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Archive for the ‘beer history’ Category

Life in a city bordering on the icy northern ocean can be tough. A main street with a brewery at each end makes things more cheerful.

It’s not pitch dark in Tromsø during the last days of November. But when my plane lands slightly after noon, it is already dusk. The cold winds from the Arctic bring sleet and snow. The sensible locals wear sturdy boots with spices to navigate the icy pavements. –I suspect most shops and restaurants will have to replace their flooring every spring. There is a crunchy sound when the metal spikes meet the parquet floor.

Tromsø used to be the last outpost of civilization. A base for the trappers and explorers, traders in timer, pelts and fish. Now it is a sizeable town – for Norway – with a fair number of hotels. The locals are fond of the nickname The Paris of the North.

Among the attractions of today, there is a brewery at both ends of the main street, Storgata. One is a reborn old-timer, the other is spanking new.

Mack is the established one, with a history going back to 1877. As with many in the industry, the inner city location became too cramped, so they moved the main brewery out of town a few years ago. At the same time, they established a micro-brewery in the historical building, well integrated with a bottle/souvenir shop and next to the traditional beer hall.

The beer hall – Ølhallen – is a story in itself. This was the brewery tap, open only during the daytime. This was not for recreational drinking for the chattering classes, rather a place where seal hunters, fishermen and explorers came when they went ashore, rubbing shoulders with locals who took their noontime pint seriously.

Ølhallen still popular

The interior is still like in a time warp, with a stuffed polar beer greeting you at the entrance. The floor is tiled, easy to hose down at the end of the day. There are still a number of tables for drinking standing up. But they have put in more comfortable seating. The clientele dropping in on a Friday at the end of the office week seem to be office workers and academians, no sign of knitted pullovers and sou’westers today.

And the beer range is fantastic. The full range of Mack beers, obviously. But, in addition, fifty taps of Norwegian micro brews. Five from their own micro, the rest from Røros, Lervig, St Hallvard, Austmann, 7 Fjell, Nøgne Ø, Kinn, Ægir, Amundsen, Voss, Grünerløkka Brygghus – and local newcomers Graff Brygghus, more about them shortly.

This is one of the best tap lists in Norway, I sincerely hope they have a turnover that is good enough to keep this going. I limit myself to a glass of the saison brewed in-house. True to type, a beer properly characterized by the yeast, and where the hops and malt are firmly but politely pushed into the background.

Ølhallen is filling up as I leave, most of the locals seem to go for the Mack Christmas beer.

Marius at work

My reason for visiting Tromsø is the other brewery, Graff Brygghus. They launched their first beers just a few weeks ago, but they have been very well received. They did not have their bottling line set up when I visited, but they have a good alternative – selling growlers. When I walked by, there were 15 persons patiently waiting in line to fill up their two liter glass kegs. They filled 150 kegs on a Friday afternoon, most of them with new glassware. They have four of their own beers available, and from what I observed, the customers come back to try them all. This is a way of distributing beer which is fairly well spread in North America, in Norway there are just a few others – Lindheim, Voss and Northern are the ones I know of. It is a good way to get your beers out of the brewery and into peoples’ homes – but they also make great gifts and, most important, they make people talk about the brewery.

Line for growler fill

Lining up for the growler fill

I come back a few hours later, when there is a pub night at the brewery with yours truly invited to talk about my book and do some signing. I was very happy to get an invite from Graff, as they were one of the spanking new breweries included in the book. In fact they were not actually brewing when the book went to print – but I took the chance to give them a two page spread.

Graff Brygghus is run by two young men, Martin Amundsen and Marius Graff. Marius is barely in his twenties, but he has won homebrewing competitions well before he was of legal drinking age. They have set up their brewery in an old wooden house that has been used for various workshops for a century or so. Into this they have set up brand new brewing equipment from Portland Kettleworks.

The beers get their inspiration from the US West Coast, too, hop forward brews without going to extremes. My favourites of the evening were a grapefruity red ale and the seasonal Advent, brewed with just the right amount for rye malt.

These two guys really impressed me. They have attention to detail, they have the technological know-how – and they brew great beers from batch number one. While some of the founders of the Norwegian craft beer movement may be stepping down, there are new ones ready to fill their shoes. I think I have seen the future of Norwegian brewing. His name is Marius Graff. Remember I told you so when his beers turn up in Stockholm, Berlin or London.

 

A few words from the author

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I’ve been challenged. By Magnus. Three beer memories from before I drank beer myself. This is a Scandinavian concept, so this post will be in Norwegian. I’m not sure if Google translate will be very helpful.

Jeg begynner å bli gammel. 55. Og jeg drakk min første øl da jeg var 15. Så mine minner må da handle om perioden rundt 1970.

Det var et annet Norge. Et Norge uten oljerikdom, som fremdeles var preget av gjenreisning etter krigen. Og øl var ikke på noe hverdagsbord.

– Mine foreldre drakk lite. Men på juleaften drakk de en pilsner og en akevitt eller to. Lysholm Linie. Ølet var E.C. Dahls Pils, av den enkle grunn at det var det eneste som var i salg i Trondheim. Privateiede bryggerier hadde delt landet i regioner der de hadde monopol.

– Det ble også brygget øl til jul. Men ikke ordentlig øl. Tomtebrygg var et malt- og sukkerbasert kit som ga et musserende, alkoholsvakt og søtt brygg som kunne drikkes av hele familien. Så kunne man sikkert tilsette annet gjær og få omdannet mer av sukkeret. Men det gjorde ikke vi.

– Men det mest spennende ølet har jeg bare hørt om i etterkant. Min fars familie kom fra Skatval, som fremdeles er kjerneområdet for gårdsbrygging i Norge. Da hans mormor og morfar kjøpte gård og flyttet tre-fire mil vestover til Strinda, til det som i dag ligger innenfor grensen til Trondheim kommune, tok de ikke bryggetradisjonene med seg. Det er her mine minner skulle ha vært. Om brygging til bryllup og slåttonn, jul og barnedåp. Om bingen med røykmalt på låven som var klar om det skulle være behov for å brygge til en begravelse – gravøl.

 

Stafetten går videre til et annet medlem av Skandinaviska Ölskribenters Förening- Stefan. Han skal skrive om Den perfekte ølpub.

#ölbloggstafett2015

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I thought I would stick to Norwegian beers this spring, book writing and all. I was wrong. When I got an e-mail telling me BrewDog wanted to fly me to Scotland to visit their brewery, I was not difficult to persuade.

So, last Thursday, as the pubs were opening, I found myself on Union Street, Aberdeen. One of the places on my list was just a few minutes from the hotel, and it came recommended by the taxi driver that took me in from the airport.

The Grill does not look like much from the outside. It probably had a more elaborate sign, perhaps windows with frosted glass and more trimmings some decades ago. Some details of hops and grapes shows that this was more upmarket in another age.

A look at their web page – I was surprised they had one, shows a long history, the name unchanged since it opened as a restaurant in 1870. Their claim to fame, however, is of another kind:

When the pub reopened after the 7-month long refurbishment, (in 1925) John Innes hung a sign in the window which said “ No Ladies, Please”. For nearly 50 years this remained the policy, despite an invasion by female delegates attending the Scottish Trades Union Congress at the Music Hall in April 1973. This demonstration made front page headlines in the national press and the police had to be called to disperse the thirsty ladies!

It wasn’t until December 1975 that women were officially served in The Grill, following the introduction of the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975. This was followed sometime after by the construction of a ladies toilet in 1998.

Going inside, it is a well kept pub. Nothing fancy, but tidy and clean. No signs of any food, let alone a grill, though, this is a place for drinking. A place dominated by regulars, good atmosphere, where people are greeted on their way in and their regular is poured right away. Local beers on several hand pumps.

I ask for an American APA from the Windswept brewery. The adult lady tending the bar asked if I had tried it before, and offered me a taster. This was apparently a bit outside the mainstream of their beers. It was pouted expertly, topped up and served with a fine head. The cask gives smoothness, but there was a fine bitter mouth feel, too. Malt, caramel, oranges, discreet pine. And APA? The cask treatment makes it difficult to say. An ESB with American hops is perhaps more correct.

A quite small bar, I looked in later, and it was more packed in the after work rush hour. Personal and attentive service. Some serious drinking old men, some reading their paper, some chatting. Not the cheapest place in town, but certainly not the most expensive.

I liked this place. No pretensions, polite service, well kept beer. But I would not be surprised if it was replaced by a fake Italian place with over priced coffee the next time around. I don’t know if Union Street will keep its name either, come to think of it. Go while you can.

Windswept APA

A proper pint

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Sure. I know a lot about Norwegian beers and Norwegian breweries. But there is still a lot of ground to cover if my book is to be under every Christmas tree.

This week I sent out a questionnaire to all the breweries on my list – a list it has taken quite some time to compile. Facebook, word of mouth, public registers, applications for licences…

The immediate response was very positive – particularly from the ones starting up this spring. A major challenge will be to have really up-to-date information about everyone actually brewing on the day of the deadline.

And I’ve called out for photos of bottles and glasses, for labels to use on the cover etc.

My main advantage? That there are very few opportunities to market beer in Norway. You cannot even have a brewery logo at a football stadium. A book giving telling the story about your brewery and your beer is a way around this.

The response has been very positive. There will be some technical things to adjust – getting the questionnaire available in various formats, setting up a dropbox account with the book designer etc. But the general message is that the initiative is very welcome.

And I already have two invites to come and visit breweries.

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I’m doing some research into Norwegian beer history. While the bulk of my book will be about the breweries alive and active in 20|5, there will also be some glimpses into the past. There is no Boak and Bailey quality about my work, but even at my level I can access some of the material available online.

The Norwegian National Library has, as these institutions tend to have, all printed publications from the last couple of centuries in its vaults. Increasingly, these publications are digitalized and searchable.

What popped up was the catalogue of the Norwegian pavilion at the World Fair in Paris in 1900. Among handicrafts and tool makers, whale oil and dried cod, there was also Norwegian beer to be had. The breweries had joined forces, 18 of them.

There is a story to be told, in a book of its own, about Norwegian brewing history. But, for now,  at least I can showcase some of the gems I stumble upon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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