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Archive for December, 2011

At least I know something about 2012. It will be the year of the barrel aging. There will be barrel aged barley wines. There will be barrel aged blondes. Norwegian brewers will be barrel aging everything-but-the kitchen-sink.

I have visited both Sundbytunet and Haandbryggeriet during december, and they both have bought plenty of oak barrels.  I assume Nøgne Ø and Ægir are well stocked as well.

I expect limited editions of some of those beers. Partly experimental, partly more on the safe side.

As my fellow blogger Anders has pointed out, oak is a notoriously difficult material to work with. They are almost impossible to clean, so if there are micro organisms in a barrel, you are more or less stuck with them – bacteria, wild yeast, whatever. There are lots of good reasons for the phasing out of oak in favour of more stable forms of storage during the last century.

So, I hope for lots of lovely experiences. Lambic-like beers that are, by intention, bordering on vinegar. Rodenbach-inspired ales with vinous tones and barrel character. Beers soaking up the aromas from bourbon and aquavit, sherry and whisky.

The danger is that they will also open the door to yeast and bacteria that do not contribute positively to the brewing of beer. I think I’d do my barrel experiments safely away  from the main brewing activities.

A few spoilt batches  is what you’d expect in an innovative brewery. Closing down everything to sterilize is not what you want.

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Looking back

Not the most active year of blogging, though I feel quite pleased about the number of Berlin pubs I have been able to cover during three short visits. I have really come to appreciate this city, which encapsulates the best and the worst of our common European identity.

Some excursions to London and Copenhagen, too, but no beer festivals abroad this year.

The positive trends have continued in Norway, and I should probably cover the local scene better. We have a great range of beers available here in Oslo, both on tap and in the Wine Monopoly stores. The domestic craft beers are great, and both Nøgne Ø and Haandbryggeriet also import beers from the most interesting micros all over the globe.

I am particularly pleased by one of my posts this year where I point out that I prefer beer festivals run by people with knowledge about beer.  But I also like to write about my first impressions of new brewpubs.

There are still a few European countries I havent’t blogged about, and I have hopes about visiting at least one of them next year.

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Norwegian craft beer has been succesful in the American market. Nøgne Ø has, of course, been the door opener, but Haandbryggeriet has also been exporting as much as they have been able to brew for some time.

Their old facilities did not allow for any expansion, so they decided to move across the Drammen river to the industrial area of Sundland. Their new home is within an old train factory, with nice brick facades. In the summertime it is within walking distance from the railway station, at this time of the year it is ten minutes by taxi.

They have started brewing, but the bottling equipment and some of the tanks from the old brewery have yet to be moved.

They wanted to celebrate a bit before Christmas, so a number of beer geeks were invited to come and see the new brewery and sample some of the beers that will be launched in the new year. Apart from their own brews, they also had a fridge full of their imports, including splendid Dutch and American beers.

Sweet & Sour is a barrel aged beer, which did not win me completely over. They have aged a fairly light bodied beer, and I think something a bit more heavy and malty could have coped better with the oak treatment.

Their Sundland Kreosot was much better, a smoked dark IPA. A lovely blend of fruity hops and smoke that is both very drinkable and wonderfully complex.

Haandbryggeriet now has a licensed bar, and I assume they will be open for groups when everything is in place. During the summer months, I’m sure it will be nice to sip a beer on a bench outside as well – I look forward to their festival in May.

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Merry Christmas!

Best wishes to both all of my readers. Now for some days of skiing, food and beer in the mountains.

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Special Holiday

So.

The family is already installed in the mountains, I have my last day of work tomorrow before the holidays.  I’ve cleaned the floors. I’ve done the laundry. It’s past ten and I put on a dvd with Elvis Costello’s talk and music show featuring lots of musical goodness. There is nothing on the news I need to respond to.

I grab my opener and my bottle of the Jolly Pumpkin version of the Special Holiday Ale. A collaboration with Stone and Nøgne Ø, no less.  A big bottle.

And everything erupts over my trousers and the newly cleaned wooden floor.

 

Merry Christmas, Jolly Pumpkin. I am sure your homes smell of barrel aged beers seeping into the parquet as well. May all your Christmases be barrel aged.

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Frank and his Christmas brew

It was one of those December days when dawn is just the dark night sliding into grey – gray clouds and steel gray ice. Lucky then that some of us had decided to brighten up the evening through an excursion to the newest brew pub in the Oslo area, Sundbytunet.

Sundbytunet is located in Jessheim, a town forty minutes by commuter train from central Oslo. It is part of a restaurant complex which includes several drinking and dining options as well as rooms for rent and even a distillery (yet to start production). A few years ago, this concept would have been totally alien in a place like this.

The decor is more or less what you would expect – an old cellar that has gone through a complete makeover – lots of exposed wooden beams and shining copper kettles.

Frank the brewer does not usually work as a bartender, but he was there waiting for us to present his beers.

The staple brew is a well hopped pils, and we were lucky to try both the last drops of the first batch and some fresh stuff from the tank.

The seasonal beer is a red ale related to a brown ale, fruity and refreshing and aimed to complement the Christmas fare in the restaurant on the floor above.

Most interesting was the special beer made for the opening, an eleven per cent ABV barley wine. A liberal use of hops makes sure that this does not feel too sweet, and it was the perfect companion to the cheese platter you can order at the bar.

With new copper kettles, even hidden bloggers are revealed.

Frank is a skilled brewer, and his last employer was Nøgne Ø, which is a recommendation it itself. It is therefore not a surprise that this was the first new brewpub I’ve visited that did not have teething problems with its first brews – these were spot on.

Coming beers include a porter, that will be available from the coming weekend, and an IPA. And some of the barley wine will be matured in oak barrels. There will be experiments with used sherry casks as well as new oak.

A detour from Oslo is highly recommended. And if you have a few hours layover at Gardermoen airport, you can hop on a local bus to Jessheim and try the beers without going down town.

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Alternative reading

I should post more. But while you wait, there are other beer blogs to go to. Like The Pour Curator. A very good concept that makes it stick out among the thousand other beer blogs out there.

The motto says a lot about the idea:

There is art. There is beer. This is where they meet.

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The pioneers of the Norwegian craft beer movement have cooperated with home brewers for a long time, and the tickets for their next meetup at the brewery sold out fast. That includes not only a visit to the brewery, you get to take some prime ingredients home to make your own version of one of their beers. They also make a batch based on the winner of the annual home brewing competition, meaning this beer is available across the country (and beyond).

But now they have been innovative again, making a product for people like me, who have never taken the step into home brewing.

A starter brew kit for home brewers.  And a beer kit based on one of their beers, the first one being their Pale Ale.

It is not cheap. But I don’t think I can resist this.

Available only in Norway for the time being as far as I know. But I feel sure they will roll this out globally. From the end of the world to your town.

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If Austrian beers (or, more likely, brandy, wine or chocolate), Austian Airlines have teamed up with AustrianGrocery.com, delivering to your door if it’s not prohibited. A shame this seems to be aimed more at the homesick Austrian expat.

I’m afraid that the beer selection is not up to the same standards as the fruit brandies, the Sacher Torte or other delicacies. On the contrary, most of the beers are of the infamous Radler kind, a mix of pale lager and lemonade, a popular beverage in Germany and Austria.

There are, however, other online shops. MyBreweryTap in England offers a wide range of beers, most of them in boxes representing a particular brewery. But there is also a pick and mix list, including both British and import beers. Most interesting are the Hardknott beers from fellow blogger Dave. His operation is small scale, and still seems to be under the radar for beer fans outside the UK. (BTW go read his blog and read his comments to a letter from the Portman group!)

So, I ordered a box. I try not to think about what it will cost me after all the duties, taxes and fees. But at least it is legal now, not like the time when Alan tried to send me a few bottles.

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