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Archive for May, 2012

A few beers from the Ørbæk brewery in Denmark are now available in Norway, both through Vinmonopolet and in selected restaurants and bars. I’ve been toild there are more beers to come.

The Fynsk Forår is soft and round, brewed with elderberry flowers and wheat malt. The flowers blend well into the wheat, and there is a nice little citrus sting in the finish.

If you crave a wheat beer on a hot day, this can certainly do the trick. Personally, I would have prefered a drier version with more hops, but there is nothing wrong with this.

The other two beers are also at session strength – about 5%. The Dark Horse is a Schwatzbier, with a nice tone of roasted malt. A dry mouth feel, it avoids the sticky maltiness you often find in German versions.

The Ørbæk IPA is glowing gold with a firm rocky head. Bittersweet, light and refreshing. Herbs, a whiff of forest pines. Not in any way extreme, but very pleasant. Of the three, this is the one I would go for as my summer tipple.

Attractive 0,5 liter bottles. And organic, it that is important to you.

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Baladin – a taste of Italy

Teo Musso

Baladin brewer Teo Musso

As regular readers will know, when I started this blog, I was a fairly regular visitor to Italy, giving me a unique opportunity to get som glimpses into the developments of the Italian craft beer scene. Since then, I have observed more from the outside, particularly noting the great things happening in Rome.

From the first craft brewery in Italy in the early Nineties, there is now 420 of them, and an estimate of 4000 restaurants with proper beer menus. These impressive facts come from a Meet the Brewer tasting with Teo Musso of the Baladin brewery, the true pioneer of Italian micro brewing, who visited Oslo last night on a whirlwind tour of Norway, invited by his Norwegian importers Beer Enthusiast.

We were introduced to five of his beers, what they have in common is a dedication to finding an Italian identity and unique flavours. The barley is, whenever possible, sourced locally or at least in Italy. The Birra NazionAle makes a particular point of this, having 100% Italian ingredients.

While all the beers have a high standard and are well suited both as refreshments and as food companions, the star of the show was the Riserva version of the Lune beer. This beer has been aged for one year in premium white wine casks, and, using a solera method known from fortified wines has a controlled oxidation that gives a Madeira.like color and flavour, well blended with okay overtones. Lots of fruit, deceiving light, you would not think this has 11.5 per cent alcohol.

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When I travel, I do not always set up a tight schedule to see all the sights. I prefer to spend some time getting the feel of the place, and as a foodie, this means that I often end up at a food market. There are lovely old markets in Florence and in Stockholm, there is the cornucopia of produce from near and far in Borough Market in London. Oslo has one under construction, with its own micro brewery on site. But Copenhagen beat us to it. Last year, about 50 years after the fruit and vegetable market closed down on the same site,  Torvehallerne opened on Israels Plads.

Even before I arrived, I knew it had one major success factor covered  – location. A stone’s throw from Nørreport station, it is easily reached by train or Metro, not to mention bus or bicycle.

The layout consists of two moderately sized halls with lots of glass. On both sides and in between there are open air stalls.

This is not the place for endless rows of stalls hawking the same strawberries, they have gone for diversity rather than volume. Sure, there are several of the outside stalls offering similar seasonal produce, but inside there is an impressive range. Spanish tapas and Italian antipasti. A shop full of goods from the island of Bornholm. Fresh fish and seafood, old-fashioned open sandwiches. Artisan cheese, smoked venison. Wine, olive oil, vinegar and cognac straight from the barrel. Snacks and ready meals to eat on the spot or take away, perhaps for a picnic in one of the nearby parks.

And, this being Denmark, there is beer. Fynsk Forår from the Ørbæk brewery on Funen. Draft Mikkeller. The full range of bottled beers from Svaneke in the Bornholm shop. Bøgedal beers on tap and in bottles at the organic shop. Catalonian beer in the tapas bar. Even an outside stall with a miniature version of a German Getränkemarkt with quite a few bottles worth considering.

This is not the place to go to eat and drink on the cheap. But I would not mind a place like this for weekend shopping. I had plenty of beer already, but I bought two kilo of asparagus. White fleshy ones from Germany. Tender green ones from Denmark. Yummy.

Open every day. Direct transport links to the airport so you can drag all the good stuff with you.

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So. This event was announced last autumn, the tickers tickets went on sale – and were snapped up in November. We were promised two magnificent days of great beers and top class food, something way beyond what we have experienced before.

I won’t go into any detailed review here, but I feel like summing up my experiences:

First of all – the beers. Full score on this. There were world class brews from a number of the best breweries in the world. The hosts had actually toned down their own offerings from Mikkeler and Evil Twin to make room from all the others. Some were household names, like de Struise, Nøgne Ø, de Molen and BrewDog. Some were legendary, like Three Floyds and Cigar City. Some of them were new to me – Broadies (from London) and Farmer’s Cabinet (from Philadelphia).

There were sour ales and barrel aged ales. Barley wines and stouts. IPAs and Apas. Even examples of Gose and Berliner Weisse. Some of the line up was changed from the Friday to the Saturday. Some were festival specials, some were rarities very few of us had tried before.

So, for the beer selection and the beer quality, I can only applaud.

With all the tickets sold out many months ago, there were no long lines to get in either. We were let in, given a few tokens and a wristband showing our dining time.

The crowd was different from your average beer festival. Lots of friendly people from around the world, everyone seriously interested in beer. No stag parties, no one there to proclaim their undying love for their regional brewery.

A laid back and friendly atmosphere.

What about the venue? Early in the day, it was quite bright and airy.  A sports hall, with a large area set aside for benches and tables. But everyone were shooed away from the tables around four, as they were preparing for the first dinner seating. Only half of the tables were needed for each seating, but it meant a quite packed crowd for the second half of each day.

The setup of the brewery stands did not allow much in the way of presentation. Some of the stands along the walls had some posters and artwork, but the tables in the middle had a setup that looked more like a homebrew festival. This might have been a deliberate decision, but I would say that the best breweries in the world would have deserved a more professional presentation. The Haandbryggeriet festival a week ago had a setup where all the breweries were able so present themselves in a much better way.

The food was hyped a lot, anticipating a close-to-NOMA-experience, or, at least, what in the programme was called an uncompromizing gourmet experience, with food and beer pairings.

The Friday meal was nice enough, with a piece of tender meat, mashed potatoes, a green sauce with aromatic hops and some watercress. Honest food, but not gourmet quality.  And this could have been served all day without any time slots with us walking up to a counter and asking for a plate when we got hungry. This would have meant no need to rope off more than a small part of the hall, leaving ample seating for everyone.

And the food available at other times? Fairly average Danish sausages with a variety of mustards based on beer. Period. No salads, no cheese, no cured meat, nothing resembling gourmet at all.

One main ingredient in a beer festival is water. Sure, bottled water with the Mikkeller logo is fun.  But running water is also needed. Water for drinking, water for washing your hands and even your face. Water for rinsing your glass. Even water as in toilets. And as this was in an athletic venue, there were toilets roped off somewhere. Too expensive to clean? Come on!

And where were the hosts? They were briefly spotted, but a highlight would have been a trumpet fanfare and some words of welcome at noon on Friday. Maybe a stage with some round table talks with the beer personalities present, too? If less space was allocated to sit down dinners, there could easily have been a stage at the back of the hall. some of the showmanship we have seen from Mikkeller at previous festivals in Copenhagen would have been nice.

 There were some seminars this time around, but they were not widely publicised. The one I went too, on blogging, was poorly attended, and just when the discussion was starting, we were shooed out again.

There was, on the second day, a poster advertising free wi-fi – but the password wasn’t working.

Maybe the critical words seem to harsh, so let me get back to my main points:

  • Great beer
  • Great breweries
  • Great people
  • Fine venue, with some adjustments.

Given that, everything else can be tweaked and adjusted the next time. And it is very much a matter of very high expectations when you use big words when building up the advance buzz.  

The real test if I liked it: Will I be back?

Yes, I will.

 

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Up early in the morning for a few days of beer festivals. Meeting people from the international beer scene. Bloggers, drinkers, pourers, brewers. The occasional reader of this blog, too, I hope.

No Diaego products will be consumed. Though I plan to have a few from BrewDog.

Blog posts to follow next week, but you could also follow me on twitter at @KnutAl

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The Haandbryggeriet beer festival sold 1200 tickets in total on the Friday and Saturday, the budget was 1000. This means a new festival next year, I will keep you posted.

But back to this years event. I have praised the setup, but how were the beers?

First of all, I was only present at the Friday session, meaning I cannot do justice to all breweries present. I did not go through the range of beers from the hosts, for example, as I hope I will be able to taste them later.

Prestesonen is a new porter from the Norwegian Kinn brewery. Not trying to be too pretentious, this dark brown beer has a smoky nose and a fairly light palate. Roasted grain and coffee, fine balance.

The Oaked Sunturnbrew from Nøgne Ø has not been barrel aged, but is a special order that’s been aged with oak chips. I feel there is some extra dryness compared to the regular version, maybe some vanilla, too. This is one of my favourites among the Nøgne Ø beers, but I’m not sure if the extra treatment really lifted it.

A legend in European beer circles is the Stormaktsporter from Närke in Sweden. The version available here was aged in Cognac barrels, adding an intense aroma that was very much to my liking. The Närke stand was probably the hit of the festival, both for the eccentric range of beers and for the great visual presentation.

De Molen from the Netherlands had brought a wide range of brews along, some of the will probably turn up in Copenhagen this week as well. The had a brand new Flemish sour ale in two versions, one aged with cherries. I preferred the variety without the cherries, having a cleaner sour flavour which I really enjoyed. We’re talking Rodenbach territory here.

But the brewery which really made my day was Magic Rock from Huddersfield, England. Lovely keg versions of ales available on cask closer to home. This small-scale operation is inspired by American craft beers, meaning a far more liberal use of hops than the standard British fare.

Their Amber ale, Rapture, had a stong, refreshing herbal bitterness. Low in alcohol, intense in flavour, this would make great drinking for the summer months ahead. Honorable mention for their High Wire and Cannonball beers, too, but my highest praise is reserved for their imperial stout, the Bearded Lady. The regular version come in bottled form, and is a smooth and deceivingly soft tipple with fine chocolate tones. The barrel aged version has a lovely bourbon character, smooth beer given extra dimensions. Sweet and dry, charcoal, some sour smoke in the background. Oak and smoke in the tail. All these served by two friendly brewers.

The rest of my notes are blurry. I hope the good people from Emelisse and Alvinne come back next year, so I can do justice to their beers.

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I am very happy to report that the Haandbryggeriet festival last weekend was a success – and it looked to me that this applied to everyone involved.

Some parts of the concept seemed to work particularly well:

  • Getting to meet the brewers. For most of the dozen breweries attending, there were you actually got to meet several people actually  involved in the brewing process and in developing the brands. We are talking small-scale enterprises here,  meaning you get intelligent conversations, getting to sample various editions of the same brew etc. I think there were the precisely right people to guide the visitors to try beers that were challenging, but not necessarily extreme while also having something for the hardcore geeks.
  • Having the event in the brewery was also a good choice. While it is 15 or 20 minutes by foot from downtown Drammen, they were still able to draw a crowd from near and far. Having the festival within an operating brewery environment added a dimension that would have been absent in a congress centre or in a hotel function room.
  • Diversity – geographically and by style. Breweries from England, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Norway plus bottled stuff from across the pond. Cask session ales. Festival one offs like the Nøgne Ø Oaked Sunturnbrew. Flemish red ales. Barrel aged imperial stouts. Most important: Breweries with splendid beers.
  • Having the breweries present their beers meant you got a proper pour and presentation. Preferable to both enthusiastic CAMRA lads (no offense intended!) and blondes with dirdls (did I really mean that?)
  • Good no-nonsense food – the artisanal sausages I had were splendid value for money.

What do I want next year? More seating and some nice t-shirts, nothing more than that, really.

I’ll get back to you about some of the beers I enjoyed.

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