Archive for May, 2009

Death by Peroni

.. soon you’ll be sliding down the razor blade of life, sang Tom Lehrer, but that’s not the way it happens with good pubs. Some remarkably hang on for decades. Some move upmarket, some downmarket. Some take pride in their knowledge and range of beer and food. Some have a genuine feeling of neighbourhood, even if they are just of busy streets in busy cities.

I used to have a favourite pub in London. I don’t know the first time I was there. Let’s say 25 years ago. Then it had two entrances. The public bar was to the left, where regulars enjoyed their pint of Young’s Special. There  was a shelf for swapping paperbacks, there was friendly chatter and a relaxed atmosphere. Just around the corner from one of the best Waterstone’s bookshops in London – a place to linger for more then one pint.

Through the right door you entered the main bar and dining area. Friendly and fine as well, but a bit less casual, more pinstripes than tweed, perhaps. Same range of beers, but the customers were quite likely to have a bottle of claret instead.

Over the years, the pub has gone through several refurbishments, ripping out walls and giving it all a slicker feel. The pub atmosphere has gone. I’m sure you can have a beer if you walk over to the bar, but it’s generally table service now.

But they still had some pride in their Young’s ales.

That seems to be history, too. The e-mailed me about their latest promotion the other day. They have sold themselves to Peroni. Peroni!

We’ve teamed up with Peroni Nastro Azzurro,to bring you our very own take on L’Aperitivo di Peroni. Buy two pints of Peroni or a bottle of El Coto wine and get 50% off pizza or an indoor picnic.

I click through to their web site, and there is nothing there to lighten my mood. A full range of the usual suspects is greeting you on their main page. Kronenbourg. Fosters. Heineken. (Imported, proclaims the beer engine. Wow!) Scrumpy Jack. Guinness. No cask ales were present when the photo was taken.

It was just this we feared when Young’s merged with Wells’ and ceased to exist except as a brand name, wasn’t it, guys?

Luckily I’ve found other watering holes in London. No need to be on their mailing list any longer.

Before Peroni

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I had to return home again on Saturday evening. 17 May is when we celebrate out independence day in Norway, with lots of activities for children – in short a time for being with your family.

I left Valby at seven for my plane shortly before nine. The airport was almost empty, though the plane was full. A snack on the plane, through customs without any fuss, the train back home.

The same question as always – did the beers survive?

I had, in a moment of Dutch – or maybe Danish – Courage, told my mates Geir Ove and Ole Richard that we could split one of the special festival packages, I could carry it home. A magnum bottle of Mikkeller’s special festival beer plus six beautiful glasses. I somehow managed to fit the bottle inside my suitcase, the box of glasses was under my arm.

I’m afraid two of the glasses are broken. But the bottle survived.

As did all the other bottles, most of them from Ølbutikken. One leaky cork, I suspect that is the Lost Abbey Ten Commandments. I suppose I have to drink that one soon, then.

I’ve started sampling the beer stock since the photo was taken. I’ve enjoyed every drop. Except the Amager 3. akt, which is not up to their usual standard.

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Heavy load

Heavy load

Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten tries a new angle – this time it is not Norwegians stocking up on beer, wine and stronger stuff in Sweden. It’s Swedes doing the same in Germany.

Expensive toll bridges, petrol and ferries means they have to buy quite a lot for this to be profitable. But they do. Legally.

The European Union has large quotas for alcohol. And if you can convince the customs officers its for personal use, the sky is the limit. Or, more precisely, your car.

While the beer list is not remarkable in scope, with those prices there are temptations for everyone. I wouldn’t mind paying 3.75 € for a 75 cl bottle of Duvel. But if you look at the promotional flyers on their web page, most customers go for Danish or Swedish beers to take back home. Not the most green way to arrange things….

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I am not a Luddite, and I have no strong views on sticking to traditional methods when brewing or serving beers. Sure, I know the difference between cask and keg, but sometimes, and in some countries, you have to settle for the second best.

But innovation takes place in fields far removed the craft beer world as well. Like in Switzerland. With slipping margins and the big brewers devouring each other, some Swiss guys think the solution is to prolong the shelf life of pale lagers.

A marketing man named Adami Jean Nicolas tells us that dissolved or residual oxygen in beer is a serious problem. With his new tool you can measure contamination  in parts per billion.

I beg to ask if oxygen appearing as a result of a natural brewing process can be called contamination. And I would add that brewing for flavour instead of volume is something that may be considered.

Productivity gains are key to increase the brewery’s margins, says Mr. Nicolas.

I’ve discussed this view of the world with other beer hounds on various occasions. We often scratch our heads and wonder why the big brewers don’t focus more on quality. One reason is that they are trained as mechanical engineers in a German tradition. Keeping the machines running without any glitches and keeping a steady output at a stable quality is the only thing that matters. That the finished product is intended for human consumption is of minor interest.

If you brew according to these principles and hire marketing men who don’t really like beer, you end up in the present situation. A desperate scramble for dwindling market shares – while the craft brewers are doing pretty well. And they don’t lose a moments’ sleep worrying about that oxygen that makes up one part in a billion.

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Swedish beer blogger dempabeerwrote about a new batch of High Five! beer from Dugges some days ago, as he was did not feel that the quality was up to previous batches. A number of his readers added their comments, and then brewer Dugge himself entered the discussion, giving his point of view. (In short, the quality of his hops had not been good enough.)

A good example of how social media transforms the relationship between the consumer and the producer. It gives the consumer a lot of power – but it also opens for a true dialogue, far beyond flashy marketing.

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I have written recently about attempts to pass off standard (or subpremium) lagers as premium. One newspaper, which has been outstanding in its quality coverage of beer over the last couple of years, has slipped into the same trap. The New York Times, no less.

Instead of praising the virtues of American craft beers, Czech lagers or Danish experimental brews, they have decided to sing the praises of Beer Lao.

The author is convinced by the sight of young backpackers enjoying the national beer. They must be on to something.

 And the brand’s logo adorns everything from patio furniture to street signs, according to the NYT. As if that was a sign of anything. I can point to dozens of countries with a hot climate where advertising for the local beers is plentiful, but where the beer is, at best, mediocre.

If the product you are writing about is unavailable where your newspaper is sold, you can get away with nearly everything. With the web, there are lots of us who have tasted Beer Laos and can testify that the reason that this beer does not travel so well is that it is brewed with cheap ingredients in a hot climate and loses its magic when removed from its context. I enjoy pale lagers after a day in the hot sun as well. But if there is something of real quality as an alternative, I will always go for that.

There are lots of us who will try any new beer. Once.

My advice? Enjoy your national monopoly while you can. Maybe add some real premium beers to your range. If you are Czech trained, you know what I mean.  No rice in the beer is a place to start. There are tougher times ahead, even if you don’t waste your money on an export adventure.

As for the claim that beer snobs like it, ratebeer snobs gives it 6/100, BeerAdvocate snobs give it C, meaning mediocre.

Thanks to Evan for twittering about this.

Where did I buy my bottle ? WholeFoods, Kensington, London. They have at least 50 beers which you should try before this. But if you’re a ticker, by all means. It’s not as if you’ll go blind drinking it.

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Following my enthusiastic reports over the last few days, you’ll know that I was generally very impressed. Lots of volunteers making this possible, friendly brewers and importers, old and new acquaintances.

I have only myself to blame for not being present for the launching of special beers like the Mikkeller/BrewDog collaboration Divine Rebel. But better this type of disappointment than running out of interesting beers to try during the afternoon – I have a nagging fear this will happen in Oslo next month.

Still – how could the Copenhagen Festival be improved?

All in all, this was very enjoyable, and they seem to have good routines for running the event in Valbyhallen. The S-trains taking less than ten minutes from downtown are also fine.

The food was, like last year, surprisingly good. New potatoes are underrated!

More seating is always in demand. There were some plastic seats along a wall, probably used for sports events, but they were not very comfortable. On the other hand, you’d better use the premium space for stands rather than for seating, I suppose. And there was seating in the food tent.

ratebeer table

ratebeer table

The lack of proper ventilation is my main criticism. With thousands of people drinking in an enclosed space, you have to make sure there is enough oxygen. When I left at seven on Saturday evening, I was not the only one feeling uncomfortable due to the bad air quality. This was like drinking before the smoking ban. Please do something about this next time.

The lack of oxygen would, ironically, have been a bigger problem if the festival had been more successful in attracting visitors. There were just 7000 visitorsover three days.  The festival at the Carlsberg premises last year had three times as many. This probably means a significant deficit – on top of the red figures from last year.

I hope the low number of visitors does not mean that this event was the last of its kind. These event mean a lot for the innovations on the European beer scene. I hope better marketing and fine tuning of the concept will mean a better attendance next time around.

Not crowded enough

Not crowded enough

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