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Archive for the ‘craft beer’ Category

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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Håndverkerstuene has gone through some changes of management, but the kitchen is still very good – and the beer range is better than ever. Some of the imports, particularly the Belgians and Americans, are gone, what you find is an outstanding range of Norwegian and Nordic beers. 12 craft beers on tap a few days ago, 10 of them Norwegian, the other two also Scandinavian.

Handverkerstuene taps

This year they are challenging Norwegian breweries to come up with the best beer matches for various menus. Eight breweries are taking part in the quarter finals, Austmann vs Aass, Ringnes vs Nøgne Ø, Lervig vs Haandbryggeriet and Ægir vs Kinn. 

 

The two best meet in the final 22 September. The juries are the paying guests on the evening of each round. The loser of the final will brew a special brew for the winner.

Details about the challenge, the menus and tickets at the Bryggeribråk web site.

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And who is Ivar Aasen, you may wonder. There might be the occasional linguist outside the borders of Norway that will recognize the name, but otherwise, this is strictly a national figure. But hang on, this has some significance.

This is a new beer from Kinn bryggeri, located in a small town on the west coast of Norway. The beer is a barley wine or  byggvin in Norwegian, the first brew of this marked batch # 500 from the brewery.

The beer was brewed for the 200th anniversary of Ivar Aasens birth in 2013. Just a few decades ago, there would have been a wave of protests against using his name for anything associated with alcohol.

This year we are looking back at 200 years of Norway as a modern nation-state. In a union with Sweden at first, but with a parliament of our own and a constitution inspired by the revolutions in America and in France.

Building a national identity was a challenge for a poor country on the periphery of Europe. There were, basically two schools of thought. One wanted to develop things step by step, keeping Danish as a written language. Our most important contributor to modern world literature, Henrik Ibsen, wrote his plays in Danish, many decades later.

The alternative was to search for something uniquely Norwegian. This included painting, handicrafts, traditional music, national costumes, fairy tales and all that.

Ivar Aasen travelled through the country , collecting words and grammar from local dialects which made the basis for what is presently one of the two official written languages of Norway, nynorsk.

Nynorsk is traditionally connected with a broader movement of counter-culture in Norway. This also included religious associations and, particularly, the temperance movement.

This meant that social events in the areas dominated by this broad counterculture meant that nothing stronger than coffee would be served. The local communities traditionally dominated by these ideas were traditionally dry, some went to extreme measures allowing hotels to serve alcohol to tourists, but not to the local population.

Gradually, this has eroded. And even if nynorsk still has a stronghold in Sogn og Fjordane, the county where Kinn is brewing, they now expect the same worldly luxuries as the rest of us. Including alcohol. Which means that, 200 years later, Ivar Aasen gets his own beer.  There is even an oil field named after him.

So, how about the beer?

I got a taste of it from the brewer a year ago, but he did not feel that it was ready for release at the time. It is now available in the Vinmonopolet stores in the trade mark 0,7 liter bottles. This is a clear amber brew with a pearly carbonation, though I have heard rumours that the carbonation is a bit lower in one of the batches.

The beer is malty sweet, and it packs quite a punch at 10.5% ABV. It is a very complex beverage, with grass, nuts, basil and nutmeg. I even find notes of chocolate and strawberry jam. IT is lovely now, and will probably keep for many years in a good cellar.

Tis is a perfect match for a really mature cheese. Some Stilton or unpasteurized brie, perhaps. Or, here in Norway, Kraftkar.

 

Ivar Aasen bottle and glass

Skål for Ivar!

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Jeff Knut

I told you I won’t give any proper coverage of our London visit, but I must mention this particularly.

We had spent the afternoon and early evening doing brief stops at a number of pubs. Some of them we knew beforehand, like Cask Pub and Kitchen and the Euston Tap. My aim was to end up fairly early in the evening at the Gunmakers Arms, where two of the early activists of the beer blogsphere are to be found, behind the bar, Jeff and Alessio.

I was welcomed warmly – I have met Jeff some time over the years, while I was in touch with Alessio during the time I visited Italy fairly frequently.

The Gunmakers is still doing very well, with a good range of well kept cask ales.

I’m happy to report that Jeff is also opening a new pub in Earls Court, or to be exact, if I got it right, reopening a pub that has been closed for quite some time, the Finsborough Arms. It will not be a brewpub, but in the beer range you’ll find  recreations of classic beers unearthed by the legendary Ron Pattison. Six keg beers, eight hand pumps.

Opening on 28 February. Jeff’s birthday.

Jeff even promised that he’ll start blogging again.

If you want updates, follow @FinboroughArms on twitter.

Thanks to Ole Richard for the photos.

Gunmakers

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Sorry.

No time for writing up any comprehensive blog posts on pubs, beer shops or the general feeling of being back in London in December once more.

It was a nice unpretentious weekend with two mates, and, while we tried to cover quite a few pubs, we did not aim for a maximum number of beers or breweries. The choice is staggering compared the London I used to know, perhaps I’ll try to come back and cover it better in the future. And our Facebook friends got live coverage the weekend we were there….

So, just a few highlights:

The London Fields brewery tap.

After passing two pubs that did not open until four in the afternoon, this was a great place to end up. Nine beers on tap, including some one-offs, and you get 1/3 pint samplers at a reasonable price. Industrial/punk style, concrete, glass and plywood. There are windows between the tap room and the brewery. Relaxed on a Friday afternoon. Good beers, we particularly noted that the quality was consistent across the range. Impressive from a newcomer.

A return visit to the Cask Pub and Kitchen, good food and a great range of beers. A Saturday evening  visit to the sister establishment, Craft Clapham, which was quite insane. It was the night after opening, and it was packed with Christmas partying. The beer was, however, excellent, with inventive brews far beyond what English beer used to be . A Berliner Weisse from Magic Rock is a good indicator.

Some good Fuller’s pubs in West London, the highlight being the canal side Union Tavern.  If you didn’t know this was a Fuller’s House, you would not guess it. It is really a sign of the changing times that there is a fine range of beers from several London breweries available. And the setting by the Grand Union Canal must be spectacular in the summer. Just a few minutes from Westbourne Park tube station.

CASKdec2013

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I am not doing a year in review thing this year, just catching up on a few things I never got around to covering.

While staying in Antibes in July, there was some interest in getting away from the beach and doing some sightseeing. As there was a tiny principality with good train connections about an hour away, we decided Monaco was the place to go. And as I had thought about this beforehand, I knew where we were going for lunch.

Brasserie de Monaco is on the waterfront, with fine views of the yachts of the rich and, presumably, famous. Considering the surroundings, it is a inexpensive place to lunch, and the local tarts and cheeses from the snacks menu were really good. Those of the company who ordered burgers seemed content, too.

The beers? Three of their own brews on tap when I visited, nicely presented in sampler glasses. A wit, an amber and a pils. the amber claiming to be the honey ale brewed at the White House. Rather bland stuff.

I’m sure there might be better beer bars in town, but I did not have time to look for them. You will want to sit down and relax at some point, and it is unlikely that you’ll find a better lunch at a reasonable price in the harbour area.

Easy to find, by the swimming pools.

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(English text at the end)

Vest for Trondheim sentrum går Bynesveien langs fjorden forbi gamle oljetankanlegg og andre industribygg. Dette har nok vært et naturskjønt område, men nå er det preget av mange tiår med nyttefunksjoner som ikke setter et så vakkert stempel på omgivelsene.

Skal du besøke Austmann bryggeri, er det lurt å ha gjort en avtale på forhånd. En litt dårlig merket avkjørsel ned mot fjorden ender i to stengte porter.

Jeg blir tatt godt imot av Anders Cooper og  Vinko Lien Sindelar.

Ved inngangen er det lager for flasker og fat, ved mitt besøk er det et svært begrenset utvalg. I begynnelsen av desember er det meningen at ølet skal være ute i hyller, kjøleskap og på kraner.

I neste rom står ølet og godgjør seg på 900-liters tanker, og innerst finner vi de tre åpne gjæringskarene. Utstyret er kjøpt fra Kinn, men er tilpasset en del. Gjæren høstes og brukes på nytt, og blir i stadig bedre form. Det blir naturligvis et overskudd av gjær, så her har trønderske hjemmebryggere gode muligheter.

Selv om Austmann bare har vært i drift siden i sommer, er det brygget et titall øl, og de fleste av dem er allerede å finne på polets bestillingsliste. Det er ikke sikkert at alle øltypene blir videreført, samtidig mangler det ikke på planer for neste år. Det finnes en kjelleretasje der det står noen kegs med imperial stout, og der vil det komme trefat av ulike slag for å lage surøl og annet spennende.  

De meste populære øltypene så langt har vært en belgisk ale, Tre gamle damer og Northumberland, en brown ale. For egen del vil jeg vel trekke frem Bastogne (saison) og Blåbærstout.

Så langt har salget gått bra, og med et etterlengtet flaskeanlegg (installert etter mitt besøk) vil det bli mindre slitsomt å dekke etterspørselen. Det er selvfølgelig vanskelig å beregne markedet før man setter i gang, og man er jo i stor grad låst til det utstyret man investerer i, i alle fall på kort sikt. Dagens lokaler har en del å gå på når det gjelder lagerplass, og utstyret gir mulighet for kontinuerlig brygging, eventuelt ved å dele uken i to skift.

Jeg skrev innledningsvis om at industriområdet ikke nødvendigvis er det mest idylliske. Samtidig er det et potensiale for å sette opp bord og benker og ha servering nede på kaien. Og derfra er det en praktfull utsikt mot Munkholmen og byen. Hvem vet, kanskje det kan gjøre som på the Kernel i London, der man møtes på mandag formiddag for å ta en øl og spise frokost?

Selv om du ikke har veien innom Trondheim, er det vel verdt å prøve øl fra Austmann. De fleste ølene deres er å få på polet, og det er bare å be din favorittpub om å ta inn fatøl fra dem også. Jeg tror dette er en av nykommerne som vil klare seg i et stadig tøffere marked.

Many of the new breweries in Norway start on a very small scale, peddling their beers to local shops or bars. Austmann bryggeri in Trondheim, established this summer, have bigger ambitions. With loans from family and friends and a distribution deal with Beer Enthusiast, they managed to get a number of their beers listed with the state Vinmonopolet,  meaning that they have a full national distribution.

The brewery is located in an industrial area not far from Central Trondheim with a nice view of the Trondheim fjord.

The beer range includes Belgian ales, a saison, a blueberry stout, two IPAs, an amber ale, a wheat ale and three Christmas beers. The best sellers will stay on, others will be replaced with new beers.

The bottled beers are vital for distribution in the Vinmonopolet shops, but key kegs are important for the pub market.

The beers are brewed in open vessels bought from Kinn brewery, and they are well worth trying out. As Beer Enthisiast are now establishing themselves in several other coutnries, that might mean that some of their beers could turn up, at least in Sweden.

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There’s a room in a house in a street in a manor in a borough
That’s part of a city that is generally referred to as London
It’s a dark place, a mysterious place
And it is said that if you’re born within the sound of Bow-Bells
You have the necessary qualifications to be christened a Londoner
[It's a cruel place, it's a hard place]
But when you think back to all the great Londoners
William Blake, Charles Dickens, Dick Whittington,
Pearly kings, barrow boys, Arthur Daley, Max Wall
And don’t forget the Kray twins.

Ray Davies –London Song

I make no claim to have the necessary qualifications to be christened a Londoner. But I used to visit London at least annually.

A week every year.

For decades.

I explored the city. On foot, by bus, by tube. I went on guided walks, I bought guidebooks.

I explored the pubs in number of boroughs, usually sticking to Young’s Special or Fuller’s London Pride.

But times changed. There were pubs with a broader range of beers. There were beer festivals. Utobeer and the Rake offered exiting American import beers. BrewDog entered the scene. Young’s disappeared.

The last four years I have only visited once. I have tried to follow the developments, but I cannot claim to have my finger on the beer pulse of London the way I used to.

Time to do something about that. Time for a pre-Christmas visit. In particular, it is time to get so know some of the dozens of new London breweries that have emerge over the last few years. Many of them are clustered in East London. Hackney seems like the centre of gravity right now. And my research shows that on the weekend I am in town, there are two events in the area worth visiting in addition to breweries, pubs and brewpubs.

There are four of us from Oslo going to London for an oval weekend. The other three have more knowledge of beer and brewing than I do. But I know a thing or two about advance planning.

We are talking Friday 6 December, starting at lunchtime. Anyone is welcome to join, get in touch about more exact timing.

Start: Old Street Tube Station.

Or Shoreditch High Street, if that’s more convenient.

There used to be a rather good beer shop around here some years ago, carrying the Pitfield range of beers brewed to classic English recipes. That’s history.

But we have a good alternative. The first stop is a something really special. A pop up beer shop.

The Wanstead Tap is a moveable feast,  selling beers at festivals, farmer’s markets and other event. It  has settled for two weeks in 87 Leonard Street in Shoretditch.

As far as I can understand, the concept is simple: Bottled beers from the London breweries. According to the East London and West Sussex Guardian, this is a case of true love for beer: A father of two has given up a successful career in television to dedicate his time to promoting beers brewed locally. I have already asked him to reserve something specialfor me. Have a look at the Facebook page if you are looking for something out of the ordinary..

I haven’t been to any of the BrewDog bars yet, and BrewDog Shoreditch is just up the road. 51 Bethnal Green Road. Maybe a swift one? www.brewdog.com

 

The question is if the Redchuch Brewery on 275-276 Poyser Street is worth a detour? I may be convinced. On the other hand, their beers might be available later in the day, too.

I think we will jump on a bus going north. Just before the road crosses the Regent’s Canal, the first brewery of the day is Hackney Brewery, just to the left. in Laburnum St. They don’t seem to be open to the public, but I have e-mailed them.

The next stop is across the Canal. It used to be the home of Beawertown Brewery, but they have moved on. But Duke’s Brew and Que is still the brewery tap. And, dangerously, they have around ten of their beers on keg or cask. Not to mention bottles.

I think I’ll have a Bloody ‘Ell Blood Orange IPA.  

Adress: 33 Downham Road, De Beauvoir Town

After this it is probably sensible that we strech our legs, and our next target seems to be about a kilometre due east. Perhaps we will walk along the towpath.

London Fields Brewery has a core range of session beers and more challenging stuff in their Bootlegger Series.
The brewery and brewery tap: 365-366 Warburton Street. Gift packs of beers to take away are available.

If the weather and overall condition is up to it, we can continue walking. The alternative is to get on a bus along Mare Street towards Central Hackney.

Pressure Drop Brewing is located in a railway arch, but don’t have a brewery tap. I think we’ll have a fair chance of sampling some of their beers in the Cock Tavern, which I seem to recall as a rather grim establishment in its previous incarnation, but presumably gentrified along with the rest of the area. According to the Craft Beer App, there are chances of us finding beers from the otherwise elusive Happy Collie brewery from West London there. And, conveniently, the Cock Tavern has its very own Howling Hops Brewery at the premises. 315 Mare Street.

Just a few minutes away, Five Points Brewing is close to London Fields station. I thought I would e-mail them to ask them if they want visitors. But I don’t think we will be up to a serious presentation of a brewery at this stage.

It’s dark by now. But the Pembury Tavern, across the street, is like a beacon. It is actually the only stop on the route that I have visited before. 16 hand pumps, including a fine range from the Milton brewery. 90 Armhurst Road.

The sensible thing now is to return to wherever we came from. Eat some junk food and go to sleep. But there is a beer festival. The City and East End CAMRA Pig’s Ear Festival. With lots of one off beers from London breweries. It’s in an old chapel (!) in Powerscroft Road. Lots of friendly natives. Come on. Just for a pint?

London Beers listed for the festival include brews from

  • Beavertown
  • Belleville
  • Brew by Numbers
  • Brew Wharf
  • Brodies
  • By the Horns
  • Clarkshaw’s
  • Crate
  • East London
  • Five Points
  • Fourpure
  • Hackney
  • Howling Hops,
  • Kernel
  • London Brewing
  • London Fields
  • Moncada
  • Partizan
  • Pressure Drop
  • Redchurch
  • Redemption
  • Strawman
  • Tap East
  • Truman’s
  • Weird Beard
  • White Hart
  • Wild Card.

That makes 27. And, while there is no way to know which beers are on at any given time, there should be enough for even the most enthusiastic ticker.

Even the affectingly mentioned Pitfield from the beginning of this ramble is listed with a few beers. They have made festival one offs for Pig’s Ear for many years, now they are being brewed somewhere in the countryside.

The festival will also commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood, which advocates the use of wooden barrels as part of British beer heritage.  Several wooden casks will be featured, including a one-off anniversary special 7% classic Red Ale brewed by award-winning Cambridge Moonshine Brewery.

There is food available at a number of the pubs on the route, I suppose we will be snacking along the way rather than sitting down for a proper meal. Scotch eggs, crisps and beer cover most of the basic food groups.

 

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The Grand Old Man of the Norwegian micro brewers is doing well. But that does not mean that Nøgne Ø slow down their innovation.

Nøgne Ø has been through some tough times during their ten years of existence, but at last they are enjoying the fruit of their labors. They have actually reduced their exports, and no longer have the capacity of brewing for Mikkeller.

This could mean leaning back a bit, concentrating on their core of commercial successes. But that would not be Nøgne Ø.

There is a steady trickle of new beers arriving on the market now, I got some samples recently which really show the range they are operating in.

Well, one of them is not brewed at Nøgne Ø, it is a collaboration between them and the Saint-Germain brewery in France. The Rhub’IPA is brewed with rhubarb, a frist one for me. Incredible floral and fruity nose. Hazy yellow, do not go for this because of the looks. Light beer base, wonderful rhubarb flavour, refreshing.

Horizon Tokyo Black is another collaboration, this time with BrewDog and Mikkeller. An imperial stout based on their extreme beers with the same names, this one is many steps removed from your everyday session beer. Black, some fizz when you open, then an oily feel. Very inviting complex aroma, tar, treacle, wood, smoke and coffee. Warming alcohol. Somehow, they have managed to make a bittersweet balance, this is drinkable and not overpowering. But it is to be taken seriously.
The Kriek of Telemark is a sour beer with sour cherries from the county of Telemark. It pours a glowing read with a pink head. Sour and sweet aroma, lovely fresh cherry favour.

Almonds, cherries, it balances on the fine line between fruity and sour. The fresh cherry juice comes through in an amazing way. There is much to be said about the aged krieks of Belgium – but this interpretation has really won me over. I find it hard to believe that this will improve with time.

To celebrate the brewing of batch # 1000, they have brewed not one, but two beers.
Both with 10 percent alcohol, both brewed with spices. The beers are sold in sets of two, meaning you get a lovely little box including #1000 and #1001, both inspired by One Thousand and One Nights.

#1000 has a warm, spicy nose. It is dark gold, and has lazy bubbles. Cinnamon and ginger. Apricots and sweet apples. Sweet, but well-balanced, mature. The alcohol is well hidden. Elegant, but it lacks a wow factor. It leaves a dry mouth feel, probably a combination of the spices and hops.

#1001, though, is the one they need to launch on its own. Dark, soft, inviting. Cinnamon, cardamom, feels like the Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout as a starting point, with some extra sweetness this is a splendid host for the spices. Coffee, molasses, tar, oreo biscuits, To be served at midnight by the fire with some home-made gingerbread.

Not enough?

This year’s Christmas beers have been released, too.

For the record, I bought the rhubarb IPA myself, the other beers I got from the brewery.

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The city where I was born and grew up, Trondheim, has lagged behind when it comes to beer. The scene is dominated by Carlsberg subsidiary E.C. Dahls bryggeri, and they have not shown any signs of innovation for decades (if ever?). I am happy to report that things are rapidly changing.

There is an annual food festival in Trondheim at the beginning of August, showcasing regional produce, including fish and game, fruit and vegetables, cheeses and preserves. I have blogged briefly about this before, suggesting that beer should be included as a part of the festival. A few of the micro breweries in the region are brewed on farms, so they fit very well in, and they are finding their way into some of the stalls, both Inderøy and Klostergården beers are to be found in the main festival area.

New this year is a separate beer festival, Trondheim Bryggerifestival. In a separate tent and with a 100 kroner entrance fee, you get to sample a fine range of beers, most of them Norwegian. Nøgne Ø, Haandbryggeriet, Ægir and Kinn are there, so you get the best of the established national craft breweries. But there are two others that merit special attention.

I blogged about Klostergården Håndbryggeri after my visit there in May. They have brought along a splendid range of brews for the festival, from a highly refreshing summer beer at 4.5% ABV to a barley wine aged in bourbon barrels at 12.5%. My current favourite among Norwegian breweries.

There is also a brand new micro in Trondheim, who will have national distribution from the very start. Austmann Bryggeri go for sessionable beers with a moderate alcohol level. They had two different saisons and a brown ale on tap yesterday, all very respectable.

The festival is staffed by volunteers, but several of the breweries are presnt, giving talks and hanging out to talk to the drinkers.

Some minor details could be adjusted. I’d like a souvernir glass instead of plastic samples, and a full beer list with descriptions would also be welcome. But the important thing is that the festival is there to promote craft beer in the region, I hope they draw enogh people to make this an annual event.

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