Archive for October, 2013

Sometimes you get to go to new places. Not new places on the top of your list of where you’d want to go given time and money, just mundane places. Places you have passed by on a train or in a car, places you would not consider as a destination in their own right.

Södertälje is one of those places. A commuter town for Stockholm, a traffic hub, industry, population about 65.000.

We went there last weekend for a youth sports event, and I did not expect much in the way of beer. But then I started googling.

It seemed there was one decent beer bar in town, and their Facebook page told me they even had their own beer.  Well, there is no lack of pale lagers where you can get your own label, but this looked more promising.  Photos showed the bottle and the label. The Fellowship of Hops Brewing.

A new google search gave me a blog of a home brewer, including an e-mail address. I sent of a question: -Do you brew beer for the 137:ans Kök  & Bar? I got a reply back from brewer Thomas, confirming that he had indeed brewed the beer. The beer was brewed in the pub, which has its own licence.

So. We have a new gypsy brewer and a new brewpub, not registered on BA or ratebeer. I like that.

!37:ans is located in the town center, just a few minutes from the railway station.  It is small, I’d estimate it is full with less than fifty customers. This is a sit down kind of place, and on an early Friday evening, most of the guests were eating. A very comprehensive beer list plus blackboards showing the more rare and exclusive offers – but also a few discount bottles.

The 137:ans India PAle Ale has an alcohol content of 7.4.

Light bodied, pleasant malt character. Nice blend of hops – Citra, Amariallo, Nugget and Hallertauer. Grass. white pepper and herbs. Bittersweet. A very decent all around IPA, not trying for the extreme. I hope to see more beers from Fellowship of Hops in the future!

There are plenty of beers to choose from, the list claims 500. Lots of exotic countries for the tickers, a good selection of trappists, and a number of rare American bottles.

You’ll find it on Oxbacksgatan. Well worth a visit, especially if you are staying overnight.

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I’ve recommended BBC Radio 4s Food Programme before. They cover a very broad range of topics connected with food – and beverages also get their share. A week ago, the programme was about hops. This year, the topic is cider. Broad coverage of Pete Brown‘s new book on the topic, but also interviews with producers great and small.

It is fun to listen to a representative from Bulmer’s trying to avoid a question about mandatory information on the label stating how much apple juice there is in the beverage.

It is the same discussion that we have in the beer world – when the giants of the industry talk about quality, they mean a consistent product that does not vary with raw materials, seasons or anything else. Therefore, the truckloads of corn syrup outside their factories are there for you.

Where I work, in the health sector, we talk about quality as well. The term is used when we discuss how many patients have died or haven’t received the proper treatment or care.

Maybe we should avoid using the q word?

Meanwhile, back at the BBC, Pete even gets to taste a dry hopped cider.

The Food Programme is conveniently available as a podcast.

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  Following my stay in Munich this summer, I have written a fair bit about small, but encouranging signs of innovation. I´m happy to say that there is a growing debate about key concepts, not entirely unrelated to the discussion in the English (English as in language, not as an geographical entity) beer blogs recently. There are two separate issues, both centered around Craft Bier (Yes, the Germans aren´t shy about borrowing English words these days.). One is about hijacking the term, the other about trying to ridicule it. The first story comes from the newly established Brew Berlin. They tell about the Ratsherrn Brauerei, who have tried to register Craft Beer as a protected trade name in Germany. There have been strong protests that one of the big players in the beverage sector tries to monopolize the concept. Even more important is the issue raised by two Bavarian beer bloggers, following the publication of an article in Fine, a wine magazine. The article tries to ridicule the merging craft beer scene in Germany, using labels like technology fetichists. It states that the craft beers fail to do what the classical pils achieves, to produce elegance and intensity without any fuss. All those double and triple beers, IPAs and AIPAs, do not, with their double or even triple fermentation with high levels of alcohol, match the charm of an elegant pils. The reaction to this was started by Mareike in feinerhopfen.wordpress.com, and followed up by Daniel at usox.org. Mareike points out that the micro, craft and cuckoo brewers make beers that fit into a gourmet setting. Quality is about something else than punching a few buttons on a production computer and then getting beer out at the other end in a few hours. If one wants to look for technology fetichists, it is more linked to the Reinheitsgebot culture, though it does not have much to do with enjoyment. In a letter to the editor of the magazine, Daniel questions the use of the concept quality in the article. He points out that the macro breweries of Germany, who are recommended as having a consistent quality, often cheat by using ingredients like hop extract or malt extract. If there is one thing the craft breweries have in common, it is their committment to prime ingredients. Go ahead, read their blogs. Google translate is there to help you. And cheer them on !

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From the Klosterbrauerei Weißenohe, a bottle of Bonator. The name gives it away, a Doppelbock. Brewed somewhere deep in Franconia. Brought home from Munich this summer, enjoyed after a brisk walk in the autumn air in the Norwegian mountains.

Pours a very dark red, with soft carbonation. Creamy mouth feel. Cereals, biscuits, malt, a hint of redcurrants, some burned sugar. Not too sweet, a very impressive strong Bock.  As the leaves are falling, it is time to turn to beers like this.

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Way back in the middle ages, approximately five years ago, some of the best beers in the world were hard to get. There were mythologies about the elusive beers you had to travel around the globe to find, and some micros had serious trouble scaling up their production when the buzz on ratebeer or BA said this was something worth seeking out.

Other beers were perhaps not as exclusive or even exciting, it was just that they did not travel well. British cask ales are generally best in Britain, and it takes some cellarmanship to make sure they are served in prime condition.

The session beers of Central Europe are also best enjoyed fresh and on tap. The dusty bottles you brought home from Prague were not very enjoyable a few months later.

I don’t mind, actually. It is amazing that we now can get some of the best beers of the world in keg and bottle here in Oslo, and I certainly hope that things will stay that way. But, on the other hand, I’m happy to know that there is a fresh Mass or pint of the local brew waiting for me, something different than the stuff I get at home.

Some try to do both at the same time. Pilsener Urquell has been a benchmark beer for decades, and even had a good reputation during the Communist area. The bottled and canned version is available everywhere, and they ship it chilled to North America to make sure it is up to standards.

But there is also the other beer of the same name. The beer which was, until recently, only available in the vaulted cellars of the brewery. The cloudy, unpasteurized and unfiltered version of the glowing golden beer we all know.

SAB Miller, the owner of the brewery and of the brand name as this is being written – tomorrow they may be gobbled up by someone else – has decided to make a road show of the exclusive unfiltered beer. They are bringing a few selected 25 liter barrels, fresh from the tank, to a short list of pubs and bars in some European countries. Norway and Finland are included, I’d be surprised if  Sweden and Denmark don’t get a visit. I don’t know about the rest of Europe.

There was a tasting session in Oslo last night, with a few barrels as well as a representative of the brewery flown in from Plzen.  A video showing the making of the barrels, subdued lightning, the feeling that you are a part of something exclusive. Q&A with the brewery guy. The question is, obviously, is it worth all the fuzz?

It is a good beer, no doubt about that. There is an inviting freshness, a pleasant malty body and Saaz hops giving both fruit and just the right amount of bitterness. Cloudy, low carbonation. But, to be honest, there are many small scale breweries around Europe that can make a replica of this. The ingredients are readily available. The wooden casks look nice, but don’t let them fool you. They are sealed with resin to make sure noen of the oaky flavours seep out into the beer. It is nothing like an Altbier where the wood adds flavour, character and and edge to the beer.

One way of looking at this is as a museum piece sent out in a temporary exhibition. The historical beer has some interest in its own right. But it is not sent out for that purpose.

In a time where every item of food and drink has to have a story, having a real history is a great advantage. The recent ads from Fuller’s, oozing of London nostalgia, are spot on. For SAB Miller to have a beer in their portfolio that goes back centuries give them an opportunity to tap into this. Of course they use this every day to market the standard Urquell brand. But to have this old fashioned beer that has to be consumed within a few hours of opening is a new opportunity to spin the tale, to place the brand name in the spotlight. To create positive associations between old handicrafts and traditions and what, frankly, is a lager among lagers. In the mundane global marketplace, you do not get any space on the counter for your beer engine by claiming an impeccable heritage – you need to sell enough pint to justify your presence. And when everyone else tells a tale about Mother Theresa, cobwebs in the attic or hand picked blueberries, you have to keep trying.

But the importers have set up a puzzling list of places in Norway to get the privilege, one of them a trade union conference center where I think they would be more likely to think the unfiltered beer was faulty than to appreciate the rare opportunity.

But by all means- this is a beer you should make a detour to try. It definitely belongs in a 100 beers-you-must-try list.

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Longyearbyen. Easy to keep the beer cold.

I’ve written about the northernmost outpost of Europe, Svalbard, before. A few restaurants and pubs, even the odd bottle of BrewDog and Nøgne Ø beers. Due to a separate tax regime. the beers are cheaper than in mainland Norway, despite hight shipping costs. We are talking about a flight time of an hour and a half from Tromsø, and shipping is only possible during the summer season.

The special legislation for Svalbard does not only means no alcohol duty, it also states that the production of alcohol is forbidden. After dragging their feet for quite some time, the Ministry of Health sent out a draft of a new set of health regulations for the territory last year. This proposal means that the  ban on alcohol production will be replaced with a systems with licences.

There is one enthusiast in Longyearbyen, the largest town in Svalbard, who has been applying for a permit to start a micro brewery for quite some time. I guess he will have to wait until the new laws have passed the Parliament, maybe some time next year.

In the meantime, others have beat him to it. The major Russian settlement on the island, Barentsburg, has a population of 400, and I think they to a large extent rely on day trippers from Longyearbyen.

With the help of a Belgian manufacturer, they have established a brewery with a capacity of 500 liters per day  (which should be enough). To comply with current legislation, they have apparently started up with a 2.5% ABV beer, but will brew stronger beers when they are allowed to. I believe the brewery, along with everything else in Barentsburg, is run by a company owned by the Russian government.

As Longyearbyen is slightly to the north of Barentsburg, the Russian brewery will be the world’s northernmost for only a year or so. The Barentsburg brewery is selling beer only on the premises, but I belive the Longyearbyen brewery will also export to the mainland.

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