Archive for January, 2012

The Norwegian breweries used to have a very lucrative market. The mediums sized ones gobbled up the smaller ones, and we ended up with half a dozen regional breweries in the Seventies. They whimpered a bit about the ban on strong beers, the phasing out of ads for alcohol and other government regulations, but at the same time they laughed all the way to the bank. They had, with the blessing of the government, a monopoly in their region. Add the distribution rights to Coca-Cola, and we were talking serious money.

And monopolies promote laziness. Instead of looking for new beers to put into production, they fell back on their core lagers. Even their dark lagers, Bokk and Bayer, were slowly dying, it is much more convenient to make bigger quantities of the bland pale lager that was unlikely to offend anyone, but is unlikely to enthuse anyone but the hardcore soccer fans from the same town as the brewery. But that is history. All relics of regional beer identity were wiped away, just the Christmas beers were a ghost of the old times, and they were also watered down compared to the real stuff.

That was the situation in Year Zero. About ten years ago. When Nøgne Ø started the first serious micro brewery in Norway in the modern age. And the rest is history.

The Norwegian Government tries to make up its mind about the micro breweries. One of the parties in the current coalition government is linked to agricultural interests, and they would like to let farmhouse breweries sell their beers in limited quantities directly to the consumers, even if they are above the magic 4.7% ABV limit. Their social democratic partners are afraid this would undermine the state alcohol monopoly, so nothing will happen in the short run.

The most puzzling is the way the way MatmerkThe Norwegian Agricultural Quality System and Food Branding Foundation – quite a mouthful -approaches this. They want to make Norwegian Beer a sort of protected species, a promotional tool inspired by European labels for wine, cheese and meat products. This may work well for spinning tales about fish and cheese specialties.  When it comes to beer, I feel they miss the point totally.

The important dimension of the craft beer revolution is not tradition.

What matters is innovation.

A willingness to challenge the concept of what beer can possibly be. To bring home ingredients from around the globe. To go for bold and daring flavors to educate the palates who have been dulled down during long sessions of boring lagers. To cooperate with the mavericks of the industry around the globe. To barrel age, to bottle age, to oxidize, to try to go where no beers have gone before. To build alliances and friendships with home brewers, pubs and restaurants, adventurous beer drinkers and enthusiastic beer bloggers.

By all means protect all the varieties of potatoes, gooseberries and fermented fish you can lay your hands on. But stay away from the beer!

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Thoughts at 1000

It’s been quite a ride.

My WordPress blogging interface tells me this is blog post no 1000. One thousand.  Add to that the hundreds of posts at my old blog now disappeared into the graveyard of cyberspace, it is quite a figure. But does it matter?

Looking back, the first couple of years were spent trying to find a voice. A fair number of reviews of bottled beers, not particularly entertaining or informative. I feel that I have gradually evolved, both when it comes to travel writing and more general essays.

I have been lucky to be able to visit most countries in Western and Central Europe over these seven years, some times documenting a beer scene very few have written about in English. It is fun to seek new brewpubs and bars and find enthusiasts at both sides of the counter.

I’ve met brewers, landlords, writers and tickers. And I’ve seen the European craft beer scene develop from its first hesitant steps to the lively, inventive and robust market of today.

I have seen breweries pop up across Norway and across Europe. I have seen the Italian micro breweries take off from humble beginnings.

I thought the closing down of The Ram Brewery in London was the beginning of the end of brewing in my favourite city, but I was seriously mistaken. There are now micro breweries and brewpubs by the dozen and beer bars far beyond what anyone could dream about.

And the revolution is global. Disposable kegs means breweries and bars set up networks that ensure an endless supply of new beers. I can get Cantillon beers on tap in Oslo, who’d imagine that?

The number of beer bloggers has also exploded. There is even a market for international beer blogger’s conferences. I must say, though, that I am bored with most of them – a bottle opener and a smartphone camera do not make good stories on their own.

I doubt I will return to a schedule of daily blog posts. But I have a fair number of readers and I really appreciate the interaction with the rest of the beer community, bloggers , brewers and the rest of you.

But I don’t aspire to writing of the same quality as Alan. Or Lars Marius.

Listing my favorite bloggers from the British Isles is for another day.

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A new proper blog post sooon. For now:

Samples of a Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout aged in Cognac barrels are reported. I don’t know anything about a release date.

A new cranberry IPA, Zombie IPA on tap at Schouskjelleren in Oslo tonight. Their import list is as strong as ever. Lots of good stuff at their sister establishment Olympen Restaurant as well.

There will be a micro competitor in Drammen, the home town of Haandbryggeriet. The industrial Aass brewery is setting up a brewpub in the old Drammen public bath, they are currently inviting tender for the brewing equipment.

Larvik Mikrobryggeri is currently offering beer from Lillehammer Bryggeri, but they plan to start brewing in a few months’ time.

Twh new nanobreweries in Trondheim, both only selling their beers in one restaurant.

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Christmas wasn’t over

Well. I had paid for it. I had bought the beer, paid the postage, forked out the Norwegian duties.

But it’s nive to receive a package anyway. When it is filled with beer from Marble, Hardknott and others. From myBrewerytap.com.

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Still in its infancy, but all such initiatives are to be applauded: A Wiki for the German family owned breweries – Private Brauereien.

There are a thousand of them, and, while there are some good regional sites, a comprehensive site for Germany would be very welcome.

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I have mentioned the two  food emporia in Oslo taking shape.

Mathallen at Vulkan, on the rapidly gentrifying East end of town, has just announced that Ølakademiet will have a beer shop and what they call a small micro brewery. Ølakademiet is what I would call a beer event company, conveniently located across the road from Vulkan.

The beer shop is to feature more than 400 types of beer, so I assume there will be a broad range of imports as well as all Norwegian micros under the 4.7% limit.

Mathallen will open some time this autumn.

I’ll see if I can find out more about this.

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As I’ve told you, Haandbryggeriet will organise their own festival in Drammen, Norway in May this year. Lots of guest breweries from near and far,and they have asked on Facebook for suggestions on how to proceed with the plans.

I’ve never organised something on this scale, but I have attended enough festivals to know what I’d want:

  • A web page/blog to be established right away, starting with programme and guest brewers. A comprehensive list of beers to be published at least a week before the event. Links to public transport, hotels etc.
  • Make a deal with Ticketmaster or others, start promoting right away. Utilize the social media to promote the event for participants from abroad.
  • A Friday and a Saturday session. Friday 16:00-22:00, Saturday noon-22:00.
  • A press event on Thursday afternoon ( I don’t mean bloggers here, but for coverage of the event in regional and local media.)
  • Prepaid tickets in an attractive package including food, souvenir glass, early admittance, t-shirt etc. 
  • Additional tickets at the door., at least for the Saturday session.
  • Clear communications about which rare beers will be available when. 
  • Good no-nonsense food. Prime quality sausages, pies and stews.
  • Payment by tokens – with a clear and comprehensible system. 1, 2 or 3 tokens per sample.
  • Plenty of running water for drinking, for cleaning glasses and for washing hands.
  • No formal speeches, but maybe some round table discussions with brewers, bloggers and others? 
  • I have no competence when it comes to portable toilets, marquees etc. Check with someone local who runs soccer tournaments or concerts.

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Adnams Tally-ho and some cheese. Port-like flavour, dark cherries. Bitter almonds in the finish. Should have had some Stilton……


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A pardon for everyone?

Some Germans are working on the rehabilitation of people who were burned as witches between 1500 and 1800, according to Der Spiegel. Sounds fine. But, on the other hand,  some of them were convicted for spoling beer….

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