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Archive for the ‘Christmas beer’ Category

 

It’s in the VG newspaper today, the verdict on the Norwegian Christmas beers 2012.  54 beers in all, I was on the panel judging the stronger – and more interesting – beers.

Top scores for the usual suspects – Haandbryggeriet, Berentsen and Kinn, Nøgne Ø slightly lower this year. But this is by no means an exact science, and the overall level of the craft brews is very high. I’m a bit surprised that the Kinn Tomasmesse did not score higher, it is among my favourites this year.

The full coverage is only available in the dead tree version plus on their paid iPad app. Maybe it will be freely available later.

And there is even a plug for my blog – welcome to all new readers. You can browse through old posts or search for key words. Most of the material is in English only.

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I’ve told you about the encouraging signs about the maturing beer market in Norway over the last few years. A very promising addition is that the largest daily newspaper, VG, today is launching a weekly beer column. Experienced beer writer Gustav Jørgensen will cover this field every Friday, starting out with recommendations of beers from the four most important micro breweries. The section of the newspaper has changed to beer and wine.

I have to declare an interest here. I will be in the jury when the same newspaper picks the best Norwegian Christmas beer this afternoon. A blind testing, which is always a challenge. No monetary compensation, but I hope to leave refreshed, and it gives this blog a boost as well. I’ll keep you posted when the results are published, I am sworn to secrecy until then.

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Summary in English at the end

Så var det Nøgne Ø, da. Det kompromissløse bryggeriet, kaller de seg. En pionér blant de norske mikrobryggeriene, selv om de bare har vært i aktivitet i ti år.

Det hele er veldokumentert, og historien sin forteller de selv på sine nettsider. Ikke bare har man klart å få til bred distribusjon, godt salg og terningkast seks i Norge, det er også et internasjonalt fenomen, med samarbeid med de fremste håndverksbryggeriene i verden og med bred distribusjon både i Europa og i USA.

Selv om jeg har hatt god kontakt med de kompromissløse i alle år, har jeg faktisk ikke besøkt Nøgne Ø før i forrige uke. Et heldig sammentreff gjorde at jeg befant meg på Sørlandet samme dag som den årlige juleølfesten på bryggeriet, så da benyttet jeg selfølgelig anledningen.

Det var utrolig hvor mange sitteplasser man hadde klart å rigge til mellom bryggekar og gjæringstanker i den gamle kraftstasjonen. Tore og Kjetil kunne fortelle om et nytt år med gode resultater,og om det møysommelige arbeidet med å jobbe med nyanser og små endringer for å gjøre de 20 øltypene stadig bedre. og årets tre typer juleøl ble servert med nøtter, pepperkaker og juletallerken til.

Det var selvfølgelig ikke noe feil på juleølene i år heller, og i baren var det Sunturnbrew på fat etterpå, min favoritt blant alle de typene de brygger.

Hva er så hemmeligheten bak suksessen? Hardt arbeid, selvfølgelig. Men de har også lyktes i å sette sammen en internasjonal gjeng med entusiaster som ikke går for det tradisjonelle og trygge, men som hele tiden sprenger grenser.

Det var spesielt interessant å få en prat med Brock Bennet , en kanadier som har ansvaret for Nøgne Øs sakeproduksjon. Som eneste bryggeri i Europa har man satt i gang produksjon av denne risbaserte drikken, et produkt det knapt fantes noe marked for i Norge det hele tatt før de satte i gang. Og kompromissløsheten vises ikke minst ved at de så langt har fokusert på upasteurisert sake – en nisje i en nisje.

Ris for sakebrygging

Den vakre gamle kraftstasjonen er allerede for liten, men det er etter det jeg forstår ikke tatt noen beslutning om hvor man skal ha tilhold i fremtiden. Det ser i alle fall ikke ut som om beliggenheten i Grimstad er til hinder for suksess.

Nøgne Ø nyter som andre bryggerier godt av den ølbølgen som nå har nådd Norge et par år etter våre naboland. De har også hatt en viss suksess med en kresent utvalgt liste av importerte øl som de har distribuert i Norge. Det er stadig flere konkurrenter på importmarkedet, og man ønsker i tiden fremover å ha mer fokus på egne øl, da det ligger store utfordringer i å få forsynt det norske markedet med nok.  Men ikke fortvil - de vil fortsette samarbeidet med de som virkelig er enere på verdensbasis, f eks Cantillion.

Det finnes muligheter for omvisning og smaking på Nøgne Ø, men det stilles nok visse krav til størrelsen på gruppen. Er du virkelig interessert, finnes det en vennegruppe, som blant annet har en Facebookprofil. Følger du med der, holder du deg informert, for eksempel om et arrangement til sommeren som skal markere tiårsjubileet.

I tillegg til informasjon på Nøgne Øs nettsider, på engelsk på grunn av norsk regelverk, vil jeg også anbefale Kjempetorskens bloggpost om Nøgne Ø.

After all these years, I finally got my act together and visited Nøgne Ø, the giant among the Norwegian craft breweries. Under Head Brewer Kjetil Jikiun they are finally enjoying domestic success, after being a household name for craft beer drinkers around the globe for a long time. I joined their annual Christmas beer tasting, and had a jolly good time. The key to the success is, of course, hard work, but also the unique international staff they have recruited, including the only sake brewer on this side of the Urals.

There is comprehensive information in English on their web site.

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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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Tiles

We stayed at Hot-el-apartments Canon Court, close to the Botanical gardens. Our two bedroom apartment was very comfortable for four, and it is convenient to be able to cook, have a fridge for drinks and breakfast and a TV with dvd player. There are several buses into central Edinburgh, but it is only fifteen or twenty minutes walk.

There are four real ale pubs in the area, two are two minutes away, the other two less than ten minutes. There is even an off licence with an incredible range of German beers if you want some alternatives to the Scottish maltiness. I’ll get back to that.

I wonder why it’s taken me thirty years to get back to Edinburgh. It’s a beautiful city. The dark stone dominates, and it certainly has its share of churches. But the fresh snow softens the edges, and the sound of coral practices drift out of the doors.

I need to spend a week here. Museums, churches, pubs and breweries. Trying to comprehend the language. I once struggled my way through Trainspotting. The book, not the movie. That’s a challenge.

Many pubs are off limits to teenagers, others are packed with Christmas shoppers. I manage to pop into a few, but there are plenty more to try on a repeat visit.

As usual, the maps on ratebeer are good research tools, but I’d also like to recommend a guide book. Bob Steele wrote a very good guide to London pus a few years ago. Fresh this year is Edinburgh Pub Walks, which covers the city and its surroundings in a very comprehensive way, you’d probably need a month to get through all of them. I’ve said it before – CAMRA needs to wake up and do some more marketing of their publications – review copies to bloggers would be a wise place to start.

During a  lunchtime hour I visited two pubs, both recommended both for the beer range and for their beautiful interiors.

Tiles, has, well, tiles. An island bar, with everything from floor to ceiling covered with glazed tiles. Classy.

The beer is Houston Jock Frost. An hones British bitter, malty with a hint of yeast, subtle bitter finish. Nothing remotely seasonal about the flavour, but I suppose you ahve to do something to make your pump clip stand out.

The Abbotsford is close by, on a pedestrianized street. It has a classic island bar, lots of brass and mahogany. Tiles here, too, but in the ceiling. Polite service, a broad range of beers. Even hefeweisssen from the West brewery in Glasgow on tap. This is not overloaded with Christmas ornaments or tinned music. Just friendly chatter and laughs from people taking a break from their Christmas shopping.

I try a stout - Thick Black from Devon Ales. It is a very rich beer, for once the name describes the contents. Smoke, roasted grain, burned bread crust, pumpernickel. A bit of a sour edge drags it down a little, I am not convinced it is intended.

A stout at the Abbotsford

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I should have inserted a sound file here. This song was played loud and clear over and over again from the carrousel in front of the Scott memorial last week. At the same time the BBC presented the whole thing as a natural disaster. We are talking about an inch or so of snow per day, something I thought most countries in the Northern hemisphere could cope with.

The idea was to take my eldest and two of his mates away for the weekend. The ferries to Denmark and Germany were full, so I checked for cheap plane tickets, and Edinburgh turned up as an alternative. Less than two hours flight, even if it involved a few hours by train to Torp airport south of Oslo. The accommodation seemed to be good value for money, too.

We arrived fairly late on a Friday evening. There was a petrol station across the road offering snacks, the  £75 per night apartment had two bedrooms, a sitting room and a kitchen and it was warm and cozy. And my package from myBrewerytap.com was waiting. Two bottles broken, but the rest in fine shape.

It was not yet midnight GMT, so I decided to try the pub conveniently located just a hundred yards away, McLachlan’s.

It was by no means crowded, but the locals were rather friendly. I got the ususal comments about photographing my beer, so I was told to take a photo of Scott behind the bar instead.

Two cask ales on tap, bot from the local Stewart brewery.

Thrre Wise Men is their seasonal. A full malty beer, it has prunes and other dark fruit. Some hops in the finish, too, but too much on the sweet side for me.

Their Pentland IPA was mote like it. Nothing like an American IPA, but a proper well hopped bitter. It has some herbal notes, dryness in the finish, yet a smooth and highly drinkable session beer.

The others tried to drag me into the conversation, but it had been a long day, and you know the feeling when you arrive late at a party and the others have been drinking steadily for hours. I made my excuses.

McLachlans front

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Gammel StrandNo time to elaborate on the shelves of the more sophisticated beer shops of Copenhagen. Just a quick visit to Gammel Strands Øl & Vin, one of the old shops in the genre. They have a fine range of Danish micros and regionals and enough imports to keep tickers happy for a while. I had five minutes, so there wasn’t much browsing.

No Mikkellers to be seen, but three seasonals from Hornbeer are fine by me. They had a bit of a rough treatment, so I decided to try two of them right away:

The Juleøl is brewed using Trappist yeast, and the aroma is very Belgian. A Blue Chimay is not far away here. The flavour is also very similar. Ripe plums, candy sugar and just enough sourness to hold the sweetness in check. The label says spices, but it does not specify. I feel cinnamon, nutmeg and sage, but I could be mistaken. Robust enough to cope with a Danish pork roast with red cabbage.

The Happy Hoppy Christmas is an IPA, but a rather modest variety of the species. Aromatic hoppy nose with pine and herbs, this continues with a herbal bittersweet mouth feel. Soft grass, mint and some black pepper in the finish. Would be fine with heavy food, the herbs should be able to cut through.

The last one, Helge, is a 10% brewed with cherries. It will have to wait for another day.

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I had looked at the Tivoli web site beforehand, so I knew there were some of the stands worth looking into. Lots of chocolate and dough fried in fat, cute dolls and cool Danish design things to hang on the tree. I passed them all. But then there was a pretty little pavilion promising delicacies from Provence and Canada. I walked in.

The Schoune Brewery had ten of their beers for sale. There were samples to be had, and I had a chat with Andre (?), who is based in Sweden and tries to break into the Scandinavian nmarkets with their brews. Their web site says it’s a farmhouse brewery, but their long list of beers and annual production of a million liters tells me they have grown a bit beyond that.

A spicy tripel, a spicy blond, a beer brewed with maple syrup. Nice attempts of trying new approaches, I decided to buy a few bottles to take home. I’ll come back to more detailed tasting notes when I have tried a full bottle at more appropriate temperatures. (Except for the maple syrup beer, which did not survive the flight..)

There was a range of stronger stuff, too. Maple suryp, herbal teas and lamps. And, a very nice pairing, a fantastic selection of French cured sausages. I bought three – chestnut, duck with green pepper and one flavoured with a mature cheese which name escapes me.

There are many opportunities for promoting beer in Copenhagen, and the country is filled with beer festivals. The problem is that a small importer might drown among all the fuzz and all the one-offs and extreme beers. To showcase your products in a place like this seems sensible to me.

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Duck in snow

Cold weather for the ducklings

Honestly, they should close down the ice bars in Scandinavia during winter. You know the places where you put on insulated jackets and go into an ice-cold room where you get a vodka drink at an outrageous price. Because right now, we could jus as well pick up a vodka bottle and go outside.

Here in Oslo its been between minus ten and minus twenty for some time now, but luckily it was warmer in Copenhagen earlier this week, when we took along the 1999 soccer team to see København FC humiliate the visiting Greeks. Warmer does not really mean hot, it was fluctuating around the freezing point, but at least we did not have to sit outside in minus twenty.

Tivoli brewpub

Færgekroen

We had some hours after finding our hostel, so we took the kids along to the Tivoli garden. A world-famous attraction in the summertime, they also open for some weeks during advent. Most of the attractions are ope, and in addition you have lots of stalls selling handicrafts and other gifts. As it si Denmark, there is food and drink to be had, too, but it is more dominated by mulled wine than beer at this time of the year.

There is, however, a brew pub in Tivoli, and it suited me better to have an inspection there rather than riding the merry-go-round.

There was a cosy lunch restaurant with inside seating, but the bar was more basic.sure, there was a roof, but it was otherwise open to the elements, and the electric heaters in the ceiling were not winning the battle against the cold.

No need to hesitate, then, so I swiftly ordered their two house beers, an unfiltered lager and their Christmas brew.

The lager was hazy gold, with a lively carbonation. Very yeasty aroma. Lots of sweet malt, tastes like the smell of a large brewery. Lovely barley flavour, a little sourness in the aftertaste. This was much better than I had expected, I thing I was lucky to get this beer at its peak.

Because the Christmas brew was not up to much. Lovely deep red beer with a small head. Spicy aroma. Sweet, a bit stale. Prunes, gingerbread, but an unpleasant sourness that turned me off. Some more tender loving care, and this would have been a decent brew.

Well, time to get moving, as there is another place to explore.

The Christmas brew

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Advent calendar

If I put doors on the new shelves, it would make a nifty beer Advent calendar. I have, however, not discussed this with the rest of the household.

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