ruin the market for the serious places. You can be sure I won’t be present.

You won't find this at the Aker Brygge festival

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Was this what we needed?

The beer selection at my local ICA supermarket isn’t bad. At least not if you compare to just a few years ago. Two Scottish ales, several stouts, a few beers from Nøgne Ø and Haandbryggeriet. Lagers from Slovakia, Germany and the Czech republic. Even a few Goose Island brews.
But I’m afraid a significant percentage of the consumers go for the cheapest lagers or for anything that does not taste of beer.
But do we really need a cerveza with limon? And it remains to be seen if a 3.2% ABV beverage will sell.

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Beery apps

Alan has finally surrendered and bought an iPhone. He then, naturally, asks if there are any beery apps he could purchase.

I have been thinking about this as well, and as I’ve played with my iPhone for some months I have looked at a few beer apps. The ones I have found most interesting are connected to travel. Or, more precisely, geography. This means I don’t have much I can use here in Norway. But the ones I have found give you an idea of what to expect.

Fancyapint is based on the London web site of the same name, allowing you to find pubs on the map, read reviews and meet up with friends there. In an ideal world it would have updates about the beers on offer in the pubs, but this is a fine starting point.

FrankenBIER is an official beer guide to Franconia, the most beery region in Bavaria. It covers brewpubs, breweries, brewery museums, suggests travel routes etc. Well laid out with maps, satellite photos and background articles. My version is German, I’d be surprised if there isn’t an English version on the way.

In Copenhagen Nørrebro Bryghus has an app that shows you which beers they currently have on tap. They could have added a bit more – why not the food menu and a list of bottled beers? I think this is an example of how this can be done cheaply and simply. But I would not fill up my phone or pad with many of these.

There are, of course, lots more out there. I am still waiting for proper ratebeer and BeerAdvocate apps.

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