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Archive for June, 2008

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Hope you’re having a fine day at work. I am in Prague, having a beer. Maybe two.

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An elderly man and a slightly aggressive looking younger man are sitting outside the shop on empty beer crates, blocking the entrance to the Bier-Spezialitäten-Laden, but when I get in, there is a warm welcome.

Sind sie eine Etikettensammler or ein Biergenisser, asks the man behind the counter. Are you a label collector or do you enjoy a good beer? Ein Biergenisser, I reply. When I start picking a few bottles, the other customers enthusiastically suggest others, and there is a brief discussion on whether a certain porter is sweet or not.

Half of the small store, crammed full of an amazing range of beer, is dedicated to imports, the other half has German beers. When I briefly consider picking a few lagers from, say, Ethiopia, I decide to go for more obscure German beers instead. A dozen bottles are soon distributed between my backpack and a carrier bag.

Conveniently this shop is located right by the entrance of an U-Bahn station, Strausberger Platz,  just a few stops East of central Berlin – great when I, as usual, buy a few more beers than I had planned in advance. The prices are cheap compared to just about anywhere, too.

Don’t go looking for their web site – this is not the place to have any!

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Entschuldigung, but why do you photograph your beer?

One of the local heroes has discovered a newcomer who is not even following The Netherlands trashing Romania up on the screen.

The stranger has a distinct feeling the long day is catching up with him, and he stumbles over the German words. He tries another language.

Ich verstehe keine English.

Well, then. I think I manage to get across that I write about beer from different countries on the Internet, illustrated with lavish photos. The conversation grinds to a halt. The local might be a bit drunk and worse for wear, but this foreigner must be totally verrückt.

The small pub is a few blocks from my hotel in Steglitz, Southwestern Berlin. The beer range is limited, and after sampling a Berliner Kindl, served following the 7-minute-rule, and a Pilsator, also on tap, I round off my participant obervation by asking the waitress which brewery the Pilsator comes from. She doesn’t know and neither do any of the guests. I get the point that beers are to be drunk, not photographed or discussed. Time for me to pay my bill and stroll a bit further.

My last stop for the night is, of all things, a New Zealand pub with the owner behind the bar. He claims that this area of town has gone seriously downhill, and that I should be careful on the streets here. The Kneipe I’ve just visited is a place that is particularly to be avoided. I try a small glass of a Czech Dunkel from the Breznak brewery, which is on the sweet side, but otherwise very decent. The bar owner tells me he also imports a range of beers from New Zealand, and that the place is filled up whenever there are sporting events where the Kiwis take part. I try one of his beers, Monteiths Original Ale. Rather malty, but on the whole thin and watery. I decide that I am not in the condition to appreciate any more beers and bid my farewell.

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Berlin Tegel airportYou haven’t picked up your luggage? No, you cannot go back in there, this is a customs line. You will have to go to the lost and found office and pick it up, straight ahead through terminal B and down the stairs.

Willkommen in Berlin.

Tegel airport was fairly run down when I was here a decade ago, and I am not sad to hear that they are closing it down, building a brand new airport. I did not see any signs for baggage pickup, so, with another similarly bewildered passenger, we follow the instructions from the stern female border police and find a large room underneath the terminal where a helpful employee tells us that all bags which are not picked up from the baggage belt will be delivered there, and it will take about an hour. Someone in charge has been a bit sloppy, as we don’t even have to fill in forms in triplicate, we just have to give him the flight number.

I go back into the terminal, where the facilities are rather limited, but, luckily, there is a bar still open that offer draught Schöfferhofe Hefeweisse, which makes the waiting time all right. And the bag is actually there after 40 minutes, which is decent.

One thing is for sure, I’ll take a taxi to the hotel after this instead of spending prescious time on public transport.

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There are lots of new beers being brewed around Norway at the moment, and I’m talking about quality micro brews, not new versions of thin summer lagers or low carb mediocrity. But brewing good beers is one thing, getting it to the market is something else. The distribution system for all types of illegal intoxicating substances seems to be doing quite well, at least it seems so if you happen to be in the neighbourhood of Oslo Central Station. But just forget about getting a bottle of Haandbryggeriet Dark Force or the IPA from Ægir.

There is a network of Scandinavian small brewers, who have a yearly gathering, and I think they need to sit down and discuss how to set up a distribution network. But first of all I think they should try to set up a flagship pub in Oslo.

This pub should focus on beers from Norwegian micro breweries, with a rotating selection and a commitment to sell all new beers, provided they have a decent quality. This would not need to be a closed shop, if Mack or Hansa wanted to supply beers from their micro operations, they should be welcome, and guest beers from other countries, primarily our Nordic neighbours, could also fit in.

But, first and foremost, this should be a showcase for the new wave of Norwegian breweries. Nøgne ø and Haandbryggeriet, sure, but also Inderøy, Møllebyen, Ægir and Lillehammer. This place could be used for launching new beers, one could have tastings, this could be an outlet for more experimental beers before deciding on regular production. The brewers could have evenings of presenting their beers, this would be a fine place to bring visitors from near and far.

The location? It would ideally be in walking distance from downtown Oslo. And it would be the total opposite of Lorry, with 100 types of pale lager and no serious interest in beer whatsoever. I’m not sure if having knowledge of what you are serving and being proud of what you can offer is a viable business model in Oslo, but I wish someone would give it a try.

Me? No money, and too fond of beer to be able to spend my evenings on the other side of the bar!

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If you are an Austrian soccer player doing your job, that is.

The Ottakringer brewery is promising a lifelong supply of free beer to any Austria player who scores a goal for the co-hosts in their remaining Euro 2008 group matches against Poland and Germany.

Don’t worry. This will definitely not turn into a soccer blog. I couldn’t care less who wins the trophy.

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I have touched upon the question about the number of breweries established in Denmark over the last few years, wondering if they all are sustainable. There are similar worries in Scotland, where they now have 42 breweries producing cask ale, up from a dozen ten years ago.

The closure of the Isle of Arran brewery recently have led to some worries in the business, but it seems the future looks good for many of the newcomers. When the nationals are cutting back on cask ale, the micros move in to fill the gap. There have been very positive reports from Scotland recently on ratebeer, and there is an interesting article in the Publican discussing this at length.

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