Archive for the ‘beer history’ Category

In those days when the printed word is struggling, I am happy to report that there is a new Belgian Beer and Food Magazine available in English, with issue # 2 out soon. It might even come to a seat pocket near you, as Brussels Airlines offers it on their flights.

Breweries, cafes, lots of glossy photos. I haven’t had time to read properly through the issues I got as yet, but this looks very promising. With professional quality on both photos and writing, this should also be a good place for beer and brewery ads to make it economically worthwhile.


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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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There are (far too) many books, museum exhibitions, concerts and performances connected to the bicentenary of the Norwegian constitution this year, a process that led to our total independence – if there is such a thing – in 1905.

The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History has a temporary exhibition in cooperation with Frederiksborg Slot in Denmark, compact enough to walk through in an hour or two, focusing on how Denmark and Norway was interwoven until the Napoleonic wars split the union.  The exhibition will also be shown in Copenhagen in the autumn, it is very much recommended, even if the web page in English tell next to nothing about it. Try a google translation of the Norwegian text  instead.

A traditional item at all Norwegian farms around 1800 was the beer bowl, passed around from man to man as they sat by the table. This one was painted by one of the members of the constitutional assembly, Eivind Lande, who represented Råbygdelaget in Aust-Agder, not far away from the present location of Nøgne Ø.


beer bowl

Cheers for the constitution!

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Over the years, I have written about the beer scene in many European countries, but I haven’t written very much about Belgium. Sure, I covered some places in Brussels and Brugges, but I am a novice compared to those who make annual visits and know both the back streets of Antwerp and the green country lanes of Payottenland.
I am happy to tell that I belong to a group of eight Scandinavian beer writers invited to a four-day visit to Belgium next month. More about the itinerary later.
I like to plan ahead, so I have already spent some time with google maps, guide books and other sources.  My guides to Belgium were a few years old, so I thought I’d check what’s available.
There are guide books of all shapes and sizes. With 3D drawings of palaces and museums, with pull out or fold-out-and-never-able-to-fold-back-again-maps. And there is a peculiar tradition among the guidebook publishers – they hide the publication date of the book as well as they can, fearing that they will be considered past their sell-by date.
But there are some real gems out there. On Amazon, there are scans of old and out of print books, I stumbled across Peeps at Many Lands: Belgium by George W. T.  Omond, published in 1909 and now in the public domain.
According to Wikipedia, the author was awarded the Order of the Crown for his books about Belgium. I have a nagging feeling that the Belgians did not read the books before giving him the award.
A few highlights:
…..This seems a dull and hard life, but the Flemings do not find it so. Like all Belgians, they are fond of amusement, and there is a great deal of dancing and singing, especially on holidays. Sunday is the chief holiday. They all go to church in the morning, and the rest of the day is given up to play. Unfortunately many of the older people drink too much. There are far too many public-houses. Any person who likes can open one on payment of a small sum of money to the Government. The result is that in many quite small villages, where very few people live, there are ten or twelve public-houses, where a large glass of beer is sold for less than a penny, and a glass of coarse spirits for about the same price. Most of the drinking is done on Sunday, and on Monday morning it is often difficult to get men to work. There are many, especially in the towns, who never work on Mondays. This is quite understood in Belgium, and people who know the country are pleased, and rather surprised, if an artisan who has promised to come and do something on a Monday morning keeps his word. Of course there are many sober work-people, and it is a rare thing to see a tipsy woman, much rarer than in England; but there is a great deal of drunkenness in Belgium.
The rooms in these public-houses are pretty large, but they get dreadfully hot and stuffy. The constant laughing and talking, the music, and the scraping of feet on the sanded floor make an awful din. Then there are sometimes disputes, and the Flemings have a nasty habit of using knives when they are angry, so the dancing, which often goes on till two or three in the morning, is the least pleasant thing about these gatherings.

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I’m going through a period when the blog posts are more infrequent, but that does not mean that the Norwegian micro breweries are slowing down.

There are newcomers every month, my current estimate is 80 active breweries before Easter. Some are doing very well, their main headache is how to expand their capacity. Others are more a paid hobby, but they are cheered on by their local communities and newspapers. Even the supermarket chains allow more local products on their shelves in places where there were no outlets.

I am not terribly impressed by all the new ones. I think we will reach a saturation point for pale ales at 4.7% ABV at 50 kroner per bottle very soon. Yes, there is a segment in the market willing to pay a premium price for premium beer. But, frankly, everything out there is not of premium quality. Some have serious quality problems. Others are bland. And even the industrial brewers are waking up, launching top fermented ales.

But there are some rising stars, too. I would particularly point to Lindheim, a farmhouse brewery located in rural Telemark. So far I have only seen their beers on tap, but I assume they go for a broader distribution. They have already made collaboration brews with big names like Port Brewing and Lost Abbey, som they are definitely aiming for the big league.

Speaking of collaborations, they are happening everywhere. Haand/Närke, Lervig/Magic Rock, Austmann/Amundsen, Amundsen/Crowbar….

But the most important trend now is going back to the roots of Norwegian brewing. The key word is local malt, particularly from the Stjørdal region. There are already a few beers out, expect more to come during the year. These will cover a broad range from mild ales with just a hint of smoked malt added to robust ales filled with smoke and tar. Beers to look out for are Alstadberger, brewed in cooperation with Klostergården, Bøkerøkt form Larvik, Ørderøl from To Tårn and beers to be launched this week by Stjørdalsbryggeriet.

We are talking about beers with a pedigree going back through the centuries, when farmers grew their own barley and processed this into beer for Christmas, for funerals, weddings and baptisms. We have been lucky that a handful of farmers have kept this tradition alive.

Larvik To Taarn bottles

As smoky as it gets

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There’s a room in a house in a street in a manor in a borough
That’s part of a city that is generally referred to as London
It’s a dark place, a mysterious place
And it is said that if you’re born within the sound of Bow-Bells
You have the necessary qualifications to be christened a Londoner
[It's a cruel place, it's a hard place]
But when you think back to all the great Londoners
William Blake, Charles Dickens, Dick Whittington,
Pearly kings, barrow boys, Arthur Daley, Max Wall
And don’t forget the Kray twins.

Ray Davies –London Song

I make no claim to have the necessary qualifications to be christened a Londoner. But I used to visit London at least annually.

A week every year.

For decades.

I explored the city. On foot, by bus, by tube. I went on guided walks, I bought guidebooks.

I explored the pubs in number of boroughs, usually sticking to Young’s Special or Fuller’s London Pride.

But times changed. There were pubs with a broader range of beers. There were beer festivals. Utobeer and the Rake offered exiting American import beers. BrewDog entered the scene. Young’s disappeared.

The last four years I have only visited once. I have tried to follow the developments, but I cannot claim to have my finger on the beer pulse of London the way I used to.

Time to do something about that. Time for a pre-Christmas visit. In particular, it is time to get so know some of the dozens of new London breweries that have emerge over the last few years. Many of them are clustered in East London. Hackney seems like the centre of gravity right now. And my research shows that on the weekend I am in town, there are two events in the area worth visiting in addition to breweries, pubs and brewpubs.

There are four of us from Oslo going to London for an oval weekend. The other three have more knowledge of beer and brewing than I do. But I know a thing or two about advance planning.

We are talking Friday 6 December, starting at lunchtime. Anyone is welcome to join, get in touch about more exact timing.

Start: Old Street Tube Station.

Or Shoreditch High Street, if that’s more convenient.

There used to be a rather good beer shop around here some years ago, carrying the Pitfield range of beers brewed to classic English recipes. That’s history.

But we have a good alternative. The first stop is a something really special. A pop up beer shop.

The Wanstead Tap is a moveable feast,  selling beers at festivals, farmer’s markets and other event. It  has settled for two weeks in 87 Leonard Street in Shoretditch.

As far as I can understand, the concept is simple: Bottled beers from the London breweries. According to the East London and West Sussex Guardian, this is a case of true love for beer: A father of two has given up a successful career in television to dedicate his time to promoting beers brewed locally. I have already asked him to reserve something specialfor me. Have a look at the Facebook page if you are looking for something out of the ordinary..

I haven’t been to any of the BrewDog bars yet, and BrewDog Shoreditch is just up the road. 51 Bethnal Green Road. Maybe a swift one? www.brewdog.com


The question is if the Redchuch Brewery on 275-276 Poyser Street is worth a detour? I may be convinced. On the other hand, their beers might be available later in the day, too.

I think we will jump on a bus going north. Just before the road crosses the Regent’s Canal, the first brewery of the day is Hackney Brewery, just to the left. in Laburnum St. They don’t seem to be open to the public, but I have e-mailed them.

The next stop is across the Canal. It used to be the home of Beawertown Brewery, but they have moved on. But Duke’s Brew and Que is still the brewery tap. And, dangerously, they have around ten of their beers on keg or cask. Not to mention bottles.

I think I’ll have a Bloody ‘Ell Blood Orange IPA.  

Adress: 33 Downham Road, De Beauvoir Town

After this it is probably sensible that we strech our legs, and our next target seems to be about a kilometre due east. Perhaps we will walk along the towpath.

London Fields Brewery has a core range of session beers and more challenging stuff in their Bootlegger Series.
The brewery and brewery tap: 365-366 Warburton Street. Gift packs of beers to take away are available.

If the weather and overall condition is up to it, we can continue walking. The alternative is to get on a bus along Mare Street towards Central Hackney.

Pressure Drop Brewing is located in a railway arch, but don’t have a brewery tap. I think we’ll have a fair chance of sampling some of their beers in the Cock Tavern, which I seem to recall as a rather grim establishment in its previous incarnation, but presumably gentrified along with the rest of the area. According to the Craft Beer App, there are chances of us finding beers from the otherwise elusive Happy Collie brewery from West London there. And, conveniently, the Cock Tavern has its very own Howling Hops Brewery at the premises. 315 Mare Street.

Just a few minutes away, Five Points Brewing is close to London Fields station. I thought I would e-mail them to ask them if they want visitors. But I don’t think we will be up to a serious presentation of a brewery at this stage.

It’s dark by now. But the Pembury Tavern, across the street, is like a beacon. It is actually the only stop on the route that I have visited before. 16 hand pumps, including a fine range from the Milton brewery. 90 Armhurst Road.

The sensible thing now is to return to wherever we came from. Eat some junk food and go to sleep. But there is a beer festival. The City and East End CAMRA Pig’s Ear Festival. With lots of one off beers from London breweries. It’s in an old chapel (!) in Powerscroft Road. Lots of friendly natives. Come on. Just for a pint?

London Beers listed for the festival include brews from

  • Beavertown
  • Belleville
  • Brew by Numbers
  • Brew Wharf
  • Brodies
  • By the Horns
  • Clarkshaw’s
  • Crate
  • East London
  • Five Points
  • Fourpure
  • Hackney
  • Howling Hops,
  • Kernel
  • London Brewing
  • London Fields
  • Moncada
  • Partizan
  • Pressure Drop
  • Redchurch
  • Redemption
  • Strawman
  • Tap East
  • Truman’s
  • Weird Beard
  • White Hart
  • Wild Card.

That makes 27. And, while there is no way to know which beers are on at any given time, there should be enough for even the most enthusiastic ticker.

Even the affectingly mentioned Pitfield from the beginning of this ramble is listed with a few beers. They have made festival one offs for Pig’s Ear for many years, now they are being brewed somewhere in the countryside.

The festival will also commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood, which advocates the use of wooden barrels as part of British beer heritage.  Several wooden casks will be featured, including a one-off anniversary special 7% classic Red Ale brewed by award-winning Cambridge Moonshine Brewery.

There is food available at a number of the pubs on the route, I suppose we will be snacking along the way rather than sitting down for a proper meal. Scotch eggs, crisps and beer cover most of the basic food groups.



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Regional belonging is a concept I struggle with as a Norwegian. The main reason is probably that we are just too small as a nation to develop much of a regional identity in the modern age, apart from speaking our own dialects. In some ways we are more of a Norwegian region in a Nordic context.

I spent a few weeks in Munich this summer as a participant observer, taking part in a work atmosphere  - in an actual office, not an international conference. This also gave me the opportunity to seek out a fair number of licensed establishments in my spare time. This made me realize that there are strong similarities among Bavaria and Italy when it comes to pride in their region and its produce.  It does not stop at the regional, but keeps going further - you also have a loyalty to your sub-region, etc down to your tiny village.

If you can source it locally, you don’t need to get anything from the next town.

Obviously this does not encompass capital goods, shoes, clothes and so on. But it is deeply felt in food and beer.

I get echoes from  my old anthropology lessons here. There seem to be different spheres. There is the hi-tech Germany. The Germany of BMW, Siemens and what have you. This is the economic tugboat that tries to make the rest of Europe move along, grow and prosper.

At the same time you have this fascination for the local. For the village where you grew up. Where the traditional values are honored. Where they raise the maypole outside the inn as they used to do.


I looked up Heimat, which is a term that is at the core of this. Heimat has no English equivalent. It has to do with ancestry, community and tradition. It has to do with nostalgia for a life that has been lost – torn apart by war and dictatorship and later slowly eroded by economic forces or a government somewhere on the Rhine, or, more lately, the Spree.

We don’t have the word in Norwegian,, either. but it is a real factor for us, too, just beneath the surface. Our two referendums on membership in the European Union shows that Heimat  and the contrast it offers to those who rule you or want to rule you trumps all other arguments when you really mobilize.

But back to the Bavarians and their regional cuisine. The menus are spelling it out. Bavarian asparagus. Bavarian beef and pork. Bavarian trout. Even vegetarian dishes turn up to be focused on Bavarian spuds and leaves. The Hofbräuhaus in Munich has a podcast that manages to find new angles every month. They often focus on where their vegetables, beef, cheese and lettuce come from, interviewing the farmers, who are not only Bavarian, but preferably live in Upper Bavaria.

Why is there a brewpub in Munich airport and not anywhere else? Look closer. Sure, they brew beer. But they also boast that 85 per cent of their supplies come from regional produce.  Just what you need. It is the last and first stop of your trip to foreign lands, Prussia, or even further away.

There is a tragedy at the core of this. The attempts to build a national identity in the 19th and first half of the 20th were not successful. Even cheering for your national football team is a fairly recent event here. German patriotism has been deeply stained. So one has to look inwards, closer to home, to find identity. Living in a federal state with lots of decentralized power in regions larger than many European nations strengthens this trend, it actively encourages it. If you cannot fly your national banner, you can be proud of the Bavarian white and blue.  And, in a land of agricultural plenty, let’s be proud of what we can produce. Which is a lot.

In a European market overflowing with cut-price meat and vegetables, butter and beer, the regional authorities and trade associations play on this sense of region and Heimat. Be sure to ask for Bavarian quality. Accept no substitutes. Other countries celebrate their days of liberty, of liberation or victories at land or sea. The Bavarians celebrate the Reinheitsgebot of 1516.

Sure, there are plenty of Italian restaurants. There are kebab shops on the corners, sushi conveyor belts and cheese counters in the big supermarkets where you can find Italian and French specialities.  But the beer is most likely from the local area, even Getränkemarkt bottle shops will have a very limited range of beers. I managed to track down two beer shops in Munich with a broad range of beers.

A broad range means hundreds of different beers. Did I find any imports? About a dozen. BrewDog, Corona, Guinness and Pilsner Urquell. No Belgian, no English, no Italian beer.

If you look closely, you will find a few IPAs and imperial stouts, but they will be from Bavarian breweries. The innovation in the beer field is coming from small breweries in the region, which pose no danger to the big players. Speciality beers still basically mean beers from tiny family breweries, the most daring of them  using smoke malt or having the rebellious streak of offering a Dobbelbock out of season. There is some hope in reports that the big supplier of malt in the region, Weyermann, actively encourages upstart breweries to look beyond the standard range and brew pale ales or other varieties. But you’re not likely to find a trace of these beers when you look at the statistics of annual consumption.

So, the important question: Will this change over time?

My guess is that the changes will come very gradually. There is some distribution of innovative bottled beers, but I don’t think they will rock the boat.  What is needed is someone with financial muscle to establish something that could have an impact in Munich and create a buzz.

A Munich brewpub with a beer garden with ample seating for all seasons offering a broad range of beers with inspiration from Belgium and the US could do the trick. But someone with more knowledge about real estate in Munich than me should do the math.

I could be greatly mistaken. Things happen fast in the beer world. Maybe there will be a BrewDog bar and a Mikkeller Biergarten challenging the culinary conservatism in a year or two. But I think the odds are better for changes from within.

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There was no Biergarten weather in Munich that afternoon, but it was perfecly pleasant for a stroll. Avoiding the main avenues around my flat, I came across an old graveyard. The Südlicher Friedhof is a beautiful place, where nature is slowly taking over. Crumbling memorials in marble speak of families long gone, ivy and other greenery creep slowly forward. Is seems like a long time since anyone was buried here, though some of the memorials are in better shape than others.

A large gravestone stands just by the path, and the title catches my eye. Bierbrauer. It even gives the name of the brewery, Bierbrauer zum Sternecker. Johann Baptist Trappentreu. Not only a brewer, but also a Rittmeister. He died in 1873, 77 years old, but someone has made sure his memory has not faded away as his neighbours in the cementery.

The Sternecker Brewery was located in Tal, close to where the present day Schneider Weissbräu is located. According to Wikipedia, there is documentation of a brewery on the premises way back in 1557.

Long after Rittmeister Trappentreu had passed away, the brewery and its brewery tap got famous. When you google Sterndecker Brauerei, most of what you get is Nazi memorablia.

The Sternecker brewery was the venue for regular meetings in the Nazi party from 1919, and a party museum was established on the premises in 1933 by Hitler himself.

The building survived the war, but the Gasthaus was closed in 1959 and the ground floor was used for shops.

Today there is an autorized Apple dealer on the premises. But if you look down the alley on the side of the building, the Beer and Oktoberfestmuseum is down in the alley. In Sterneckerstrasse. So there is some kind of continuity after all.

This is a beer blog, and I have no ambitions to make comments on world history or grave matters concerning the future of the planet. But sometimes the beer and the breweries are interwoven with history, in particular in Germany. You cannot pretend that there are dark shadows behind the present charm. This is not so obvious in Bavaria as in Berlin. But it is there if you look a bit more closely.

Rest in peace, Johann. It is certainly not you fault that, almost 40 years after you passed away, you brewery was home to evil deeds. I have no wish to see the brewery rebuilt. But maybe someone should plant some hops by your memorial?

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According to the newspaper, Extreme weather destroys road and rail

My pleasant bicycle ride to the St Astra im Feld brewery made me wish for more, and after leaving the Seefranzl brewery, I set out first towards the south and then eastwards. First along a busy road between fields and meadows, then on a small road through the forest with hardly any traffic. Flat and easy going, it took less than an hour.

The Bartewirt  is located at the village Kreuzstrasse, literally meaning Crossroads, where several country roads have met for a very long time. A splendid place for an inn, then and now. It is not directly on the Autobahn, but there is lots of traffic here between Munich – half an hour to the north – and the Alps and lakes to the south.

The Bartewirt  means The Landlord with the Mustache, which, according to the chatty menu set up as a newspaper, was a historical person.

The Bartewirt belongs to the Graf Arco family brewery, which, in one form or another, have been in the business since 1630. They used to brew at several facilities, including the nearby even smaller village of Valley. That is history, but at least they have kept the inn. Lots of details at their web site, if you are interested.

Rustic wooden interior plus a beer garden in the courtyard. Not a massive set up, but you still have the choice between the self-serve benches or table service. I arrive before the evening trade picks up. Pleasantly quiet, except for the rather busy road, which, on the other hand, is the reason the place is there. Chestnut trees.

Bikers, working men in their overalls enjoying their Scweinehaxe,  families. Nor Dirndl, no tourists, no menu in English. The menu is printed as a newspaper, but there are a dozen dishes of the day, too. There is even some fish if you have reached your quota of meatfor the week. I limited myself to some pressed and pickled pork, seved with a lovely Austrian pumpkin seed oil.

The Helles Kellerbier has bread crust, discreet yeast and a little sting of hops. A bit too soft, perhaps, but a very honest session beer.

The Birnbacher Schwartzbier is even better. Cola color. Not of the sticky sweet kind. Plenty of malt, sure, but enough roasted grain to add elements of coffee and make a balance between the sweet and dry.

As I only have to push my bike some meters to the railway station, I decide to try their Doppelbock, too, the Arcator. Deep dark red, beige fluffy head. Full malty kick. Roasted malt, aromatic hops. Pleasant, if not stellar. Time to find my way back to Munich.

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Yet another beer garden, this time a brewpub. They hand bottle a few of their beers, but you have to look up the retailers at theri web site.

The Forschungsbrauerei  means The Research Brewery, and they have been at it since 1930. I do not really know the results of the research, my sources tell me their beers are the same every summer. They are closed in the winter months.

The Summer Hell comes in a ceramic mug, and it is fresh and hoppy, tingling a bit on the tongue. Fresh and hoppy for Bavaria, that is.

Quiet in the early evening, friends chatting quietly.

I order a plate of bread, cheese and cold cuts, and to wash it down, a Pilsissimus. More of a Dunkel than a Pils, I’d guess. Dark brown, rich and malty.

There is a Blond Bock and a Naturtrub Dunkel, too, though I did not try any of them.

Good service, nice Dirdls, not far away from Central Munich. Not a must go, really.

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