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Archive for the ‘beer’ Category

It’s by no means finished yet, but here are some lessons learned.

 

Let’s say you want to write a book about the breweries in Finland. Or Portugal. (I don’t need more competition around here, thank you.

 

 

Here are some lessons learned:

  • Maybe you should register a company beforehand. Even if you’re working with a publisher, you will have expenses. Some of them could be deductible. Maybe even deductible beer.
  • (I did not do this. But if there is a second time around, I probably will, even if my bookkeeping skills are pitiful.)

 

  • Spend time on your initial e-mail list. And, please, if you use Gmail, send out separate e-mails to your informants. If you don’t, you are likely to lose control over the e-mail strings and the attachments buried inside them.

 

  • Check the bounced e-mails right away, and check with other sources.

 

  • Work on the questionnaire. It’s important. Do your really need all the numbers? It’s mostly the stories you’re after, right? Adjust for that.

  • Make sure you have enough dropbox space, or find alternatives.

 

  • Ask for samples. But don’t ask for samples from all the industrial breweries. Life is too short.

 

  • Samples also means you can take photos of the bottles before you open them, photos according to your own specifications.

 

  • Visit breweries, visit beer festivals. This means you can get more flavor to the text, getting the first-hand accounts.

 

  • Crowdsource information. I got valuable intel from various facebook groups and other parts of my network.

 

  • Use public records. Though even in Norway, with very strict legislation when it comes to licencing alcohol, there is no decent register of the persons and companies with a licence to brew. But our national freedom of information act let me have copies of a fair number of applications from the health authorities, which was very helpful.

 

  • After the deadline, take a week or two off the booze. Get on your bike and do hiking. Consider having conversations with family and friends. Remember, there is a promotional circuit before Christmas, too!

 

  • It’s fun. With a very few exceptions, people are very happy that you seek them out and go out of their way to help you. I assume this is a general rule, but it is even more likely in a country where the direct promotion of alcohol is strictly forbidden and even displaying a brewery logo is likely to bring you a fine.

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The reason for me being in Aberdeen?.A group of journalists, writers and bloggers were invited to visit BrewDog to see the brewery, talk to the founders and sample their beers. Not bad at all.

 

I’m not going to retell the BrewDog story once again. Eight years on from modest beginnings they have created a household name across Europe.

 

They expect to brew 16 million liters this year, but they keep expanding, and with the new facility opening later this year, they will have a capacity of 40 million liters.

 

A new canning line was being adjusted while we were visiting, and the automated packaging makes the more tedious part of the process less manual.

And it’s become a sizeable company, 150 working at the brewery and in the administration, 400 in total if you include the bars.

The brewery tap

DogTap

There are two things that impress me:

  • The attention to detail
  • The focus on people

 

The details: The brewery is spotless, from the huge grain silos to the small pilot brewery. There is an in-house lab, there is a tasting panel, there is a tireless quest to make sure the beers are not only consistent, but that they keep improving. And there is still the youthful spirit of trying out the new. While the Punk IPA is making up much of the volume, there is still the steady stream of new beers, some of them exclusive, some experimental. We sampled the wonderful IPA Born to Die 04.07.2015, fresh from the bottling line, where the best before date is the main selling point, underlining the point that fresh IPAs are for drinking, not for cellaring. On the other hand, glass in hand, we walked up the road to their barrel aging facilities, where an amazing range of beers lie maturing in their oak casks and a lucky few keep sampling which ones are ready to be released as they are or blended into something new.

BrewDog barrel aging

James looking for the right barrel

The people: James and Martin, the duo behind the company from its humble beginnings, are still in charge, and they had set aside plenty of time to talk to us. Eight years on, they still seem to have great fun. It’s been amazing story, I am fond of retelling the tale of a ratebeer gathering in a cellar under a pub in Glasgow in 2007 where two rather nervous young men were presenting their first two beers, Punk IPA and Rip Tide. The bottles did not even have labels at the time. Now they are running a huge company, evoking strong feelings for and against their public image.

 

They do not seem very concerned that some camps have strong negative views against them, but they were very pleased that my British colleagues told them that they have an impeccable reputation for taking care of their staff, training and mentoring them and making them able to do their job in the best possible way.

This includes the ones working in the BrewDog bars, these are places where the customers can be assured that the staff knows a lot about the beers they serve and that they can make good recommendations.

If you are in the Aberdeen area, the brewery, in Ellon, North of the city is open for tours, or you can just visit the Dog Tap bar and brewery shop.

There are buses from central Aberdeen.

 

There is a BrewDog bar in central Aberdeen, too, with a very decent beer list, including guest beers. Very lively on an early Friday evening, nice to see that the crown was farm more mixed than I expected, with women and the above 40 age bracket well represented.

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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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The CASC blackboard

There is a fair number of bars in Aberdeen, my research made me have a closer look at three of them, and then I stumbled across one more..

CASC – short for Cigars Ale Scotch Coffee, was visited twice. Once during a very quiet lunchtime hour, when the very few other visitors were still into the coffee part of the name. BTW, it looks like they take the consonants seriously, too. There is a humidor that looked impressive.

The beer means a large number of fridges with bottled beer as well as 24 keg lines. Lots of English, American and German beers, even a few from Norwegian Lervig. What I missed was a wider selection of Scottish beers, but maybe they feel that there are others who take care of that side of the market.

Revisited in the evening, fairly packed with a young crowd.

This bar probably has the best selection of beer in town, but go in the early afternoon to enjoy them. Centrally located in the rustic Merchant Quarter.

Bottle Cap is a brewery and a bar. They serve very basic food, too, in case you want to line your stomach. Their own beers were underwhelming. I tried three of them, and the general feeling is that you are being served home brews that did not turn out quite all right. Drinkable, but with an aroma that was quite unpleasant. Not a must stop.

Six Degrees North is next door, but in another league. They call themselves the Belgian brewers of Scotland, but there is more to the place than that. Note that the beers are not brewed on the spot, so this is more like a brewery tap than a brewpub. Not that it really matters much.

A blackboard, which you will not see on your way in, you have to turn around and look above the doorway once you are in the main room, shows the beers on tap, including a handful of their own beers. Once seated, you can have a look at the bottle list, which includes hundreds of Belgian beers . Some of the Six Degrees beers are in the classic Belgian styles, others more crossovers like Belgian IPA and Belgian DIPA. Fine beers, and fine Belgian cooking, too. This one should be on your Aberdeen shortlist.

If that’s not enough, there is a bottle list, too.

Worth mentioning is the Triplekirks, yet another church turned into a bar. The beers were fine, but there was a studenty competition going on that was extremely noisy.

Time to call it a night, as the next day was the big event – the BrewDog brewery visit

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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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