Archive for the ‘barrel aged beer’ Category

Belgian flag

I had to rearrange the schedule of my day job this Easter. In Norway, this is serious vacation time. Many take the whole week off, going skiing on the last patches of snow or opening their summer houses for the season.

I’ll be home most of the week. I was supposed to be on duty the week after Easter, but I received an email that made me change my plans.

Visit Flanders, the tourist promotion body for the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium, has invited 8 Scandinavian beer writers for a four day visit from 24 April.  Four Swedes, two Danes, two Norwegians.

We will be visiting cafes and restaurants, breweries and beer festivals.

Here are the breweries where we will make a stop:

  • Cantillon
  • Brasserie de la Senne
  • De Halve Maan
  • De Struise Brouwers
  • Brewery 3 Fonteinen
  • Brewery De Kroon
  • Hof Ten Dormaal
  • Domus


Full coverage here on the blog, but also on twitter, @KnutAl, and Facebook.

This is a part of what looks like a general push for Belgian beer tourism. The craft beer explosion has swept the globe, but Belgium has the whole range from historical styles saved in the nick of time to daring newcomers pushing the boundaries. In my nine years of beer blogging, I haven’t given Belgium its fair share of coverage – I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to remedy that.

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The Grand Old Man of the Norwegian micro brewers is doing well. But that does not mean that Nøgne Ø slow down their innovation.

Nøgne Ø has been through some tough times during their ten years of existence, but at last they are enjoying the fruit of their labors. They have actually reduced their exports, and no longer have the capacity of brewing for Mikkeller.

This could mean leaning back a bit, concentrating on their core of commercial successes. But that would not be Nøgne Ø.

There is a steady trickle of new beers arriving on the market now, I got some samples recently which really show the range they are operating in.

Well, one of them is not brewed at Nøgne Ø, it is a collaboration between them and the Saint-Germain brewery in France. The Rhub’IPA is brewed with rhubarb, a frist one for me. Incredible floral and fruity nose. Hazy yellow, do not go for this because of the looks. Light beer base, wonderful rhubarb flavour, refreshing.

Horizon Tokyo Black is another collaboration, this time with BrewDog and Mikkeller. An imperial stout based on their extreme beers with the same names, this one is many steps removed from your everyday session beer. Black, some fizz when you open, then an oily feel. Very inviting complex aroma, tar, treacle, wood, smoke and coffee. Warming alcohol. Somehow, they have managed to make a bittersweet balance, this is drinkable and not overpowering. But it is to be taken seriously.
The Kriek of Telemark is a sour beer with sour cherries from the county of Telemark. It pours a glowing read with a pink head. Sour and sweet aroma, lovely fresh cherry favour.

Almonds, cherries, it balances on the fine line between fruity and sour. The fresh cherry juice comes through in an amazing way. There is much to be said about the aged krieks of Belgium – but this interpretation has really won me over. I find it hard to believe that this will improve with time.

To celebrate the brewing of batch # 1000, they have brewed not one, but two beers.
Both with 10 percent alcohol, both brewed with spices. The beers are sold in sets of two, meaning you get a lovely little box including #1000 and #1001, both inspired by One Thousand and One Nights.

#1000 has a warm, spicy nose. It is dark gold, and has lazy bubbles. Cinnamon and ginger. Apricots and sweet apples. Sweet, but well-balanced, mature. The alcohol is well hidden. Elegant, but it lacks a wow factor. It leaves a dry mouth feel, probably a combination of the spices and hops.

#1001, though, is the one they need to launch on its own. Dark, soft, inviting. Cinnamon, cardamom, feels like the Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout as a starting point, with some extra sweetness this is a splendid host for the spices. Coffee, molasses, tar, oreo biscuits, To be served at midnight by the fire with some home-made gingerbread.

Not enough?

This year’s Christmas beers have been released, too.

For the record, I bought the rhubarb IPA myself, the other beers I got from the brewery.

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The city where I was born and grew up, Trondheim, has lagged behind when it comes to beer. The scene is dominated by Carlsberg subsidiary E.C. Dahls bryggeri, and they have not shown any signs of innovation for decades (if ever?). I am happy to report that things are rapidly changing.

There is an annual food festival in Trondheim at the beginning of August, showcasing regional produce, including fish and game, fruit and vegetables, cheeses and preserves. I have blogged briefly about this before, suggesting that beer should be included as a part of the festival. A few of the micro breweries in the region are brewed on farms, so they fit very well in, and they are finding their way into some of the stalls, both Inderøy and Klostergården beers are to be found in the main festival area.

New this year is a separate beer festival, Trondheim Bryggerifestival. In a separate tent and with a 100 kroner entrance fee, you get to sample a fine range of beers, most of them Norwegian. Nøgne Ø, Haandbryggeriet, Ægir and Kinn are there, so you get the best of the established national craft breweries. But there are two others that merit special attention.

I blogged about Klostergården Håndbryggeri after my visit there in May. They have brought along a splendid range of brews for the festival, from a highly refreshing summer beer at 4.5% ABV to a barley wine aged in bourbon barrels at 12.5%. My current favourite among Norwegian breweries.

There is also a brand new micro in Trondheim, who will have national distribution from the very start. Austmann Bryggeri go for sessionable beers with a moderate alcohol level. They had two different saisons and a brown ale on tap yesterday, all very respectable.

The festival is staffed by volunteers, but several of the breweries are presnt, giving talks and hanging out to talk to the drinkers.

Some minor details could be adjusted. I’d like a souvernir glass instead of plastic samples, and a full beer list with descriptions would also be welcome. But the important thing is that the festival is there to promote craft beer in the region, I hope they draw enogh people to make this an annual event.



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There is, a bit hidden and out of sight, a craft beer scene in Munich. And there is one place to go. The Red Hot Bar and Chophouse.

It is worth noting that this is not a place that you stumble over by accident. It is not directly on the street. And it is not in the first courtyard. It is in the inner courtyard. Once there, you are warmly welcomed. In English, if you prefer so.

A beer bar is not much of a novelty in Munich, I hear you say. A beer bar, surely not. A craft beer bar is, though.

A hand picked beer list, which might change from day to day. Food as well, pulled pork, burgers etc.

Red Ale at the Red Hot

If you really must have a Helles or a Weissen, you can find it, but there are pale ales, smoked beers, bocks, IPAs and lambics, too.

Pleasant patio at the back if the weather is nice, cozy and compact inside. Very friendly service, particularly from Tibor the bartender, who recommends beer as well as mixing drinks at the speed of light.

After som days with the standard Bavarian beers, it was a relief to find  a good range of hoppy beers. My favourite among the ones I tried was the Braufactum Progusta IPA. Lovely glowing amber, with the hops bringing a smile on my face. Herbs, dryness, the IPA mouth fee. Not the most extreme, just a perfect summer beer.

If you are seriously interested in beer, you should not miss this when you visit Munich. Five minutes away from the Universität U-bahn stop. Amalienhof, Amalienstrasse 89.  Open from 17.00, closed Sundays.

The entrance is just opposite the back door to the splendidly restored main building of the Universityof Munich. Have a look inside if it’s open.


It can get very crowded, so it might be wise to go early. And the light behind the bar is so dim it is hopeless to get good photos.

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(English summary at the end)

Alle mikrobryggerier er ikke velsignet med en flott beliggenhet, selv om det ikke nødvendigvis har betydning for kvaliteten på ølet. Det brygges mye godt øl i anonyme industriområder der det er lite aktuelt å innrede et lokale for skjenking av brygget.

Samtidig er det en utfordring å skille seg ut. Det er mange som brygger de samme øltypene, og selv om original design på etiketten og lokal oppslutning kan bidra til salget, er det jo flott om man har en historie å fortelle og kan knytte øl til historie, tradisjoner og lokal mat.

Klostergården Håndbryggeri fyller alle kriterier for hvordan disse faktorene bidrar til å skape unike produkter.

Beliggenheten er øya Tautra, som har broforbindelse med Frosta, Trøndelags kjøkkenhage. På eiendommen er det til og med en klosterruin som viser forhistorien for dette kulturlandskapet. Ved siden av gårdsdrift konserverer man frukt, bær og grønnsaker. Det tilbys overnatting, og det er servering av mat og drikke både innendørs og utendørs.

 Brygger Jørn Andersen kan by på en rekke ølsorter i butikkstyrke som man kan kjøpe med hjem. Wit, porter, pale ale, bitter og blond. Flotte øl, som kan måle seg med det beste av øl med denne styrkegraden.

Norsk alkohollovgivning gjør det ikke mulig å kjøpe med de mest spennede ølene – så de må man smake på stedet. En imperial stout hadde en flott lakriskarakter. En Dobbel IPA var velbalansert og forførende lettdrikkelig.

Men det som var verdt turen alene var en flaske Sorn, hentet opp fra kjelleren slik at den ikke skulle være kjøleskapskald. Jeg har ventet lenge på at noen skulle gjøre øl brygget på stjørdalsmalt mer tilgjengelig, og her er det endelig et slikt eksempel. 25% av malten i dette brygget er altså røykmalt fra Stjørdal. Det er klart at det setter sitt preg på ølet, men samtidig er det balansert. Røyk, sot og sødme gir en spesiell smaksprofil – håper at tilgangen på malt gir mulighet for å brygge dette i kvanta store nok til å tilby dette både til polutsalg og serveringssteder i regionen. Sorn er brygget i samarbeid med Inderøy Gårdsbryggeri. 

Den største utfordringen i dag er å få brygget nok øl til å få dekket etterspørselen. Nytt utstyr gjør at man kommer opp i batcher på 1000 liter mot dagens 350. Og for den tålmodige kan det opplyses at man også er i gang med eget brenneri, som planlegger lansering av whisky om tre år. Og innkjøp av eikefat gjør også at vi kan glede oss til fatlagrete øl i tiden fremover.

Jeg spiste ikke middag på stedet, men den nylagde fiskballen som raust ble servert som en smakebit fra kjøkkenet gjør at det absolutt står på programmet neste gang.



At the most scenic spot you can imagine, in the middel of the Trondheim fjord, with green meadows and monastery ruins, you find Klostergården Håndbryggeri. Besides farming and brewing, there is also a café, a shop with local food, including beer, and some rooms for rent.

Brewer Jørn Andersen offers a broad range of beers. The ones below 4.7 % ABV are available in the shop, the stronger beers have to be consumed on the premises.

This region has a long tradition of farmers brewing their own beers, malting barley grown on their own farm, smoking the malt to give a unique flavour. Klostergården brews their won version of this, adding 25% of this smoked malt in the Sorn beer. The result is, of course, a compromise – you do not get an over the top smoked beer, but a balanced, quite sweet brew with lots of character with plenty of smoke and soot both in aroma and palate.

Klostergården is approximately a one hour drive from the main North-South road between Trondheim and Northern Norway. It is well worth the time, and the accommodation is reasonably priced if you want to indulge in the stronger beers. Expanded capacity will hopefully give at least a regional distribution for the beers. And if you want something truly exotic, their first batch of whisky is maturing in oak barrels, due to be released in April 2016.


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In addition to the Berlin U-bahn, which is an underground network, there is also the S-bahn, which in the central areas of the city is elevated above street level, giving splendid views . Well, there is not much time to enjoy the view from Hauptbahnhof to Bellevue, it’s the next stop. Cross the bridge and walk up a short street, and you find the Berlin Bier Shop.

Bier jenseits des Mainstreams is the motto on their web page. Sure, you can stock up on all the bocks, helles, pils etc.  you’d want. But the reason to go here is for the more sophisticated stuff.
They cater for two types of customers: Germans who want interesting imports and tourists who want interesting German beers.  The imports include the big names from Denmark and the US.  Mikkeller sells well, the customers have often visited Copenhagen and know the price level. Slightly lower alcohol taxes and VAT equals more or less the cost of distribution, meaning you pay more or less the same for a bottle of Mikkeller as you would in Denmark. Students from the brewing college are eager to get new stuff coming in, particularly on-offs like the new yeast series.
For foreign visitors you are able to get some real treats. New beers from Berlin gypsy brewer Schoppe Bräu. Craft beers from the Czech Republic. I had some serious problems making up my mind. My suitcase was already bulging, and I knew I was in for a scolding from the Lufthansa check-in staff.
But I could not resist a barrel aged dark Gose. And a Berliner Weisse brewed with smoked malt. How is that for innovation?

Friendly and polite service. Once again my apologies for my German. The vocabulary is coming along fine, thank you. But the nuances of grammar and the use of the polite Sie instead of du leaves a lot to be desired. Other visitors don’t need to worry. They even use English on their web pages.

This is a must stop on a Berlin beer tour. A serious beer shop. Like Johnny’s Off Licence in Rome or Ølbutikken in Copenhagen.


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I did not set up a list of favourites from the Copenhagen Beer Celebration, even though both the 20 year old sour ale from de Struise and the spontaneous blueberry from Mikkeller were standouts.

In the weeks after the events, I have particularly enjoyed two beers.

RyeKing from the Copenhagen brewery Amager Bryghus was one of the beers I picked up at Ølbutikken. It has an intense flavour of liquorice and liquid sour Russian rye bread, a little salt and a deep bitterness. There is a malty body that is able to cope with all of this and balance it in a strange way.

Charcoal in the dry finish. Mouth-watering, and a great candidate for further barrel aging.

The other one has mixed origins. Italian Gypsy brewery Revelation Cat brew their lambics in Belgium and then transport them to Italy for aging and blending. Their Islay lambic has a clean whisky aroma, and when you sip you find a lovely lambic laced with peaty smoke. Exciting – I won’t claim that his is a major trend for beer in 2012 (though I told you barrel aging would be the Big Thing), but this certainly shows that there still are new roads to explore. Nice sour tail and a smoke flavour I haven’t really felt since my last packet of John Player’s Special several decades ago.

Available at Schouskjelleren, Oslo, right now,  I’m sure it will also pop up in London, Copenhagen and Rome.

Revelation Cat Islay

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So. This event was announced last autumn, the tickers tickets went on sale – and were snapped up in November. We were promised two magnificent days of great beers and top class food, something way beyond what we have experienced before.

I won’t go into any detailed review here, but I feel like summing up my experiences:

First of all – the beers. Full score on this. There were world class brews from a number of the best breweries in the world. The hosts had actually toned down their own offerings from Mikkeler and Evil Twin to make room from all the others. Some were household names, like de Struise, Nøgne Ø, de Molen and BrewDog. Some were legendary, like Three Floyds and Cigar City. Some of them were new to me – Broadies (from London) and Farmer’s Cabinet (from Philadelphia).

There were sour ales and barrel aged ales. Barley wines and stouts. IPAs and Apas. Even examples of Gose and Berliner Weisse. Some of the line up was changed from the Friday to the Saturday. Some were festival specials, some were rarities very few of us had tried before.

So, for the beer selection and the beer quality, I can only applaud.

With all the tickets sold out many months ago, there were no long lines to get in either. We were let in, given a few tokens and a wristband showing our dining time.

The crowd was different from your average beer festival. Lots of friendly people from around the world, everyone seriously interested in beer. No stag parties, no one there to proclaim their undying love for their regional brewery.

A laid back and friendly atmosphere.

What about the venue? Early in the day, it was quite bright and airy.  A sports hall, with a large area set aside for benches and tables. But everyone were shooed away from the tables around four, as they were preparing for the first dinner seating. Only half of the tables were needed for each seating, but it meant a quite packed crowd for the second half of each day.

The setup of the brewery stands did not allow much in the way of presentation. Some of the stands along the walls had some posters and artwork, but the tables in the middle had a setup that looked more like a homebrew festival. This might have been a deliberate decision, but I would say that the best breweries in the world would have deserved a more professional presentation. The Haandbryggeriet festival a week ago had a setup where all the breweries were able so present themselves in a much better way.

The food was hyped a lot, anticipating a close-to-NOMA-experience, or, at least, what in the programme was called an uncompromizing gourmet experience, with food and beer pairings.

The Friday meal was nice enough, with a piece of tender meat, mashed potatoes, a green sauce with aromatic hops and some watercress. Honest food, but not gourmet quality.  And this could have been served all day without any time slots with us walking up to a counter and asking for a plate when we got hungry. This would have meant no need to rope off more than a small part of the hall, leaving ample seating for everyone.

And the food available at other times? Fairly average Danish sausages with a variety of mustards based on beer. Period. No salads, no cheese, no cured meat, nothing resembling gourmet at all.

One main ingredient in a beer festival is water. Sure, bottled water with the Mikkeller logo is fun.  But running water is also needed. Water for drinking, water for washing your hands and even your face. Water for rinsing your glass. Even water as in toilets. And as this was in an athletic venue, there were toilets roped off somewhere. Too expensive to clean? Come on!

And where were the hosts? They were briefly spotted, but a highlight would have been a trumpet fanfare and some words of welcome at noon on Friday. Maybe a stage with some round table talks with the beer personalities present, too? If less space was allocated to sit down dinners, there could easily have been a stage at the back of the hall. some of the showmanship we have seen from Mikkeller at previous festivals in Copenhagen would have been nice.

 There were some seminars this time around, but they were not widely publicised. The one I went too, on blogging, was poorly attended, and just when the discussion was starting, we were shooed out again.

There was, on the second day, a poster advertising free wi-fi – but the password wasn’t working.

Maybe the critical words seem to harsh, so let me get back to my main points:

  • Great beer
  • Great breweries
  • Great people
  • Fine venue, with some adjustments.

Given that, everything else can be tweaked and adjusted the next time. And it is very much a matter of very high expectations when you use big words when building up the advance buzz.  

The real test if I liked it: Will I be back?

Yes, I will.


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The Haandbryggeriet beer festival sold 1200 tickets in total on the Friday and Saturday, the budget was 1000. This means a new festival next year, I will keep you posted.

But back to this years event. I have praised the setup, but how were the beers?

First of all, I was only present at the Friday session, meaning I cannot do justice to all breweries present. I did not go through the range of beers from the hosts, for example, as I hope I will be able to taste them later.

Prestesonen is a new porter from the Norwegian Kinn brewery. Not trying to be too pretentious, this dark brown beer has a smoky nose and a fairly light palate. Roasted grain and coffee, fine balance.

The Oaked Sunturnbrew from Nøgne Ø has not been barrel aged, but is a special order that’s been aged with oak chips. I feel there is some extra dryness compared to the regular version, maybe some vanilla, too. This is one of my favourites among the Nøgne Ø beers, but I’m not sure if the extra treatment really lifted it.

A legend in European beer circles is the Stormaktsporter from Närke in Sweden. The version available here was aged in Cognac barrels, adding an intense aroma that was very much to my liking. The Närke stand was probably the hit of the festival, both for the eccentric range of beers and for the great visual presentation.

De Molen from the Netherlands had brought a wide range of brews along, some of the will probably turn up in Copenhagen this week as well. The had a brand new Flemish sour ale in two versions, one aged with cherries. I preferred the variety without the cherries, having a cleaner sour flavour which I really enjoyed. We’re talking Rodenbach territory here.

But the brewery which really made my day was Magic Rock from Huddersfield, England. Lovely keg versions of ales available on cask closer to home. This small-scale operation is inspired by American craft beers, meaning a far more liberal use of hops than the standard British fare.

Their Amber ale, Rapture, had a stong, refreshing herbal bitterness. Low in alcohol, intense in flavour, this would make great drinking for the summer months ahead. Honorable mention for their High Wire and Cannonball beers, too, but my highest praise is reserved for their imperial stout, the Bearded Lady. The regular version come in bottled form, and is a smooth and deceivingly soft tipple with fine chocolate tones. The barrel aged version has a lovely bourbon character, smooth beer given extra dimensions. Sweet and dry, charcoal, some sour smoke in the background. Oak and smoke in the tail. All these served by two friendly brewers.

The rest of my notes are blurry. I hope the good people from Emelisse and Alvinne come back next year, so I can do justice to their beers.

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I am very happy to report that the Haandbryggeriet festival last weekend was a success – and it looked to me that this applied to everyone involved.

Some parts of the concept seemed to work particularly well:

  • Getting to meet the brewers. For most of the dozen breweries attending, there were you actually got to meet several people actually  involved in the brewing process and in developing the brands. We are talking small-scale enterprises here,  meaning you get intelligent conversations, getting to sample various editions of the same brew etc. I think there were the precisely right people to guide the visitors to try beers that were challenging, but not necessarily extreme while also having something for the hardcore geeks.
  • Having the event in the brewery was also a good choice. While it is 15 or 20 minutes by foot from downtown Drammen, they were still able to draw a crowd from near and far. Having the festival within an operating brewery environment added a dimension that would have been absent in a congress centre or in a hotel function room.
  • Diversity – geographically and by style. Breweries from England, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Norway plus bottled stuff from across the pond. Cask session ales. Festival one offs like the Nøgne Ø Oaked Sunturnbrew. Flemish red ales. Barrel aged imperial stouts. Most important: Breweries with splendid beers.
  • Having the breweries present their beers meant you got a proper pour and presentation. Preferable to both enthusiastic CAMRA lads (no offense intended!) and blondes with dirdls (did I really mean that?)
  • Good no-nonsense food – the artisanal sausages I had were splendid value for money.

What do I want next year? More seating and some nice t-shirts, nothing more than that, really.

I’ll get back to you about some of the beers I enjoyed.

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