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Archive for the ‘beer history’ Category

Congratulations to Boak & Bailey, who were named the Beer Writers of the Year by the British Guild of Beer Writers. If you haven’t bought their Brew Britannia book already, it’s time to do it. And follow their blog – lots of good beer writing, including good links to others.

 

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I’ve lost count. We all have. There are new Norwegian breweries popping up every week or so, in the most unlikely places. The beers? The good, the bad and the bland. Don’t get me wrong, there is room for both the good and the bland.

I rarely write about the truly bad breweries. There are a few, usually there are people who wanted a novelty for their pub without any interest, let alone passion, for the styles, the nuances and the flavors of beer. This is a place where your are likely to find someone behind the bar who do not actually like beer, but they would happily down a Kopparberg alcopop or two.

Then you have breweries who aim for a local market, and who don’t want to alienate their public. But that is no excuse for being lazy. You can still aim for flavourful and balanced beers with more character than the industrials, who taste of summer meadows and amber grain. Beers that leave refreshment at the bottom of your half liter glass, yet leaves enough bitterness on your tongue to make you consider another round.

And I have respect for those who have ambitions. Who dare to take up a second mortgage on their house to expand production, who dare to quit their day job to follow their dream. There are a few in the second tier of the Norwegian craft breweries. Not up to the volume and experience of Nøgne Ø and Haandbryggeriet, Ægir, Kinn or Lervig. But some of them will soon be snapping at their heels.

Austmann, Lindheim, Nøisom, Ego, Balder, Voss, 7 Fjell and Veholt are the names I want to mention. Scattered around the coast, each with their own profile, which I hope they will continue to develop. Right now the supermarkets are eager for local beers, I also hope there will be enough outlets in pubs, bars and restaurants for these quality brews. It would probably make sense for some of them to cooperate on distribution,

Then we have another category where I find it hard to have much enthusiasm. These are beers that claim to have local or national identity, but where, like the industrial giants, the marketing is more important than the beer and the brewing. I have no membership in any nostalgic organisations condemning giant corporations, and I have no ill feelings towards those who drink their Stellas (as long as they don’t beat their wives). But I have some resentment towards those who take me for a fool.

There are several companies who are riding the crest of the beer boom right now who claim to be breweries, but are not. Local journalists write, starry-eyed, about local lads make good without asking where the beers actually come from. One of these companies was launched in the summer of 2012. The uncompromised nature of Norway in a bottle is their slogan. The problem? The beers are brewed in England.

Then there is a newcomer claiming allegiance to a gentrified but traditional industrial area of Oslo, launching industrial lagers in supermarkets and aiming for a slice of Carlsberg’s market. At last, Oslo gets its own beer, they boast. Christmas beer brewed with local ingredients, says one of the local newspapers.

Two problems. One: There are several breweries in Oslo, two of them have bottling lines and already distribute a range of beers. Two: They beers are, for the time being, not brewed in Oslo, but in Arendal, on the southern coast. Sure, they are building a brewery. But if they are half as successful as they hope to, they will not have the capacity to brew on a large-scale on the premises. So the local connection is dubious.

Carlsberg has a half-hearted attempt to cash in on the local card as well. They bought up a number of breweries around the country decades ago and closed them down, while keeping some of the brand names. They have the nerve to market beers like Nordlandspils or Tou as ”local beers”, overlooking the fact that they are all brewed in Oslo.

I don’t mind contract brewing. I don’t mind gypsy brewers. But when I buy food and drink I want honesty about where it is produced. Particularly when geography is a major part of the marketing campaign.

Bu maybe I’m old fashioned.

The real thing (at Austmann)

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The long-expected news came a few days ago. Ringnes/Carlsberg are scaling down their brewery in Trondheim. E.C. Dahls bryggeri was one of the big regional players, enjoying a cozy government sanctioned monopoly situation for decades. They were gobbled up by Ringnes a long time ago. And Ringnes was gobbled up by Carlsberg after an attempt of a merger.

The Norwegian system of deposit glass bottles meant that it was sensible to have regional breweries, or at least bottling lines, but things have changed. Nowadays most of our home consumption of pale lagers consist of canned beer.

Ringnes state that they will continue to brew E.C. Dahls pils in Trondheim, but will cut the number of employees involved in actual production of beer and soft drinks from 134 to 14. It does not take much of a crystal bowl to guess that the number will be zero in a few years.

What is happening when you scale down a production plant like this? You have a very valuable, centrally located piece of real estate just waiting for development. It does not make sense to keep on brewing in a small corner of this area. Storage and distribution of Carlsberg products made elsewhere takes some space, but it makes more sense to build a logistics center somewhere close to a transport terminal out of town.

I do not feel much nostalgia over the death of E.C. Dahls. I am very happy to say that the Trondheim based Austmann Bryggeri, launched just a year ago, is filling up the shelves of shops and bars across the land. And they make more inventive and tasteful beers than E.C. Dahls (or the rest of the Ringnes group) have made in my drinking life. Which is approaching four decades. There are also small breweries popping up in the region – and the supermarkets have changed their attitude, they are happy to have real local products.

Keeping a tiny presence for the time being is probably a PR move to avoid local consumer outrage over beer brewed elsewhere and passed off as local.  I am sure there are men in suits who have calculated the risks. The establishment of Lervig in Stavanger some years ago was a result of Ringnes closing down their local operation.

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When you look at a typical list of Belgian beers, you could be mistaken to think that there is a limited range of styles being repeated over and over again. On one hand, there is a kernel of truth in this, the market does not actually cry out for one more dubbel or tripel. On the other side, the beers most eagerly sought out do not bother too much about following guidelines and conventions for styles and traditions.

De Struise Brouwers are among the rock stars of the European beer scene. They set the tone for the first Copenhagen Beer Celebration with their van filled with lots of good stuff, I do not envy anyone trying to get attention if they have the stand next to them at a beer festival. We were lucky to be able to meet Carlo at the brewery in their old school house in Ostvleteren.

De Struise have the same humble beginnings as most craft brewers. A group of friends started home brewing together in 2001. One of them lived on an ostrich farm, that’s where the name came from. One of them had a family history of home brewing, and they tried to recreate a strong dark beer being brewed by fishermen by the North Sea a century ago.  The result of this is the Pannepot, named after a flat bottomed fishing boat.

Things were going slow until they were contacted by a Dane wanting to try their beers. It turned out he was Jeppe, who was running Ølbutikken in Copenhagen. They started delivering beers to them, which lead to fame around the world.

While experimenting with beers big and strong, there is also a range of more quaffable session beers, they usually  get less attention than their Pannepøts and Black Alberts.

We were able to sample quite a few of their beers during our visit. Most remarkable are their high strength beers, which manage a balanced flavour despite their extreme punch. If you haven’t tried any De Struise beers, it is about time.

Many of their beers are hard to find, but if you are in Bruges, they have their own shop there – probably the easiest way to try a range of their beers. But you won’t regret a visit to the brewery, either.

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Freddy Delvaux

Professor Delvaux guides in the old brewery

Zigzagging our way through the Flemish countryside, a lunchtime stop was at the Brouwerij de Kroon, where we were welcomed by Freddy Delvaux, head of the family that owns and runs the brewery.

But this is more than a brewery. A bar/restaurant, a museum and a laboratory. They call it a multifunctional centre of brewing and taste, no less.

 Let’s start with the lab part, which is where Freddy has his background. He was appointed head of the laboratory at the Artois brewery in 1973, and continued in this position for many years as the brewery merged many times over.  He also established a lab at Leuven University, which he ran for decades.

When the university told him he was approaching retirement age, he decided to set up on his own together with his sons, and they have established a lab doing services for 25 Belgian breweries. They also have a yeast bank, and they develop new beers for a number of breweries.

The facilities they use today was opened only last year, but in the same building as the historical de Kroon brewery, which closed down in the nineteen eighties  but is remarkably well-preserved – showing brewing methods going back many decades. The equipment and the recipe books show that the beers used to be brewed with mixed fermentation, among the beers they made was the lost style of Leuven beers. A modern beer inspired by this is brewed today, the Super Kroon.  The highest volume was lambic-like table beers with alcohol content between one and three per cent.

The modern brewery is next door to the old one, and this is where they make their own beers as well as developing and testing new ones for other breweries.

The brewery tap also reflects the activities in the lab. There is one beer here from each of the 25 breweries that de Kroon does the lab work for, in addition to the three house beers.

There is an enclosed courtyard in the center of it all, a sun trap even on a slightly chilly spring day. I did not really study the menu, but they have some really nice salads if you want to tend to your lunchtime hunger.

 

Of their beers, the mentioned Super Kroon was the most interesting. The tap line goes directly from the unfiltered tank in the brewhouse, the beer is a hazy amber. It is bittersweet and fruity, with an elegant lemon-like sourness.

De Kroon is reachable by bus from Leuven station, it takes about 25 minutes. You could do worse on a sunny day.

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Kris Boelens

Three weeks in the barrel

Leaving Brussels behind, it was time to meet our first brewer in the village of Belsele in the Waasland region.

The Boelens family has been brewing since the middle of the Nineteenth century. Our host was Kris Boelens, who took over from his father in 1980. A long history for a brewery in Flanders means large fluctations, with the two world wars brought both destruction of the brewing facilties – the stripping of all the copper – as well as restirctions on raw materials. Boelens was reducet to a distribution company at one point, supplying beer to a number of pubs and cafes in the area.

When Kris took over, he decided to make a new start, but his current brewhouse is still small, the batches are 2500 liters.  The old 500 liter brewery is rented out to those who want to make small batches.

He brews with local city water and gets malt from a maltery just 20 kilometers away.

There is a fairly traditional core range of beers, with a Dubbel and a Tripel, but also two honey beers, one from an old recipe at the brewery.

We were served a special treat, the Tripel Klok that has spent some time in Bruichladdich oak barrels. This has a smoky nose, the whisky blends in very well with the beer without taking total control. The secret? Only three weeks in the barrel.

Kris prefers to work with his core range of styles and not jump on any new bandwagons. As he summed it up:

You can have IPA and IPAPAPAPAPA.

They are open Tuesday-Saturday, check their web site for opening hours. I’m afraid I have no idea about getting there by public transport.

 

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Straffe Hendrik Wild

On the Wild side

This is actually a place I have visited before, I had lunch in the bright and airy restaurant/café some years ago. The Half Moon brewery is a tourist destiantion in its own right.  If you are in Bruges, this is a nice place to visit, good food and family friendly.

We did not meet the brewer here, but this is also a destination in its own right. While running a modern brewery, this is also a museum showing how the company has developed from its humble beginnings. The tour takes about an hour, be prepared for many steps up and down and some narrow passages, but also lots of breweriana and splendid views from the roof.

There is even a new beer worth trying, Straffe Hendrik Wild. A fruity beer with some brett adding another layer to an elegant beer. Apricots , almonds and funk. Limited edition – catch it while you can.

 I imagine this is a place that gets very crowded in the summer. Try to get on the first tour in the morning.

View from brewery roof

A brew with a view

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