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Archive for the ‘beer history’ Category

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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The West Coast means the Norwegian West Coast today.

While I have given a fair amount of coverage to the established craft breweries in Norway, I have not written much about Lervig from Stavanger. This is a brewery that is making its mark,

Lervig was established in 2003, when Ringnes/Carlsberg decided to close down the Tou brewery, which had supplied the Stavanger region with their pale lagers for many years. And to begin with, they mainly produced pale lagers. Nor very impressive lagers, I have to say.

Fast forward to 2010. The arrival of Mike Murphy. An american brewer with the most impressive CV. Ha had brewed in the US, in Italy and in Denmark, with a reputation both for quality and for innovation. Just what Lervig needed. For an interview with Mike Murphy, check out the Die by the Beer blog.

Since the, there has been a wide spectrum of beers released on the Norwegian market. Some of them have been strong and serious beers aimed at the more discerning beer drinker. Others have been aimed at the supermarkets, giving us fresh and hoppy everyday beers which have really filled a domestic niche.

They have some new beers out, among them two in their new Art Collection series, where they let artist design labels for limited edition runs of beers. I asked them to send me some, and here is my verdict:

The Scull and Cross Blades Belgian Black Ale pours a very dark brown with a lovely beige head.

Chocolate, prunes and liquorice. The beer is velvety smooth. They could have called this a foreign stout if they wanted, but there is a Belgian funky element in the background that adds a dimension and lift this above the ordinary.

The Funky Moi Rye Saison has a hazy brass color with a lively carbonation. I tried this on tap, too, and seem to recall that it was slightly lighter in color, but never mind. A saison with a deeper flavour spectrum than most. Oranges, cherries, some funk and a distinct rye sourness. A great beer.

But the beer that will make its mark is a more humble one, Johnny Low.  This is a grassy, well hopped beer at only 2.5% ABV, meaning there is something decent to drink even if you have to drive or have other reasons to avoid the alcohol. The low alcohol beers in Norway have barely been drinkable, this is like a fresh breeze giving hopes for the summer season. It is also being launched in cans, which I think will give a boost in the market.

 

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I had serious ambitions about doing live blogging while in Belgium, but the schedule did not really allow for that. It was only on the plane back that I really felt able to sit down and think through it all. So, yes, there will be some impressions from our brewery visits, less on the beer cafés, a bit about beer tourism and so on.

And to make this perfectly clear once again, I travelled to Belgium with seven other Scandinavian beer writers. We were guests of Visit Flanders, the Flemish tourist promotion office. I am not obliged to praise everything I experienced,  and I will give my honest impressions to the best of my abilities. But it was really an adventure. So stay tuned.

What we saw were contrasts, even among the small scale breweries we visited. The deeply traditional, the passionately local, the exclusively organic, the scientifially based, the beers that came back from the dead and the rock ‘n’ roll brewers that take their show on the road. And these people have stories to tell. Maybe traditional television goes the way of printed newspapers. But I hope someone records the thoughts of the people we met on this trip, it would be another way of protecting the heritage.

A side note: If you want to visit Belgium, do it now. If they had figured out what to do with Brussels, the Belgian state would probably be gone already.

 If you want to see the coverage my colleagues have from the trip, you will find them here:

http://www.portersteken.se/

http://skrubbe.com/

http://www.ofiltrerat.se

http://www.garshol.priv.no/blog/beer

http://www.humleochmalt.blogspot.no/

http://beerticker.dk

www.carstenberthelsensordogtale.dk

 

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A nap on the plane, a coffee on the train, ready for some sponanous fermentation. First stop of the Grand Tour of Belgium: Brasserie Cantillon.

As they say on their web site: A time machine. Back to beers from another age. Saved from extinction by a handful of enthusiasts. A museum, but a living, working museum.

We share a bottle of Swanze 2012, if there were rhubarbs involved in this they are hard to detect now.

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In those days when the printed word is struggling, I am happy to report that there is a new Belgian Beer and Food Magazine available in English, with issue # 2 out soon. It might even come to a seat pocket near you, as Brussels Airlines offers it on their flights.

Breweries, cafes, lots of glossy photos. I haven’t had time to read properly through the issues I got as yet, but this looks very promising. With professional quality on both photos and writing, this should also be a good place for beer and brewery ads to make it economically worthwhile.

 

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Belgian flag

I had to rearrange the schedule of my day job this Easter. In Norway, this is serious vacation time. Many take the whole week off, going skiing on the last patches of snow or opening their summer houses for the season.

I’ll be home most of the week. I was supposed to be on duty the week after Easter, but I received an email that made me change my plans.

Visit Flanders, the tourist promotion body for the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium, has invited 8 Scandinavian beer writers for a four day visit from 24 April.  Four Swedes, two Danes, two Norwegians.

We will be visiting cafes and restaurants, breweries and beer festivals.

Here are the breweries where we will make a stop:

  • Cantillon
  • Brasserie de la Senne
  • De Halve Maan
  • De Struise Brouwers
  • Brewery 3 Fonteinen
  • Brewery De Kroon
  • Hof Ten Dormaal
  • Domus

 

Full coverage here on the blog, but also on twitter, @KnutAl, and Facebook.

This is a part of what looks like a general push for Belgian beer tourism. The craft beer explosion has swept the globe, but Belgium has the whole range from historical styles saved in the nick of time to daring newcomers pushing the boundaries. In my nine years of beer blogging, I haven’t given Belgium its fair share of coverage – I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to remedy that.

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