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Archive for April, 2008

When I was told I had a business meeting in Dublin, I was not hard to convince. There are direct flights, the taxi drivers are friendly, there are good beers to be had if you know where to find them.

Since my last visit two years ago, it seems the micro movement has evolved further, and I happily boarded my flight, which took off right on schedule in contrast to the Zürich plane the week before that stayed on the tarmac for hours. The plane was full, mostly of men my age with classy leisure wear. I discover by the baggage belt on the other end that they all had checked in golf clubs – luckily they did not smash any of the beers I had brought along for the Beer Nut.

Being a fair bit longer than average, I always go for an aisle seat, but there was only one row in flexible economy, so I had a window seat for a change. Lovely weather gave first a view of the Norwegian mountains, still with meters of snow for those who want to prolong the winter. Onwards towards the coast near Stavanger and across the North Sea. There were only a few fluffy clouds, which mean you could see both ships and oil rigs down below.

We landed in Dublin ahead of schedule, and the coach for the hotel left as soon as I hand entered.

I checked in and found the station for the Dart train just behind my hotel. The trains are not too frequent, but it is a comfortable means of mass transit, especially outside rush hours.

I was meeting up with John and a few others from the Irish Craft Brewer community in a few hours, so I had a sweep through the two brewpubs in central Dublin, Messrrs Maguire and the Porterhouse.

Messrrs Maguire plays it very safe, with a standard range of ales and lagers that are rather boring. They had a special beer on, however, what they called an Imperial Stout. This was a seriously good smoked stout, but probably not strong enough to call it imperial. Lovely smokiness in an easy-drinking stout body. Beige head over a very dark ruby beer. My only objection is that they could have brewed this a bit stronger – but I would not mind drinking my way through a few more of this.

Their best bitter was a disappointment. I was told later that a cask version of this had appeared at beer festival. This was, however, a keg version, subjected to a heavy-handed nitrogen treatment. If you want a reference, some of the more bland British canned bitters with a nitro widget, like Boddington, comes close.  I did not finish my half.

I was sorely tempted to renew my acquaintance with the range of stouts at the Porterhouse, but instead I focused at their occasional Chocolate Truffle Stout.

The taste was very much chocolate truffle and very little stout. Somehow they have managed to blend the chocolate seamlessly with the stout base, but it erases any trace of the character of the beer itself. I suppose they have gone for a rather bland flavour in the stout before adding the flavour.

How is it? Like O’boy, but slightly less sweet and milky. It is better than it sounds – but a half pint was enough!

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To show that I am impartial beween the English and the Scots and that I’n not totally bought by a box of BrewDog beers, I will raise a glass tonight. At 10:30 Central European Time, then.

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Some brewers, often anonymous, grumble about the beer rating sites like ratebeer and Beer Advocate, nicknaming them hatebeer. They feel that they are put down by a small number of geeks who make hasty judgements and don’t appreciate the high quality some of the craft brewers are offering.

Some take the other approach – they embrace the online beer community and use it for spreading the gospel. Here is a clip from a Scottish paper about BrewDog, which I have covered repeatedly:

James, 25, said: “I spent a lot of time in the beginning trying to create some interest in the product in Scotland but a lot of places wouldn’t even take free samples from us.

“They just didn’t want to know.

“It was frustrating, as well, because Fraserburgh gets such a lot of bad publicity and attention for all the wrong reasons. But here we were, two young lads trying to do something positive for the area and give the community something to be proud of and no one wanted to know.”

……..

Thankfully, the pair had access to thousands of more appreciative beer drinkers on the internet.

After selling no beer at all for four months, the two pals decided to focus on the export market and began sending samples out to “beer bloggers” around the world.

In a matter of weeks, BrewDog was the hottest name on the lips of those in the know in the world of beer and, before the duo knew where they were, they were being lauded by fans and connoisseurs around the world.

The problem was, they still hadn’t sold a bottle. But as interest grew, retailers across the globe started putting in orders and they suddenly found themselves shipping as many as 25,000 bottles at a time to countries including America, Canada, Japan, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Italy.

James said: “A lot of the beers we make are quite strong, so they are not for those looking to down 10 pints in a few hours.

“So we found a perfect audience among the beer geeks and hard-core beer fans who use the internet. They just got really excited about what we were doing and, unlike retailers here, once retailers abroad got wind of the beer, they were quite happy to try samples.

“We got fantastic coverage across the world and, suddenly, around last August, the orders started flowing in.”

Since then, the boys have shipped out around a quarter of a million bottles to Sweden and half a million to the US.

There are probably several lessons to be learned here. I think one major point is that you should try to start a business when you are 24 and do not have decades of antiquated information on how things should be done…

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Another world record?

If you thought the 2008 kroner beer from Carlsberg was a good idea, I have bright news for you. The 495 Danish kroner water bottle is on sale in Copenhagen. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.

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It’s across the border, but it is actually just down the road for us in Oslo. I have heard rumours about a beer festival in Gothenburg this spring, and now the dates are set for early June. It will be more of an industry fair than a proper festival this year, but with promises of something bigger in 2009.

I  think I could persuade them to give me a press invitation, but I am busy with other things the days in question.

Next year?

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I try to plan my travels as well as I can. Most of my trips are, believe it or not, not arranged for beer purposes, but are either business trips or holidays with my family. It is then a matter of organizing thins in a way that allows for beer drinking and beer shopping – how to spot the loopholes in the programme and how to go for the most promising spots.

One advantage of being active in the online beer community is that you have a network of beer hounds all over the globe. When my travel arrangements for Athens were finalized I got in touch with Alex, who is also active on ratebeer. He offered to come by my hotel with some hard to find bottled Greek beers, while I picked a few Norwegian bottles to bring along. Clearly a win-win situation. In addition, I stumbled across a few bottles myself in a Plaka shop while waiting for my group to arrive.

So, how are the beers?

I have not tried them all yet, but generally they stay on the safe side and brew lagers that have nothing extreme about them. Two beers from the Rethymnian brewery were fresh and unpasteurized, a blonde and a dunkel. They were decent, but did not have much of a body. The same goes for the Genesis beers – they are playing it too safe. The bottle of Piraiki Pale Ale from Pireus survived the trip back home, and has not been opened yet.

And Alex brought some lovely pistachio nuts from Aegina as well, and even a few rare imported beers. Thanks a lot!

 

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Out of a million beers – well,  2800 – in the World Beer Cup, the Nøgne ø Dark Horizon First Edition won a gold medal in the Other strong ale or lager category. Their Porter won a silver in the Robust Portercategory.

Lot of American ales that I only know by reputation, but there are some fine European beers who get their deserved recognition. A glance through the list shows several medals for Nørrebro Bryghus in Copenhagen. BrewDog gets a gold medal after just a year of operation for their Paradox grain as well as a bronze for their Punk IPA.

The full list is here.

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