Archive for January, 2010

World class

We Norwegians are extremely pleased when we get a moment in the limelight. It’s usually when our fjords and islands are declared among the most beautiful on the planet, when we manage to broker a peace agreement between enemies in foreign lands (which fall apart the next week, but we pretend not to notice) or when we get the award for the most expensive pint in the world.
It is therefore with undiluted joy I can tell you that an Oslo restaurant is in the top 50 beer restaurants of the world, according to ratebeer. No, it’s not near the top of the list, but it is a strong symbol of how the Norwegian market has changed over just a few years.
Olympen has Norwegian micros on tap, a full range of bottled beers from the best domestic and imports and a food menu to match. Their mark up is moderate, especially for the more rare imports, and they actively seek a dialogue with their customers. It’s not rocket science, just a simple concept that works.
Best of all, it is a success. It’s not a place struggling to circulate the contents of their cellar. Every time I pop in, there are people drinking micro beers on some tables. And according to press reports, they are making good money from this concept. 

Anything negative about the place? It’s hopeless to take good photos there in the evening.
Cheers to Olympen!

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I’m sure I’ve used that heading before…

The new Westfield shopping centre in Sheperds Bush, West London, has everything you expect of glass and crome, designer bars, fashion shops and a few large supermarkets. I managed to find the M& S to buy some socks and shirts as well as picking up a few of their new range of beers. The rest of the shops were too bewildering for an old man like me.

Speaking of beers, what a place like this needs is a proper pub. Not a bar with over priced San Miguel, but a pub.

There was a Wetherspoons across the street, but after checking that none of their seasonal beer were on and getting some hostile glances from the serious drinking crowd, I decided that this was not really my style. Obviously there are parts of theh are that is still waiting for gentrification.

Better then the Bull, inside the shopping complex itself. As you enter from the Underground or bus station, the serious shopping is on the right, while there is a long line of eateries on the left. I only gave them a cursory glance, but there seemed to be plenty to choose from.

The decor is a bit bewildering, with sofas, school desks, farmyard nostalgia clashing with stark modernism.

Doom Bar and Adnams Broadside on cask. Bitburg and other lagers, a long wine list on the blackboard. The Broadside was OK, but too cold.

The blackboard promised more substantial meals soon, but they already had oysters, pork pies and scotch eggs if anyone was desperate for solid food. (I know, you could always debate wether oysters are to be considered solid food…)

This is a nice place for a pint if you need a break during shopping, and I’d pick this as a place to wait for family members trawling the shoe shops and other delights of the shopping centre. Very convenient for Overground, Underground and the spanking new bus station, too.

Some techno music in the background. I have a feeling this place could be unbearable for the over 30ish if they turn up the volume in the evening. But you can’t have it all. Not all the time.

Glass lined pewter mugs. I saw that the regulars at Jeff’s place had them, too. Probably the next big thing. No, I did not nick one.

Every time I get to do a review of a London pub overlooked by the local bloggers I’m pretty pleased. It’s like the towels with the message I got to the pool before the Germans.

I got to the pub before Boak and Bailey.

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Really Old Ale

A museum in the Åland islands has a new attraction. A bottle of Bass King’s Ale, sealed with wax and lead. Yes, this is what I want for my birthday!

Thanks to Johan at Svenska Ölfrämjandet for pointing to this!

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Big and tastless

An editorial in the New York Times today sums up the problems with the merges of food and drinks companies that are giants to start with.

As huge corporations merge and get even huger, we find ourselves yearning for some old-fashioned competition, and maybe a little diversity.
They point out that Heineken after the acquisition of Femsa now will be about the same size as InBev Anheuser-Busch. At the end of 2008, 10 companies accounted for two-thirds of the world’s beer sales, up from 40 percent in 2000.
Price isn’t the only concern. Whether you quaff a Baisha in China, a Diekirch in Luxembourg or a Paceña in Bolivia, you’re paying the same company that sold you that Bud. Call us pessimists, but chances are it won’t be long before they all taste the same.

You know, if they go ahead with their plans to charge for their online edition, I’ll seriously consider paying for it.

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Belgian beer blockade

Good coverage of the situation in the international version of Der Spiegel, including photos. I hope this leads to many Belgians finding better alternatives to Stella and Jupiler. Even in Belgium most beer drinkers are creatures of habit, drinking their pale lagers even if they have a splendid selection of beer available in cafes and supermarkets. Happy days for competitors like Palm, I suppose.

Officially this is not really a strike, InBev spokeswoman Karen Crouck told SPIEGEL ONLINE. “But there are no raw materials going in and there is no beer coming out,” she added. Production stopped at Hoegaarden and in Jupille several days ago and it seems Liège will be next.

Let’s hope more InBev workers will start not really striking across Europe!

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Beer cruises in the Western hemisphere is nothing new, there are a number of options in various climate zones. Stephen Beaumont offers an alternative, a European beer cruise.

It’s on the Rhine, from Amsterdam to Basel. The preliminary programme ranges from a visit to Amsterdam’s  Brouwerij ‘t Ij to tastings at Belgian, German, French, Luxembourg and Swiss breweries, a pub crawl through Cologne, and even floating tutored beer tastings.

It starts in Amsterdam on October 11.

It’s beyond the capacity of my wallet, but I applaud any efforts to expand quality beer tourism.

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Some updated information about opening hours and tickets, shamelessly stolen from beerticker.dk:

  • Thursday 6 May  16 to 23
  • Friday 7 May 16 to 23
  • Saturday 8 May  16 to 23

I don’t know if there are trade sessions in addition to these general opening hours.

Tickets will be available from 15 February, with discounts for members of the Danish Beer Enthusiasts. I assume there will be details on their web site soon.

Early days yet, but I suppose I will arrive on Friday afternoon. Time to make a temporary booking at Sct Thomas, I suppose.

And yes, it’s back at the former Carlsberg premises again.

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Flying the flag?

Looking into the options for a Easter family break in the Low Countries, I find that one possibility of a discount train ticket Brussels – Bruges is to travel for patriotic reasons. Yes, it’s in the English version of the  pull down menu of the booking site of the Belgian railways.

I could understand this category on the Russian state railways. But in Belgium? Must be for beer festivals or something.

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The wonderfully named AB InBev has announced a 10 per cent reduction in the 8,000-strong workforce in Belgium, Germany, the UK, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, according to BeverageDaily.

Unsurprisingly, this has led to protests. 

In Belgium, news of the job cuts prompted union representatives at the Jupiler brewery to hold 10 managers hostage. After 11 hours the workers eventually let the managers go.

At both the Jupiler and Leven breweries in Belgium the gates have been blocked since Thursday, preventing lorries from entering or leaving.

Along with a general overall decline there has been a shift in drinking habits with more premium and specialty beers gaining popularity. AB InBev said its restructuring plans are designed to make the company more consumer focused, and better able to respond to new opportunities in the beer market.

I seriously doubt that it’s possible to make a company of this size consumer orientated.  Or maybe, if it means chasing the latest fads in the market, including packaging, added flavour or health claims.

But real innovation in the brewery sector is not happening among giants struggling for world market shares. It takes place in small and mediums size breweries where the head brewer and his team are considered more crucial than the men in the marketing and accounts departments. And where there is a real possibility of direct communication between the consumer and the brewery.

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