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Beer imitating art

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Oslo is no longer just a place to escape from, it is a destination in itself. The cheap direct flights to Central and Southern Europe are not all filled with Norwegians, we get a fair amount of weekend trippers who want to visit us, too.

The newly developed area Tjuvholmen was buzzing with Italian, Catalan and German in addition to us natives and the Swedes who live and work among us. In the low winter sun the views of the city and the fjord were spectacular. Particularly around the Astrup Fearnley Museum, which displays spectacular pieces of modern art, one of the very few private institutions of its kind in Norway.

Steel, concrete and glass meets wood and water, you don’t have to buy a ticket to enjoy the spectacular architecture.

A museum needs a café, and Vingen has a splendid view. To my surprise it even has a decent beer list.

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Of course there is a long list of coffee drinks to be had, and there is a food menu very much in the New Nordic style. But you also find beers from Dronebrygg, Oslo Brewing Company, Lervig, Oosterrijsen and Eiker Ølfabrikk. There is even a local cider.

Dronebrygg is closely associated with art, they are even located in the basement of Kunsternes hus, a foundation for promotin contemporary art. Some of their beers are connected to art events, others more mainstream.

On tap at Vingen was Dronebrygg Tennissball IPA. A hazy NEIPA at 6%. Lovely flavor of freshly squeezed grapefruit, refreshing and moreish. Nothing highly sophisticated here, just simple pleasure. Long bitter finish.

With temperatures below freezing, it is easy to find outside seating. Come summer, I’d grab a chair when they open. There is even a small public beach just around the corner.

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I’m not sure if this is genuine or not. From my own family here in Norway there is a tale of a prescription from a veterinarian for a bottle of Cognac for John Forbord’s sick horse.

Finnish micro brewery beers

Finnish craft beer at Alko

 

A few nights in Helsinki show a beer diversity you seldom find in Europe.

The rest of the Nordic countries have been going through a beer boom over the last decade. So has Finland, and a weekend in Helsinki is an opportunity to enjoy a great spectrum of beer – and a range of pubs and bars that should offer something for everyone.

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Rustic cooking cooking and farmhouse Sahti at Zetor

Let’s start with the tourist trap. Just across the square from the central railway station you’ll find Zetor, a place I visited the last time I was in town. This is a huge place, decorated in what you could call a Finnish farm style, with tractors and other agricultural machinery prominently displayed. I have a feeling there were more tractors the first time I was here, but the puns on the menu still refer to Grandma’s countryside cooking, with domestic fish, meat and game as main ingredients.

By all means, go there for a meal, but try to avoid the evening rush hour, as the kitchen might be very busy. But the main reason for a visit is to try the Lammin Sahti, Finlands contribution to this panet’s beer heritage. This farmhouse beer, brewed with juniper twigs, has made a revival. They used to pour it from a plastic jug kept in the fridge, now they have nice pewter tankards serving the beer.

Also in the same central area is a quite large pub, Kajsla, that has been there for a number of years. Expect a dozen beers on tap plus large fridges prominently on display. You find craft beer from the big international names, small independent Finnish breweries, and one offs from the more established Finns.

Kajsla

A few meters away, there are two more pubs worth a visit. Black Door has the feel of an English pub, and they even have cask ale. A mixed crowd, good atmosphere, even free hot dogs if you get hungry. I had a NEIPA from the Donut Island brewery which I found a bit sweet for my liking, but there is plenty to shoose from here.

Next door is Sori Tap Room, an outlet for an Estoian brewery, serving their own beers as well as guests. 24 beers on tap. Bright and airy, with outside seating for sunny days, too. I tried their Farmhouse IPA, a very nice hybrid. Belgian yeasty funk, dry hopping adding grass aroma. A beer I could drink all night, it has both complexity and drinkability.

For a staggering range of Finish micros (as well as all the imports you crave for), head for the government run Alko shop. Their Arkadia branch at Salomongatan 1 is the place where you consider buying an extra suitcase.

If you want to get out of town, there are friendly pubs and bars scattered around the city. I enjoyed Ravintola Mulikka, a neighbourhood pub with a good selection of craft beers on tap, in bottles and cans. They have an APA brewed for them by Maku brewing – Mejlans Öl, which I can recommend. Take the tram along Mannerheimvägen if you don’t have the time to walk.

quizcoverWith the huge range of beer books available, I was surprised there were no beer quiz books around.

 

Last year I was in Stavanger, promoting my book with the publisher – including a beer tasting for people in the local book trade. There was also a short literary quiz, and I got the idea there and then – why not a beer quiz book?

I reached out to follow beer blogger Sammy Myklebust , who jumped right in, and the publisher Vega Forlag was positive.

The bulk of the work was done during the first four months of this year, with e-mail and dropbox as collaboration tools. We met twice, once for a working weekend at my mountain cottage, then for a few hours in Bergen to lay the last pieces of the puzzle.

We decided to divide the book into chapters, with 18 questions in each chapter, divided into three categories according to difficulty. There are 1000 beer questions with a few chapters on other alcohol and drinks without alcohol at the end.

There are chapters on major beer countries, on traditional brewing, on hops, beer festivals, fiction and non-fiction books, beer personalities, “national” beers of various countries, pubs and bars.

I’m quite pleased with the range of questions. We touch upon history, religion, travel, food, home brewing, literature, music, TV series, ethnography, biochemistry, mycology, mythology, linguistics and many other fields.

There was a CAMRA quiz books some years ago, and a Swedish board game. Maybe the market is ripe for versions of this in other countries and languages? If anyone’s interested, get in touch.

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I spent some days in Cyprus earlier this month. There are good beers to be found, but don’t expect much of the local brews.

This was no beer trip as such, but obviously I kept my eyes open for interesting beers. I last visited ten years ago, and what I found was a brewpub in Limassol brewing just one pale lager .

I’m sorry the photos in the old post are no longer visible, Photobucket is charging a stiff yearly fee for sharing photos which are not worthwhile.

This year I stayed in Larnaca – with a one day excursion to Nicosia. I start with my apologies to the brewpub Pivo in Nicosia, it was way above 40 degrees the day I came to town, so I had to return to the coast before opening time. I have every reason to believe they have good beers.

So. The 1900 Art Café Bar has a bar downstairs and a restaurant upstairs, crammed with posters and paintings. A fairly typical Cyprus menu, I had a very nice lamb and spinach stew. A good selection of Belgian beers, some other imports, but the only domestic beer was KEO. A fine place, I hope they can encourage some domestic breweries to make beer for them in the future.

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The main beer bar in Larnaca is the Barrel House, tucked away in a courtyard off the pedestrianized Ermou street. A quiet spot in the afternoon and early evening, getting more noisy later. A well curated beer list, including a few Greek craft beers.  De Molen, Flying Dog, Kaapse, Kees, Thornbridge and De Dolle are among the breweries in the menu. And they are quite explicit: Please note we do not serve beers such as Amstel, Budweiser, Carlsberg, Corona, Fix, Heineken, Keo, Leon, Stella Artois etc. I hav a Viven Master IPA, brewed at De Proef for Beer Development Viven. A light, fruity beer, quite sweet. They could have called this a Belgian Blond instead, but it’s a nice beer.

Free snacks on one of our visits, a deli counter with meat and cheese if you want to eat more. Very good service. Ask if they have something new that’s not in the beer list.

A few yards away is the wine shop Cava Spiritology, which also carries some beer. There are splendid Belgians like Westmalle Tripe and Roedenbach Grand Cru, but also some Cyprus craft beers. I tried a few, but they were not too impressive. The brewery is called True Ale, they have five beers, of which I tried their Blonde Ale at 2,5% and  their Pale Ale at 3%. It is difficult to brew good low alcohol beers, I think they would be better off going for stronger beers. The shelf life of this Ale is virtually limited It says on their bottles. It is most certainly not, especially not in this climate.

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Nevertheless, there are good beers to be found here, including a premium, well hopped lager from the Greek Delphi brewery. It is a very good shop for wine also, ask for recommendations. I bought a few bottles of an excellent Lebanese wine we had earlier at a seafront restaurant – the meze at Maquam al Sultan was the best meal in town.

Then to the big disappointment – The Brewery. Presenting itself as a brewpub in a prime spot in town, they even offer a sushi/Thai buffet once a week. I was very disappointed by both the food and the drink.

There is what looks like brewing equipment on the first floor, but on closer examination it is fake and dusty. It turns out they have never brewed beer on the premises at all. Our waitress tells us they buy the beer from Germany. On the plus side you get a sampler set of the beers for free, but the beers were all very dull. Pretending to have a range of nine beers, and pricing those at three times the going rate of domestic brews is not acceptable. The buffet was not up to much, either, even when the restaurant was half full, the cooks struggled to keep up with demand, and the cooking was very basic.

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I can recommend Larnaca as a holiday destination. The beaches are clean, the service is generally very good, the food is of high quality (though there is a tendency to deep fry similar to Scotland) and people speak good English. And the widely available national lagers, KEO and Leon, are pretty good, I found that Leon had a bit more flavor. There are import beers, too, including some cans with pretentions. Like in Italy, some people think that a German-looking Omlaut is a sign of quality. Insëlbrau was the local example.

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My son stayed for some time in Madagascar earlier this year, and I asked him to bring along a beer for me. I received a few beers brewed there, but also this one – Africana Beer. It claims to be a premium lager, and is brewed for something called the African Beverages Company in Mauritius. But it is not brewed in Mauritius – or Madagascar. The beer is actually produced in Estonia and shipped to Africa. I’d think there were breweries a bit closer, but this is globalization. The ingredients are listed in five languages, including Afrikaans.

So this can of beer was first brought to Southern Africa from Estonia and then all the way up to Norway again.

And the beer? Quite malty, low bitterness. No flaws, no cardboard flavor. Quite all right when cold.

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This winter has seen a heated discussion about the acess to Norwegian supermarket shelves for small producers of beer and food. We are down to three groups of retailers controlling 99% of the market, and I would not be surprised if we end up with just two within five years or so. A major reason for this is the customs barriers, particularly for meat and diary products, which makes it impossible for European retail chains to establish themselves in Norway and enjoying the benefits of low costs for Pan-European products. LIDL gave it a try, but gave up after a few years.

The smallest of the three, REMA 1000, has, to a lot of ridicule, decided to cut down on the number of breweries they want to give access to their shelves. The big acror benefiting from this move, Carlberg, is sitting very quietly, hoping no-one will notice the elephant in the room.

This has, of course, been discussed a lot on Facebook, and I agreed to chair an event celebrating the diversity of Norwegian beer as a contrast. This was arranged by Gulating Trondheim, one of a chain of specialist beer shops who now number almost 20 outlets.

We decided to focus on beer for  the Trondheim region, Trøndelag, and ended up with beers from 21 breweries. We could have included more, but 22 samples was probably enough. (There were two beers from both To Tårn and Røros).

 

These were the breweries:

Austmann
Bryggeriet Frøya
Fjord Bryggeriet
Hognabrygg
Inederøy Gårdsbryggeri

Kolbanussen Mikrobryggeri
Klostergården
Lierne Øl
Moe Gårdsbryggeri
Namdals Øl
Reins Kloster
Rodebak
Røros Bryggeri
Røros Bryggeri
Stjørdalsbryggeriet
Stokkøy Bryggeri
Storm Brygghus
To Tårn
Valset Gårdsbryggeri
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Tommy at Gulating was the one really doing the job here, and it was a great afternoon. Børge Barlindhaug, head brewer at To Tårn brewery was also present, bringing samples of his most exclusive beer. This was a beer brewed with the bacteria culture used for the blue mould cheese Selbu blå, which turned out great.

Just a few days before the event, it was announced that Mathallen, the food hall where the Gulating shop is situated, have to move out of their premises to make way for a discount store. In fact, out beer tasting was the last evenet taking place at Mathalle. Too bad, but a nice way to say farewell.

And if you know of somewhere in Trondheim that could be suitable for a beer shop, pleas get in touch with Tommy!

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