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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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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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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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Sometimes you get to go to new places. Not new places on the top of your list of where you’d want to go given time and money, just mundane places. Places you have passed by on a train or in a car, places you would not consider as a destination in their own right.

Södertälje is one of those places. A commuter town for Stockholm, a traffic hub, industry, population about 65.000.

We went there last weekend for a youth sports event, and I did not expect much in the way of beer. But then I started googling.

It seemed there was one decent beer bar in town, and their Facebook page told me they even had their own beer.  Well, there is no lack of pale lagers where you can get your own label, but this looked more promising.  Photos showed the bottle and the label. The Fellowship of Hops Brewing.

A new google search gave me a blog of a home brewer, including an e-mail address. I sent of a question: -Do you brew beer for the 137:ans Kök  & Bar? I got a reply back from brewer Thomas, confirming that he had indeed brewed the beer. The beer was brewed in the pub, which has its own licence.

So. We have a new gypsy brewer and a new brewpub, not registered on BA or ratebeer. I like that.

!37:ans is located in the town center, just a few minutes from the railway station.  It is small, I’d estimate it is full with less than fifty customers. This is a sit down kind of place, and on an early Friday evening, most of the guests were eating. A very comprehensive beer list plus blackboards showing the more rare and exclusive offers – but also a few discount bottles.

The 137:ans India PAle Ale has an alcohol content of 7.4.

Light bodied, pleasant malt character. Nice blend of hops - Citra, Amariallo, Nugget and Hallertauer. Grass. white pepper and herbs. Bittersweet. A very decent all around IPA, not trying for the extreme. I hope to see more beers from Fellowship of Hops in the future!

There are plenty of beers to choose from, the list claims 500. Lots of exotic countries for the tickers, a good selection of trappists, and a number of rare American bottles.

You’ll find it on Oxbacksgatan. Well worth a visit, especially if you are staying overnight.

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I didn’t expect much.

That’s always an advantage.

Many summers on the shores of the Mediterranean have taught me that there is plenty of pale lager, and the rest should be counted as a bonus. Barcelona was an exception.

So I arrived in Antibes without any significant hope of beery experiences. I had one excursion planned, but I’ll come back to that in a separate post.

A little background first. Antibes is on the French Riviera, between Cannes and Nice. A postcard pretty town, conveniently close to Nice airport. IT has one of the biggest yacht harbours in the area, giving a distinct upper class feel to some of the shops and establishments.  At the same time, cheap flights from the Nordic countries mean a steady supply of more laid back visitors.

The beaches are not too crowded, and they tend to be open to the general public without outrageous fees for sun chairs and parasols. There is a great market with local food every morning, there are plenty of mid-price restaurants with good food. Even the snacks sold from kiosks at the beach are freshly cooked. You can choose between five types of cheese in your sandwich, and the french fries are made from potatoes peeled, cut and fried at the spot.

The beer market seems to be firmly controlled by Kronenbourg, nowadays owned by Carlsberg. That means their standard pale lager on tap in most places, in supermarkets supplemented by superstong lagers and oddities like a Tuborg with vodka flavour. (Don’t ask me!)

But all is not bad. I don’t know the organisational setup, but there seems to be a distribution deal where Kronenbourg allows a few Belgians into their fridges.  And this does not mean just any Belgians. In numerous supermarkets, including the kiosk near our hotel, you find Duvel and blue Chimay ready available.

I can live with that for a week.

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There is plenty more, of course.

And if you cannot be bothered to look it up, there are a few touristic options:

  • Beer and breweries guided tour that starts in front of the Tourist information office at Marieplatz.
  • Beer and Oktoberfest Museum in a little alley close to the Schneider Weissbräu.
  • Walk around the Viktalienmarkt, while not up there with the most amazing markets in Barcelona, London or Barcelona, it has special stalls for mustard, poultry, cheese, sausages, game and what have you. They have a beer garden where the big six rotate to have their beers on. The signs say Helles, Weisse etc, so it’s more or less the same. Have a look at the organic stalls, they have a few beers that are not too common.

As for me, the next time I’m in Munich, you’ll find me on a stool at the Red Hot Bar.

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The Thick Man is tucked up as side alley, not more than a dozen meters from the busy streets, but you need to know where to look, or you’ll miss it. Pleasantly quiet on a Saturday afternoon.

In the front there is a handful of outside tables with some vines giving green cover. And you get a nice shade on this narrow street. Cozy interior, I see from the web site that there is a garden in the back, too. There is even some quite luxurious hotel rooms. This is probably a place for all seasons, and I’ll probably try the food here if I visit again. A very tempting aspargus menu.

I start with a Schierlinger Pils. Light and soft, too discreet for its own good.

More interesting is the Weissbierbock Aloysius. It is rich, creamy and has the particular blend of banana and sourness that the best wheat bocks have. Malty, yet with a fine balance. Chocolate, yeast.

Down at the square, the music has switched to Lieder with accordion. I cannot hear the word, but the tone of voice says it is probably about love long lost. Time to move on.

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Very centrally located in Regensburg you find the Kneitinger brewery. A bit more than a brewpub, as they have outlets across town, but rather modest dimensions.

The brewery tap is a charming old house with a number of small rooms, including a winter garden. When I visited, during the Regensburger Bürgerfest, they has closed off the whole square in front of the brewery, set up benches, chairs and tables and even barbecued a whole ox. A rock band playing and the staff running as fast as they could to cope with the demand for beer. If there ever was a time to make sure they got a turnover in their cellar, this certainly was it.

The pils was clear gold, with a fluffy head. Crisp, by no means aggressively hopped, but a fine dryness. Oranges, limes. A really honest beer.

A beer to come back to, a Kneipe  to come back to on a more quiet day.

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