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I knew there were Portuguese craft breweries. They have Facebook pages. They are in the ratebeer data base. But they all seem to be located between Lisbon and Porto.

And I was nowhere near Lisbon or Porto, but on the southern Algarve coast. There was nothing in the immediate area, so I had to cast my net a bit wider.

An exchange of e-mails with the Mean Sardine brewery informed me that they had only one outlet in the south, a place called Algarve and friends in the town of Alvor. I tried to google this establishment, but with no result.

Anyway. I needed to rest my skin a bit from the sun, and Alvor was just 40 minutes away on an air conditioned bus. If I did not find the place, I could surely have lunch there before returning.

Alvor seemed like a fairly typical holiday resort, quiet at midday, but offering plenty of options in the evening. When the bus approached the town, a banner proclaimed the All day 90 cent pint, while a more classy place across the road was charging a Euro. A brief survey revealed a fair number of Irish pubs with and without resident troubadours.

After a stroll through town I found the Praca de Republica, and Algarve and company turned out to be a cafe/delicatessen, promoting craft produce. Cheese, sausages, wine, honey, tinned tuna and sardines … and a number of beers.

I order a (very nice ) cup of coffee and looked around. The beers are from two Portuguese Micros,  Sovina and Mean Sardine.

Nuno Miguel Vieira Dos Santos runs the shop. I tell him that I tried to look it up on the web. He apologizes, and tells me the reason is that he has been far to busy. He actually opened the same week I visited. That also explains why there is a steady traffic of people with various foodstuff, handing over samples for him to try out.

I try an amber ale from Sovina. Hazy amber, lively carbonation. Malty aroma, some funk and barnyard, Belgian yeast character.  Cereals and sweetness, very pleasant.

My lunch is a plate of assorted cheeses and cured sausages, which  are all very good. Some are chorizo-style with paprika, but the pepper is not very strong. I get an extra side dish of two types of blood sausage, one of them made with rice. A rich sweetness which show how honest food does not need to taste of more than its ingredients. With this I try a Mean Sardine Amura, an American pale ale. This is clear amber, with a fluffy head and a flowery aroma. The flavor is bittersweet. Malt and bitter herbs, some eucalyptus. Well crafted, by no means extreme.

I fill my backpack with sea salt, honey, almond cakes, beer, tinned sardines and anchovies.

Surely a place to return to. Easy to find, across the street from the Alvor tourist office.

If you want to explore the wonderful world of Portuguese craft beer further, here is a list of Cerveja Artesanal Portuguesa.

 

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Man in the Moon

Visting Stockholm a few weeks ago, I had a long list of places on my “maybe” list. It was an oval weekend for many, as it included Ascension day, meaning that some places were closed. I managed, however, to try two bars very close to each other. Together they mirror the diversity of today’s beer scene. Ten years ago, I was overjoyed with a diverse beer list and would overlook everything else. Now there is the option of finding the place that suits you most.

We arrived at the Man in the Moon in Vasastan, to the North of the city center, in the late afternoon. This establishment has the decor of an upmarket English pub, or, rather, gentleman’s club. Leather and wood, lots of lamps in different styles. A large room with plenty of space between the tables. Quiet conversation, polite service.

The menu included a numberof aspargus dishes, as they were in season, we both went for the entrecote with asparagus. Not cheap, but a great meal, cooked to perfection.

The beer list was staggering, the bottled list would have been plenty. But, additionally, they are marking their twentieth anniversary this year. This means a special list of draft beers brewed especially for them from the best of the Scandinavian craft breweries:

Amager Bryghus
Beer Here
Beerbliotek
Brekeriet
CAP
Dugges Ale- och Porterbryggeri
Eskilstuna Ölkultur
Mikkeller
Nynäshamns Ångbryggeri
Nøgne
Stronzo
Ängö Kvartersbryggeri

I had to limit myself to a glass each of the Beerbliotek Double IPA and the Nøgne Ø Barrel Aged Imperial Brown Ale, no less. The double IPA was good, the Nøgne Ø beer was great.

Across the street: Mikkeller & Friends Stockholm. Welcome to Hipsterville. True to the original concept in squeezing everything into what must have been a tobacconist or another type of shop with a modest need for space. Afternoon was giving way to early evening. the front room was filling up, but there was still seating in the back , where you feel like you are a part of a art installation and graying beer geeks struggle to . The usual blackboard with Mikkeller beers and a few of their collaborators. The house geuze is rebranded as Vasastan Spontanale. The beer is served in small glasses – encouraging the customers to go for quality rather than quantity. Their crowd is young and beautiful.

I have to say that this does not appeal much to me – but then I’m not in their target group, either. That does not mean there is anything wrong with the bar or the concept. This is the flavor of the month, where people in their twenties can brag with their newly acquired knowledge about beer styles. But I don’t think anyone has any illusions about this becoming an institution on the Stockholm beer scene. This is a place that will stay open and popular for a year or two, there is no big investment involved. No kitchen, barely a fridge. They did not even have ice cubes when I asked for a glass of tap water. But the gueze was fine, so was the Omnipollo double IPA.

I think the Man in the Moon will be there for its thirtieth anniversary, too. But for craft beer to continue to grow, there has to be beer spots that appeal to other groups than the grumpy men past fifty. Concepts will come and go. I will look in, have a (small, if that’s the only option) glass of their most interesting beer before I walk on to somewhere else.

But we adapt. London pubs that were gutted and redecorated in Scandinavian pine and large windows seem almost cozy now. We’ll get used to the bare brick, steel and concrete, too. If we don’t get too grumpy.

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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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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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Lunch in Brussels meant cured meat, cheese and bread – and a beer tasting. While the two Moeder Lambic bars have established themselves as cornerstones on the Brussels beer scene, this is the first time I have visited any of them. Easy to find, minutes away from the main attractions for the tourist and strategically located if you are in town for business. Business usually meaning government.

We enjoyed a conversation with  Jean Hummler, one of the two owners of the company since 2006. With great passion he gave us samples of some of his beers while talking about his philosophy about beer (and food).

Their focus is on Belgian beer, but not exclusively so. Among the 150 Belgian breweries, there are 15 outstanding, according to Jean. When he considers which beers to order, he considers both taste and how the beers are made. Freshness is the imperative word, and the taps and the temperature control makes sure the quality is as good as it gets.

There is a broad range of customers in the bar, an estimate is 60 per cent local, the rest expats and tourists. Most are in the 25-25 age range, but there are also students saving up to drink the best beers they can get.

There is no best beer in the  world, says Jean, but there is one that is best for my palate.

Among the beers we got to sample were an Oud Bruin from Verzet, less sweet than others of the same style, and a very interesting brewery to follow.

Cuvee de Ranke is a blend using sour beer from De Ranke blended with Girardin lambic. The lambic has consumed the sugars from the other beer, but it still has a hop profile that is is more prominent.

This is a bar, not a restaurant, but there is excellent cheese, salami etc if you cannot tear yourself away.

Endless rows of beers on tap, bottles in the fridge, too. Not exclusively Belgian, we even got to try a fresh pale ale from Kernel while we were there. But the imports also have to live up to the demands for freshness that they set for the national beers.

Check out their website for a list of the current beers on tap. You will not regret a visit.

 

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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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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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