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Archive for the ‘beer history’ Category

I did a public beer tasting last night here in an Oslo bar. The plan was initially to have a brewer come and present his beers, while I was asking questions to keep the words flowing. Well, the brewer couldn’t make it, so I had to run the show on my own, with a little assistance from Kenneth, the host of the event.

I was allowed to pick the beers, all from Little Brother Brewery, probably the smallest brewery in town to have a licence to sell their beers. They have a fine range of  beers, not being confined to the standard range of styles. Most of the audience had not tried any of their beers before, and I doubt if any had tried them all.

There was an audience of 40-50, the crowd was well-behaved – and I felt things went very well. Quite a few in the audience with more brewing knowledge than I have, but I was able to share some of the knowledge I have about the large number of new Norwegian breweries.

The beers were good, and my reflections were well received.

I do some talks for various audiences at work, but this is the first time I do this type of event. The feedback was very positive, so I could easily be convinced to do similar things in the future.

And the experience will also come in handy for a project I’ll tell you more about in the near future.

I was fairly busy, so I didn’t take any photos.

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When friend and fellow beer writer Lars Marius suggested an oval weekend in Vilnius, I did not need much encouragement to go along. In the end there were four of us traveling, a convenient crowd.

 

I have been to Vilnius before, but that was ages ago. I did a stint in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Mid Nineties and attended a meeting in Lithuania in 1997. I saw a country trying to get to it feet after many decades of oppression, and I did not envisage it as a tourist destination for a long time.

 

Fast forward to 2015. Two hours flight from Oslo to the capital of a NATO and European Union country. They even adopted the Euro on 1 January.

 

But we were not there for the politics, but for the beer. Lithuania has an unbroken tradition of farmhouse and other small-scale brewing. These beers used to be really hard to find, but now there is a fair number of dedicated beer bars across the city where you find a staggering number of beers.

 

And these beer bars come in a number of shapes and sizes. Some are industrial chic, some are really converted garages tucked inside courtyards. Some are just off the gleaming high street. Some serve rustic food, some serve seriously rustic snacks.

 

The most amazing bar must be Snekutis Uzupio. 20 minutes walk from the old town, this looks like a wooden shack somewhere in the countryside. Wooden interior with lots of dusty memorabilia, a dozen or so beers on tap and a fridge full of mysterious brews.

 

It is extremely convenient to travel with Lars Marius, who has even written a book on Lithuanian beer. He tells us what to order. We drink it.

 

The beer is far away from industrial lager, and it’s not a close relation to, say, Czech lagers, either. The beers tend to be full-bodied, with lots of grain and straw in the flavour. Some of them have notes of honey in the aroma, whether they are brewed with honey or not. We’re talking local yeast varieties here, which you won’t find anywhere on the planet.

I don’t take any serious notes, just enjoy the half liter jugs of beer and the good conversation.

 

 

To be continued….

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There are vintage ads. And there are vintage spoof ads. The Dangerous Minds has an article about the advertising parodies of MAD Magazine. The publication was able to survive without any outside ads – meaning they were free to make parodies. The tobacco industry was often the target, but there were some breweries among the victims as well.

This one is from September 1956. More ads on Jasperdo‘s Flickr account.

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The Godfather of beer blogging, Alan in Canada, has asked the question:

What beer book which has yet to be written would you like to see published?

And the question is a good one. This is a part of The Session. The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry.

So the host of Session 95 is Alan, go to his blog to see a round up of all contributions this month.

He also wants to know what books we’d like to write. Well, there might be something happening over here, but it’s early days yet. I’ll let you know if and when things get moving.

So I need more beer books? Well. There are beer books silently staring at med from the shelves. Some have been gifts or review copies, some seemed more promising at amazon or in the bookshop than they turned out to be. So I tend to limit my beer book purchases, and I find it very convenient when I can buy an e-book from Evan Rail, ready to digest in one sitting.

But I digress.  There are many beer books waiting to be written. And I have at least three books I’d like to see published.

First of all, my friend the beer scholar Lars Marius Garshol has done some really impressive writing about farmhouse beers in Norway and in Lithuania. He should be given a scholarship to write about the history of small-scale brewing in The Nordic countries and the Baltic countries, including Finland and Russian Karelia. That’s probably too ambitious. But a book on Norwegian traditional beers would be most welcome. too!

 

On an even broader scale, I’d like a book on European beer brewing history. Starting with historical and archeological sources, painting the broad strokes of the major players.

  • How empires, was and legislation have given the background for clever entrepreneurs.
  • The contribution of Weihenstephan and other centers of brewery education.
  • The emergence of a science of brewing.
  • Family brewers growing into multinationals. Dreher, Carnegie, Jacobsen, Guinness, Heineken.
  • Did the Russian court really drink stout? If so, where was the beer brewed?
  • European beer in other corners of the world.
  • Intra-European beer trade. How much stout did the czars really drink?

There could be lots of tables and figures in such a book, but I’d prefer the good stories, the anecdotes and how beer history fits into the broader history. And I would like lots of maps, old ads and photos.

But there is another book waiting to be written, too. About the emergence of a company that defied all established wisdom within the industry. A company that has used social media, reached out to bloggers, provoked regulating authorities and getting plenty of press coverage without buying ads.

If I was given some months’ salary and freedom to write a book on a beer related theme, I would write the story of BrewDog. And I’d focus on the beer. Unlike the book by the founders of Brooklyn Brewery. That book is not about beer at all, it could have been a chronicling a chewing gum factory.

The Beer Book for Punks could be sold in pubs and bars, bottle shops – and the bookshops of business schools around the globe. Not to mention airports.

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I was very happy to receive a book in the mail just a few days before Christmas, a bit too late for a review to help the holiday sales.

The Berlin beer scene has seen much the same as in London, an explosion in the number of micro breweries, beer bars with an interesting range of brews and beer shops.

HeidenpetersI have tried to document some of this on my blog over the last decade, but a comprehensive guide was really needed. And that is what we’ve got.

Markus Raupach and Bastian Böttner has written a bilingual guide to breweries, beer gardens, brew pubs and beer culture in Berlin. The German text is longer, but the information in English is likely to be what you need to navigate.

There are 24 breweries in Berlin (including Potsdam) now, so a weekend is not enough to cover them all. At least you have a tool to do your planning.

Lots of nice color photos. Published by GuideMedia Verlag Bamberg. Be sure to get one before you go!

You can order from their web site.

Meierei, Potsdam

Meieri im Neuen Garten, Potsdam

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Congratulations to Boak & Bailey, who were named the Beer Writers of the Year by the British Guild of Beer Writers. If you haven’t bought their Brew Britannia book already, it’s time to do it. And follow their blog – lots of good beer writing, including good links to others.

 

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I’ve lost count. We all have. There are new Norwegian breweries popping up every week or so, in the most unlikely places. The beers? The good, the bad and the bland. Don’t get me wrong, there is room for both the good and the bland.

I rarely write about the truly bad breweries. There are a few, usually there are people who wanted a novelty for their pub without any interest, let alone passion, for the styles, the nuances and the flavors of beer. This is a place where your are likely to find someone behind the bar who do not actually like beer, but they would happily down a Kopparberg alcopop or two.

Then you have breweries who aim for a local market, and who don’t want to alienate their public. But that is no excuse for being lazy. You can still aim for flavourful and balanced beers with more character than the industrials, who taste of summer meadows and amber grain. Beers that leave refreshment at the bottom of your half liter glass, yet leaves enough bitterness on your tongue to make you consider another round.

And I have respect for those who have ambitions. Who dare to take up a second mortgage on their house to expand production, who dare to quit their day job to follow their dream. There are a few in the second tier of the Norwegian craft breweries. Not up to the volume and experience of Nøgne Ø and Haandbryggeriet, Ægir, Kinn or Lervig. But some of them will soon be snapping at their heels.

Austmann, Lindheim, Nøisom, Ego, Balder, Voss, 7 Fjell and Veholt are the names I want to mention. Scattered around the coast, each with their own profile, which I hope they will continue to develop. Right now the supermarkets are eager for local beers, I also hope there will be enough outlets in pubs, bars and restaurants for these quality brews. It would probably make sense for some of them to cooperate on distribution,

Then we have another category where I find it hard to have much enthusiasm. These are beers that claim to have local or national identity, but where, like the industrial giants, the marketing is more important than the beer and the brewing. I have no membership in any nostalgic organisations condemning giant corporations, and I have no ill feelings towards those who drink their Stellas (as long as they don’t beat their wives). But I have some resentment towards those who take me for a fool.

There are several companies who are riding the crest of the beer boom right now who claim to be breweries, but are not. Local journalists write, starry-eyed, about local lads make good without asking where the beers actually come from. One of these companies was launched in the summer of 2012. The uncompromised nature of Norway in a bottle is their slogan. The problem? The beers are brewed in England.

Then there is a newcomer claiming allegiance to a gentrified but traditional industrial area of Oslo, launching industrial lagers in supermarkets and aiming for a slice of Carlsberg’s market. At last, Oslo gets its own beer, they boast. Christmas beer brewed with local ingredients, says one of the local newspapers.

Two problems. One: There are several breweries in Oslo, two of them have bottling lines and already distribute a range of beers. Two: They beers are, for the time being, not brewed in Oslo, but in Arendal, on the southern coast. Sure, they are building a brewery. But if they are half as successful as they hope to, they will not have the capacity to brew on a large-scale on the premises. So the local connection is dubious.

Carlsberg has a half-hearted attempt to cash in on the local card as well. They bought up a number of breweries around the country decades ago and closed them down, while keeping some of the brand names. They have the nerve to market beers like Nordlandspils or Tou as ”local beers”, overlooking the fact that they are all brewed in Oslo.

I don’t mind contract brewing. I don’t mind gypsy brewers. But when I buy food and drink I want honesty about where it is produced. Particularly when geography is a major part of the marketing campaign.

Bu maybe I’m old fashioned.

The real thing (at Austmann)

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