Archive for February, 2012

30 years ago this summer, I attended a meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland. I spent two days in endless discussions, and I did not get to see the sights. But there is one thing I remember clearly.

The local organisers insisted in us buying our duty-free quotas on arrival in Iceland. A duty-free shop in the arrival hall was a novelty in itself, but the point was not the hard liquor, but the beer quota. You could choose between two options: A full case, 24 bottles, of domestic lager or half the amount, 12 cans, of Heineken. Heineken was considered far more sophisticated.

The domestic sale of beer was banned. The full strength beer was only available at the airport – in the shops and bars a watered down low alcohol beer was the only option. The paradox was that wine and hard liquor was available.

Pressure to lift the ban built up during the Eighties, particularly when some bars started to call themselves pubs and served low alcohol beer spiked with vodka or aquavit.

On March 1 1989 the ban was lifted. Since then, the Icelandic beer day is celebrated on this date.

I have a suspicion this is just another excuse for binge drinking, the Reykjavik scene is certainly lively during the weekend.

But, over the years, the Icelandic beer scene has evolved, as I observed when I visited last year. The market for imports is, of course limited, and they are cursed blessed by state monopoly stores similar to the ones in Sweden, Finland and Norway. But there are a few craft breweries selling their beers at home and abroad, and their quality is nothing to be ashamed of. There is an excellent beer blogger. And there is even a beer festival going on this week. In a pub I cannot claim I have first hand knowledge of.

I won’t be at the Sæmundur í Sparifötunum this week. But as this is billed as an annual event, perhaps another year?

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I have to admit I do not follow all the dozens of Swedish beer blogs. But with twitter et al, I have a general overview. When I read that there was a founding meeting of the Swedish Beer Writers, I send off an e-mail asking if they accepted Norwegian members.

I have for several decades been  trying to do my bit for Nordic integration. Sure, I believe we all have to do our contribution to the European cause, but we have a tiny Northeastern corner of this continent where we share a common language (closer than English and Scottish, if you ask me. Closer than standard German, Italian or Spanish if you look at the varieties of the languages.) I feel offended when I turn up in a Danish or Swedish hotel lobby, ask for my room in standardized Norwegian and get a reply in English.

But for once, I have no reason to rant. Quite the opposite. It is another proof that the international beer community is about inclusion, not exclusion.

Because the first reply I got was Hang on, we’ll get back to you.

The next response was Do you think there are more Norwegian beer writers who you’d conceive as members.

My replywas yes, there are quite a few, ranging from beer bloggers to authors of beer books.

The final reply came today.

They changed the name.

To the Scandinavian Beer Writers’ Association.

Pelle Stridth is the first chairman.

Count me in!

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Some food for thought at the Lieblingsbier.de web site. There is a general discussion on the trends in the German and Austrian markets, which is interesting enough. But the core of the blog post by Felix vom Endt is this (my translation):

I don’t mind if the beer consumption keeps falling in the years ahead. For me this is a clear sign that we as consumers don’t have less appetite for beer, but rather more appetite for the right beer. We choose more carefully and drink with more enjoyment, slower and with more thoughtfulness, mind and soul.

I could not agree more. And this is a good reason for having independent beer writers in the important beer countries of the world, pointing out that we care about quality, not about the quantity of the output om the global giants of the beer industry.

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Photo: drikkeglede.no

There is liberalisation, and there is not.

As I have told you before, the Norwegian beer scene is currently in a pretty good shape. The micro breweries are doing well, the industrial breweries are more or less standing still, but they are still making serious money on their markups. The selection of imports available, at least in Oslo, is more than most drinkers are able to cope with. And beer imports  by individuals are no longer illegal, just extremely expensive.

But there are certainly still areas where our puritan brand of Lutheran faith is shining through, however secular we claim to have become.

There is an endless debate on the maximum opening hours for bars and restaurants. It is a weird discussion. Most politicians are afraid of being labelled as too backwards. The ones in favour of closing the bars early are in desperate search of documentation from the police and others that their proposals are Good For You. I won’t go into the points about illegal night clubs, uncontrolled drinking at home and what have you.

But the debate about opening hours is not particularly Norwegian. What might be of more amusement interest to my global readers is the recent ruling of the Market Council.

To quote their own web site, The Market Council is a kind of administrative “court of law”. It carries out supervision of the Marketing Control Act, as well as parts of the regulatory framework governing prohibitions against advertising in the Norwegian Tobacco and Alcohol Act, and the advertising regulations in the Act on Broadcasting.

The Market Council has upheld the view of the Health Directorate (yes, the ones with the Dead People Division) that Aass Brewery and the Norwegian Breweries’ Association have to remove from their web pages all photos of beer, all descriptions of products, all press releases and so forth. For the lawyers among you (Hi Alan!), you can run this ruling through your favorite online translator.

Danish media find this hilarious, quoting this as yet another piece of evidence that we are stalking mad. They are particularly pleased with the porn-like masks of some of the photos on the web site.

For the record – these regulations apply to those who brew or sell alcohol. They do not apply to private blogs. So I will, for the time being, continue to publish my beer porn.

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If you thought the British beer scene was all quiet pints and cobwebbed pubs, you obviously do not follow Melissa Cole’s blog.

She did not like what BrewDog has to say about other british brewers in a recently published book, feeling that BrewDog owes the industry as a whole a bloody enormous apologyy. It wasn’t exactly a big surprise that they don’t feel the same way.

Looks like James is able to stock up on new anecdotes to use when doing Meet the brewer tours.

Favourite quote? 

And we also don’t work for Satan.

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