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Nice to see that most micro breweries in Oslo (and one from Commuterland) have joined forces for Oslo Beer Week.

I am joining in for a brewery walk this afternoon, starting at Grünerløkka Brygghus, led by John Hudson from Nydalen Bryggeri, formerly at Schouskjelleren. The weather is splendid, so this could be a real success.  If I could give one piece of advice, I’d offer standard size beer samples at 50 kroner each to avoid wasting time.

There are collaboration beers, tap takeovers, brewmasters dinners and the launch of two new breweriers – Little Brother and Dronebrygg.

The week culminates at Grünerløkka Brygghus with at least 20 beers from Oslo on tap.’

I miss Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeri and Oslo Mikrobryggeri from the list, hope they will join in next year.

And I think the new brewery at Kolonihagen Grünerløkka has entered under the radar of the organisers. Their first beer is a Mosaic single hop IPA. For a first brew from a newcomer, it passes the test very well. I’ll be there for a refreshement before the walk.

Kolonihagen No 1

 

Quite a heritage!

Though I’ve visited Stockholm many times over the years, my knowledge is to a large extent limited to the central areas, the most renown beer bars and the tourist attractions.  When I was in the southern commuter town Södertälje, I managed to find a micro brewer. This time around I stayed mostly in the northern suburbs, but there is local beer to be found there as well.

I found a reference to Sundbyberg Köksbryggeri in a web discussion. Köksbryggeri means kitchen brewery, so the name suggested that this was just a hobby. A quick search told me that they had indeed started out as a amateur outfit, but that they had gone professional earlier this year. As I was spending an oval weekend in a hotel just a few minutes away, I sent off an e-mail inviting myself for a visit and received a positive reply.

When I arrived at Friday lunchtime, it turned out to be a rather busy day, as they were delivering their first consignment to Systembolaget, the governmental retail monopoly shops for alcohol. I am greeted by Thomas, one of the three brewers. He shows me the setup of the brewery. I later sit down with Per for a chat about the brewery and the Swedish beer scene.

While they are taking a big step these days in delivering to the Systembolaget shops, they have been available in local bars and restaurants for some months. Sundbyberg today is a commuter town just a few minutes from central Stockholm by train or Underground. It has, however, its own identity, to a large extent linked to its industrial heritage. A century ago, the breweries and distilleries of this town supplied the Stockholm are with much of its beer and aquavit.

The new brewery tries to be a part of this heritage, and the ambition is to stay local, to cooperate with local companies and associations. The local market is big enough, they already have problems keeping ut with demand.

They also plan to open a pub on the first floor of the brewery, where there is already exhibition space for local artists. And the building is of particular interest. Because this is also a part of the Sundbyberg heritage. But it does not have an industrial pedigree. The brewery is located in an old church. For marketing purposes, they should have named themselves Church Brewery, not Kitchen Brewery.

The building had been abandoned for years before it was refurbished. All religious elements have been removed. There are stained glass windows, but these are abstract, so they do not carry any Christian message. The new inhabitants have been in touch with the congregation when they stared up, and they even have had the pastor coming in to taste the beers.

As for the refurbishment of the building, there were a number of challenges. There is a blog about this for those particularly interested.

The three friends who run the brewery – Per, Peter and Thomas – do not have any formal qualifications in the field, but they are experienced home brewers. Two of them share a flat, the kitchen in the name is the kitchen of their flat, where they have brewed lots of beers.

The aim, now that they have gone professional, is to brew balanced beers, often in a British style, but also with nods to Belgium and Germany. The beers being distributed now are an English bitter, a Kölsh and a Saison. These are beers with moderate amounts of alcohol – and moderate amounts of hops. Everyone else brews American style IPAs, they prefer to go for something else.

The Kölsch – Halvlager – has become very popular for those who want an all-round alternative to lager to serve with food. Fruity, with a pleasant dry mouth feel. The saison is brewed with a fair amount of coriander, and wehat malt and passion fruit is also added. The saison yeast makes it a saison rather than a wit, but it blurs the distinctions between the two styles.

The Sumpen (slang for Sundbyberg) ale is closely related to an English bitter, a fine session beer.

Their beers are, as I said, widely available in the area, there is a map on their web site showing where to find them. The bottles can be delivered to any Systembolaget shop, I don’t know if you have to order a minimum number of bottles.

A well hidden brewery

Hop-a-billy coming soon, said the poster on the stand your slightly bewildered correspondent happened to stop at. The event was the Zythos beer festival, the biggest national event of its kind in Belgium. They don’t claim to have all the breweries in Belgium present, but there is a fair chance you’ll find something to your liking among the endless row of stands.

But back to the Hop-a-billy. I asked for a sample, and a polite young man barely out of his teens filled my glass. A boy who looked even younger shared the stand with him.

- Are you a new brewery? I asked.

- No, we have been around for about ten years

- Have the two of you you been running a brewery for ten years? You must have been very young?

They explain that ‘t Hofbrouwerijke is a family business, and that they were helping out doing the bashing and bottling from the early days.

The beer is a 6% saison, but with some lovely South Pacific hops added in. Crisp and refreshing. Nice to see that when others are playing around with their styles, the Belgians can think out of the box as well.

I also try the Flowersour. As the name implies, it is both sour and flowery, with an aroma of rose petals, sour fruit and balsamico. Maybe a bit too flowery, but I am very happy to have some beers that are not true to their style at this point.

I buy some of their bottled beers to take home, despite the fact that my baggage allowance is way too low.

The festival as such is a pleasant surprise. This is a Sunday afternoon, there is plenty of beer available, and it is nice, clean and tidy. Not too crowded, either. Convenient free shuttle bus from Leuven station, which again has direct trains to Brussels airport. A day trip is doable, at least from Northwestern Europe.

I have a feeling that the Saturday session is more crowded, but I could be mistaken. And a beer festival without enough customers would not be much of a success, would it?

So Zythos is definitely a festival to come back to – next time for a full day session. Some of these breweries and beers are hard to find, and, while I recommend a round trip of Beligum, you are not likely to cover all the ones you’d like to try.

I travelled to Belgium as a guest of VisitFlanders.

 

- My wife sent me off to the United States with the message:  Don’t come back until you have a smile on your face.

There is a flicker of the smile before he continues:

- I found something to work with. I found a brewery. In a burned out building. I had it dismantled and sent to Belgium.

Our host is Andre Janssens at Brouwerij Hof ten Dormaal, another scenic spot in the Flemish countryside, yet not many minutes’ drive from Leuven. He had a stroke a few years ago, was feeling depressed and did not want to continue his office work.  That was when his wife insisted he should travel.

We are seated around an old, worn oak table in Andre’s living room.

- My father told me three men were made on this table. And five were killed.

This is not only a brewery, but also a working family farm focusing on sustainable production, with hops and barley grown on the farm, even the malting is done just up the road. Much of the energy used in the brewing process comes from rapeseed oil also produced on the farm.

Tending the hop fields

The brewery was started five years ago, and they now brew 1500 liters twice a week.

The beers started off as rather traditional Belgian styles, but things have really taken off with a series of barrel aged beers, using oak barrels previously used for various European wines and spirits. Before they started barrel aging, they cultivated wild yeast. 10 buckets of beer were placed on various spots around the farm. They all went sour, two of them were usable for use when they barrel age the beers.

 

There is the most charming setting you could imagine – a small brewery tap offering beers to drink on the spot or take away. A lovely garden. A pond with ducks and frogs. And even horses of old Brabant stock being used in the hop cultivation.

There is a lot of experimentation taking place. We get to try the Brand von Leuven, a beer in their Taste Lab series. This is to commemorate the firebombing of Leuven. The beer has smoky flavor and aroma, elegant balance of sweet and sour.  The soot and destruction is there in the finish.

A most unusual brewery to visit, check their web site for details. I think you will find their beers quite hard to find in Europe, the distribution seems to be better in parts of the US.

The visit was sponsored by Visit Flanders, who kindly invited a number of Scandinavian beer bloggers last month. They have no influence on the editorial content of this blog.

I must admit I have never given much thought to beer glasses. Sure, there are special designs, be it a revived pewter mug in England or a Kwak glass in a touristy bar in Brussels. And there are iconic glasses for classical beer styles, Kölsch, Berliner Weisse or Bavarian Weissbier. There are small samplers for, well, sampling. And there is the liter Mass glass of the Bavarian beer gardens.

But I was recently invited to a beer tasting where the focus was as much on the glasses as on the beers.

Bavarian glass maker Spigelau, with a history going back to the middle ages, has had a huge success with their IPA glasses, developed in cooperation with Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada. They are now launching a Stout glass, this time they have used Rogue as their partner.

Their range now includes a lager glass, a wheat beer glass, a tulip glass and the IPA and stout glasses mentioned above.

The tasting made us compare the same beer from two different glasses, one of them a generic beer glass being used in bars and restaurants all over the globe, the other glass the one developed especially for the type of beer in question.

Did they manage to convince me?

Well,  despite a slight feel of evangelism in the presentation, there is a significant difference. It started off with a plain Carlsberg, and the Spigelau glass managed to make the most of even this standard lager, lifting aroma and flavour. With the Hefeweisse the difference was even more pronounced. And the big beers, a Chimay and a Sierra Nevada Torpedo, were just great when served in an optimal glass.

The glasses keep the beer at the right temperature, as they are thin without being brittle. They lift the aroma and flavour, and they give the right carbonation and the right head for the beer they are made for.

You can buy boxes with all the glasses or pick the ones you want. A quick search shows that you can get sets with four  different glasses for about 350 Norwegian kroner around here. Which is not much when you consider what you pay for a beer…

At the very least, I will retire a few glasses with brewery logos to the basement and make room for the IPA and stout glasses from Spiegelau.

When I checked in at my hotel in Leuven, there was a package waiting for me at the reception.

I got a e-mail back in March from Lode Devlieghere at www.belgianbeerz.com. This is a fairly new web shop shipping Belgian beers just about everywhere, and he was reaching out to selected beer bloggers to get some exposure.

As the shop is based in Leuven, I told him that the most convenient would be if he could have a sample box delivered to my hotel on arrival. Less postage for him, no worries about taxes, fees and so on in Norway for me.

What I received was a dozen Belgian Tripels and Saisons. Some from the well known and established breweries, others from more obscure ones.

Two examples of the Tripels:

The St Feuillien has a fruity aroma with some fresh notes of lemon. The flavour has more sweetness, peaches and other soft fruit, but there is enough citrus to leave a clean and crisp imprint. Elegant, a beer that show what you can do within this style.

The Sint Canarus Tripel is sweeter. It has apricots and a little yeast in the nose. An honest example of the style, but it is hard to stand out among the many similar beers brewed in Belgium and beyond. But if you wnat a good example of the style, order this instead of a more famous one. Brewed at De Proef, meaning no flaws.

The beers were were well packed with both an individual bubble wrap on each bottle plus Styrofoam popcorn filling the box. Probably the best packaging I’ve seen from a mail order company.

Check out their web site, giving inventory and prices. There is always room for one more quality supplier, especially for those of us who have meager supplies in our own shops.

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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