Archive for the ‘beer’ Category

A series of blog posts.

Last month I found myself on Mont de Cats. In other parts of the world, it would not qualify as a mountain; the summit of the hill is 164 meters above sea level. It has nothing to do with cats, either, even if the Flemish name is Katsberg. It is named after a Germanic tribe, the Chatti – who used to live around here back in Roman times.

“Around here” means Flanders, but on the French side of the border. The hilly landscape is a continuation of the Hevuelland on the Belgian side.

I digress, but this is the first of a series of digressions.

I aim to write about abbey and monastery beers. This is complicated territory. Some are genuine brewed behind the walls of a monastery, overseen by monks. Some are brewed for an abbey, but are produced elsewhere. Some of them pretend to have connections to an abbey which does not really exist. One bottleneck in front of me as I am typing this says Anno 1134. Well, something might have happened in 1134, but I doubt it had anything to do with beer and brewing.

So – back to Mont de Cats. This is a very popular area for a day out for people in the region, hiking or cycling. The Trappist abbey of Mont the Cats is on the top of the hill, and they make cheese, which they sell directly to the public. But they have a beer as well.

It is, however, not brewed on the premises. The beer is actually made in another Trappist brewery, Chimay. So, it does not formally qualify for having the Trappist logo on the bottle, but it is well worth trying. There is a café across the road from the abbey where you can try it, but it is also widely available elsewhere.

The beer is a copper colored with caramel sweetness balanced by spicy notes and discreet hops.

Another brewery lends its name from the same hill – plus two others – 3 Monts. This is a family brewery located in Saint-Sylvestre-Cappel. They have a range of five beers, some of which are available on both sides of the border.

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A cold winter

The last two decades have given us a large number of breweries in Norway, peaking at almost two hundred. Some hobby projects have come and gone; but now the number of quality brewers is dwindling. Let’s look at some of the reasons.

Vinter landscape

Energy bills.

While the energy prices have hit all across Europe, we were probably taken more by surprise than most.  Our hydroelectric power plants have traditionally given us plenty of cheap electricity, now we face prices on the European level in most of the country. This has been a blow for many industries, but some of the breweries were hit really hard.

Falling demand

Some of the breweries did very well during year one of the pandemic, particularly the ones selling bottled and canned beers. The border to Sweden was more or less closed, so the consumers had to buy what was available on the domestic market. This surge in demand did not last, and it is hard to scale down again.

The big ones strike back

We still have some traditional lager breweries in Norway, and they dominate the market completely. They supply fridges and other equipment, they service tap lines etc. And while they were slow adapters, they have become more innovative over the years. This means that they brew a fair number of beer styles, including hazy IPAs, wheat beers and beers with fruit (or, usually, fruit aromas.) This means that they can deliver a more or less full range of beers, both for supermarkets and for the more general restaurant, bar and hotel market. Hansa Borg, one of the major lager breweries, has acquired Nøgne Ø, meaning they can offer genuine craft beer to their customers. Carlsberg has developed E C Dahls as their craft beer brewery in Norway, and they also import Brooklyn beers as well as other storing brands from the Carlsberg group.

Lack of retail outlets

We have a total of three supermarket groups in Norway, all with Norwegian owners. If you can get national distribution for your beers in one of them, you can get some sales volume, but the shelf space has dwindled. Beer has given way to other types of beverages such as cider, hard seltzer and pre-mixed drinks. Alcoholic beverages in supermarkets have a limit of 4,7% ABV, the rest is sold by the state alcohol monopoly.

The chain of beer stores called Gulating went bankrupt last year. It is up and running with new owners, but very few of the stores make a profit. And breweries are hesitant of delivering beer to them, there is a risk of not getting paid.

National legislation

Other Nordic countries have adjusted their alcohol monopolies to make it easier for small producers. In Sweden, you are allotted shelf space in the shops closest to the brewery. Finland has opened up for direct sales from the breweries and takeaway beer from bars. In the Faroe Islands, the breweries are allowed to run their own retail outlets for beer under 7%.

There are occasionally attempts to liberalize the policy in Norway, but we seem to be stuck with the present legislation for the time being. A recent proposal was voted down in the parliament just a few days ago.

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My wife visited Southern Africa earlier this year, including a few days in Mozambique. She as kind enough to bring back a can of beer. It`s called Mac-Mahon or 2M, brewed by SAB in South Africa for Cervejas de Mocambique. We have almost the same climate here in Norway at the moment, so it`s an appropriate time to open it.

It is a decent lager, quite fruity, with more flavor than most African beers I have encountered. Oranges, a hint of apricots. It could have done with some more hop bitterness, but this would be a nice beer to be sipping while watching lions and elephants. After a while, even a crocodile. (more…)

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The group of friends behind Bådin Brewery shows that in this age, you can run a successful brewery just about anywhere.

The town of Bodø is the second largest in Northern Norway, that means a population of 50.000. A group of childhood friends had the wild plan of setting up a brewery there back in 2012. The timing was close to perfect. They now have two full time brewers, with the other pitching in when needed. And it was all hands on deck when they arranged their second beer festival in the brewery last weekend.

A merry crow of breweries were invited, most of the Norwegian, but Ugly Duck (Denmark), Hawkshead (UK). Birra del Borgo (Italy) and De Glazen Toren (Belgium) contributed very well to the occasion.

Matt from Hawkshead serving his brews

Bådin has become a pride of the town, with their beers available in most supermarkets and bars. It should come as no surprise that their beers have a high drinkablility, the local market is too small for the more sour and wild end of the spectrum.

And this was what the festival was all about, too. Drinkable beers and good conversations, the brewers themselves serving their brews to a public still finding out what this beer trend is all about. There was a good mix of guests, the large majority of them local. Young and old, men and women.

A dozen breweries or so means you can get around the most interesting beers in a session; or maybe two.

I had the pleasure of interviewing most of the brewers from a small stage, an informal chat of around ten minutes each, which I felt worked very well.

The highlight of the weekend for me was having breakfast in the hotel with the amazing Jef Van den Steen from Glazen Toren with him telling anecdotes from the beer world, including his friendship with pioneering beer writer Michael Jackson.

Bodø is above the Arctic circle, meaning the sun was away for just a few hours in the night. It’s a great starting point for exploring the area, including the Lofoten islands. You can go on boat trips or hike in the mountains. I hope they will make the effort to have a festival next May as well.

There are good air connections, and the organizers can probably help you find moderately prized accommodation. See you in Bodø?

Jef explains what Belgian beers are all about









The line up:


Bryggeri 13

Voss Bryggeri

Ugly Duck

Hawkshead Brewery

Salikatt Bryggeri

Wettre Bryggeri

Qvart Ølkompani

Aja Bryggeri

De Glazen Toren

Grünerløkka Brygghus

Birra del Borgo

E.C. Dahls Bryggeri


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Wonderful view at Lindheim


It’s been quite a year!
I’m hardly blogging, but that does not mean I’m not busy doing beer things. 2017 has been very rewarding.
I have attended a number of festivals, done tastings and speeches, visited breweries – and written a lot.

My beer travelling has mostly been in Norway, with a few exceptions. I was once again invited by Visit Flanders to Belgium for a beer tour. We had some very busy days, meeting brewers and visiting cafes and restaurants. The highlight of the tour was a visit to Westmalle, attending mass with the monks followed by a tour behind the walls, ending up at the brewery. I have since published an article on beer tourism in Belgium, but I hope to go deeper into this material.


The walls of Westmalle

A Tripel with cheese,
in Café Trppisten













This autumn I was travelling for work to Helsinki, and used the opportunity to catch up on the beer scene there. Helsinki is a very convenient two hour ferry ride from Tallinn, which I have to admit I had not visited before. I made a day trip to get a glimpse of the beer scene, and it is a town I definitely will get back to. A weekend in Stockholm included a splendid meal at Akkurat, which still stands out among the very best places for beer and food in the known universe.

I have not visited as many new Norwegian breweries as earlier years, but at least I can tick off Skumbag in Oslo, Gøtt in Nesbyen, Yeastside in Stavanger and Lilland Bryggerihotell in Tau on the list. But a real highlight vas getting an invitation to join beer people from around the world for a weekend at Lindheim Ølkompani this summer. I have met Ingeborg and Eivin many times over the years, but I was very happy to finally get to visit their brewery, set among the orchards of Telemark.

There are new bars opening up in Oslo, some of them take beer very seriously. Instant favorites of mine are BRUS Oslo, Occulus (Cervisiam brewery tap) and Røør, but Brygg Oslo and Håndslag also look very promising.

I have been doing beer tastings and book promos across the country this year as well, starting with an event at Gulating Trondheim. I cooperate with Håndverkerstuene on beer and food tastings, the first event for 2018 has already sold out! I did a very successful beer quiz for the annual meeting of the The Norwegian Beer and Soft Drinks Producers.

A number of Norwegian beer festivals, of which I really want to point to Ølfestivalen at Nærbø, south of Stavanger. Well organized, very laid back and friendly. They have been doing this every other year since 2009, and they keep it down to earth and local – earning money for the local sports club.

Not just one book this year, but two! A new edition of the Norwegian Beer Guide, which keeps selling well, both in book and magazine formats. Fun and interesting to do a collaboration, as I did a Beer Quiz book with Sammy Myklebust. Phone, Dropbox and one weekend of sitting down together over a few beers. A thousand beer questions, plus some about other beverages with and without alcohol. And we are still open for engagements, solo perfomances or as a duo!

The Norwegian Beer Guide is also published in magazine format in cooperation with the newspaper VG, with print run of 40.000. I also had several pieces printed in the food magazine Godt from the same publisher.

Sorry to see two good breweries give up, Grim & Gryt and To Tårn. Good beer and good people, too bad that is not enough in today’s fiercely competitive market.

Too bad To Tårn had to close


I plan to do a hardcover book presenting all Norwegian breweries again. I’d love to make more out of the quiz material, too. This could be reused in other countries, and I also hope to do more live quizzes. And the ambition is to cover the Norwegian beer scene in English a bit more again. Not much, but a bit more.

A visit to Berlin in early January. And I definitely need to visit the UK. Not to speak of Belgium. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all beer people out there.

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Back in 2013, beer historian Martyn Cornell told the fascinating story about The Flying Pubs. After the invasion in Normandy, the British soldiers grew tired of the local cider. The solution was to fly in beer from England.

One of the RAF pilots involved in this was a Norwegian, Rolf Arne Berg, who was killed in action in early 1945.

I briefly summarized the story in Norwegian some time ago, challenging the Norwegian breweries to make a beer to honor Berg. His 100th anniversary was last month.

I am happy to tell that this idea was picked up by Øystein Kvåle, who lives in Orkanger, Berg’s home town. Øystein is involved in several beer and aquavit projects, and he brewed this beer in cooperation with Røros Bryggeri.

The beer is an amber ale with 4.7% alcohol. It has a lovely amber color, malty sweetness and a discreet bitterness that gives a good balance.  Nutty flavor. This would not be out of place in an English pub – in England or Normandy! A fine homage for a hero – and it is his photo on the label.

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Fugl 1

Oslo is no longer just a place to escape from, it is a destination in itself. The cheap direct flights to Central and Southern Europe are not all filled with Norwegians, we get a fair amount of weekend trippers who want to visit us, too.

The newly developed area Tjuvholmen was buzzing with Italian, Catalan and German in addition to us natives and the Swedes who live and work among us. In the low winter sun the views of the city and the fjord were spectacular. Particularly around the Astrup Fearnley Museum, which displays spectacular pieces of modern art, one of the very few private institutions of its kind in Norway.

Steel, concrete and glass meets wood and water, you don’t have to buy a ticket to enjoy the spectacular architecture.

A museum needs a café, and Vingen has a splendid view. To my surprise it even has a decent beer list.

Fugl 4

Of course there is a long list of coffee drinks to be had, and there is a food menu very much in the New Nordic style. But you also find beers from Dronebrygg, Oslo Brewing Company, Lervig, Oosterrijsen and Eiker Ølfabrikk. There is even a local cider.

Dronebrygg is closely associated with art, they are even located in the basement of Kunsternes hus, a foundation for promotin contemporary art. Some of their beers are connected to art events, others more mainstream.

On tap at Vingen was Dronebrygg Tennissball IPA. A hazy NEIPA at 6%. Lovely flavor of freshly squeezed grapefruit, refreshing and moreish. Nothing highly sophisticated here, just simple pleasure. Long bitter finish.

With temperatures below freezing, it is easy to find outside seating. Come summer, I’d grab a chair when they open. There is even a small public beach just around the corner.

Fugl 3


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Finnish micro brewery beers

Finnish craft beer at Alko


A few nights in Helsinki show a beer diversity you seldom find in Europe.

The rest of the Nordic countries have been going through a beer boom over the last decade. So has Finland, and a weekend in Helsinki is an opportunity to enjoy a great spectrum of beer – and a range of pubs and bars that should offer something for everyone.


Rustic cooking cooking and farmhouse Sahti at Zetor

Let’s start with the tourist trap. Just across the square from the central railway station you’ll find Zetor, a place I visited the last time I was in town. This is a huge place, decorated in what you could call a Finnish farm style, with tractors and other agricultural machinery prominently displayed. I have a feeling there were more tractors the first time I was here, but the puns on the menu still refer to Grandma’s countryside cooking, with domestic fish, meat and game as main ingredients.

By all means, go there for a meal, but try to avoid the evening rush hour, as the kitchen might be very busy. But the main reason for a visit is to try the Lammin Sahti, Finlands contribution to this panet’s beer heritage. This farmhouse beer, brewed with juniper twigs, has made a revival. They used to pour it from a plastic jug kept in the fridge, now they have nice pewter tankards serving the beer.

Also in the same central area is a quite large pub, Kajsla, that has been there for a number of years. Expect a dozen beers on tap plus large fridges prominently on display. You find craft beer from the big international names, small independent Finnish breweries, and one offs from the more established Finns.


A few meters away, there are two more pubs worth a visit. Black Door has the feel of an English pub, and they even have cask ale. A mixed crowd, good atmosphere, even free hot dogs if you get hungry. I had a NEIPA from the Donut Island brewery which I found a bit sweet for my liking, but there is plenty to shoose from here.

Next door is Sori Tap Room, an outlet for an Estoian brewery, serving their own beers as well as guests. 24 beers on tap. Bright and airy, with outside seating for sunny days, too. I tried their Farmhouse IPA, a very nice hybrid. Belgian yeasty funk, dry hopping adding grass aroma. A beer I could drink all night, it has both complexity and drinkability.

For a staggering range of Finish micros (as well as all the imports you crave for), head for the government run Alko shop. Their Arkadia branch at Salomongatan 1 is the place where you consider buying an extra suitcase.

If you want to get out of town, there are friendly pubs and bars scattered around the city. I enjoyed Ravintola Mulikka, a neighbourhood pub with a good selection of craft beers on tap, in bottles and cans. They have an APA brewed for them by Maku brewing – Mejlans Öl, which I can recommend. Take the tram along Mannerheimvägen if you don’t have the time to walk.

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quizcoverWith the huge range of beer books available, I was surprised there were no beer quiz books around.


Last year I was in Stavanger, promoting my book with the publisher – including a beer tasting for people in the local book trade. There was also a short literary quiz, and I got the idea there and then – why not a beer quiz book?

I reached out to follow beer blogger Sammy Myklebust , who jumped right in, and the publisher Vega Forlag was positive.

The bulk of the work was done during the first four months of this year, with e-mail and dropbox as collaboration tools. We met twice, once for a working weekend at my mountain cottage, then for a few hours in Bergen to lay the last pieces of the puzzle.

We decided to divide the book into chapters, with 18 questions in each chapter, divided into three categories according to difficulty. There are 1000 beer questions with a few chapters on other alcohol and drinks without alcohol at the end.

There are chapters on major beer countries, on traditional brewing, on hops, beer festivals, fiction and non-fiction books, beer personalities, “national” beers of various countries, pubs and bars.

I’m quite pleased with the range of questions. We touch upon history, religion, travel, food, home brewing, literature, music, TV series, ethnography, biochemistry, mycology, mythology, linguistics and many other fields.

There was a CAMRA quiz books some years ago, and a Swedish board game. Maybe the market is ripe for versions of this in other countries and languages? If anyone’s interested, get in touch.

MAi 09 093

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I spent some days in Cyprus earlier this month. There are good beers to be found, but don’t expect much of the local brews.

This was no beer trip as such, but obviously I kept my eyes open for interesting beers. I last visited ten years ago, and what I found was a brewpub in Limassol brewing just one pale lager .

I’m sorry the photos in the old post are no longer visible, Photobucket is charging a stiff yearly fee for sharing photos which are not worthwhile.

This year I stayed in Larnaca – with a one day excursion to Nicosia. I start with my apologies to the brewpub Pivo in Nicosia, it was way above 40 degrees the day I came to town, so I had to return to the coast before opening time. I have every reason to believe they have good beers.

So. The 1900 Art Café Bar has a bar downstairs and a restaurant upstairs, crammed with posters and paintings. A fairly typical Cyprus menu, I had a very nice lamb and spinach stew. A good selection of Belgian beers, some other imports, but the only domestic beer was KEO. A fine place, I hope they can encourage some domestic breweries to make beer for them in the future.

Cyprus 1

The main beer bar in Larnaca is the Barrel House, tucked away in a courtyard off the pedestrianized Ermou street. A quiet spot in the afternoon and early evening, getting more noisy later. A well curated beer list, including a few Greek craft beers.  De Molen, Flying Dog, Kaapse, Kees, Thornbridge and De Dolle are among the breweries in the menu. And they are quite explicit: Please note we do not serve beers such as Amstel, Budweiser, Carlsberg, Corona, Fix, Heineken, Keo, Leon, Stella Artois etc. I hav a Viven Master IPA, brewed at De Proef for Beer Development Viven. A light, fruity beer, quite sweet. They could have called this a Belgian Blond instead, but it’s a nice beer.

Free snacks on one of our visits, a deli counter with meat and cheese if you want to eat more. Very good service. Ask if they have something new that’s not in the beer list.

A few yards away is the wine shop Cava Spiritology, which also carries some beer. There are splendid Belgians like Westmalle Tripe and Roedenbach Grand Cru, but also some Cyprus craft beers. I tried a few, but they were not too impressive. The brewery is called True Ale, they have five beers, of which I tried their Blonde Ale at 2,5% and  their Pale Ale at 3%. It is difficult to brew good low alcohol beers, I think they would be better off going for stronger beers. The shelf life of this Ale is virtually limited It says on their bottles. It is most certainly not, especially not in this climate.

Cyprus 3

Nevertheless, there are good beers to be found here, including a premium, well hopped lager from the Greek Delphi brewery. It is a very good shop for wine also, ask for recommendations. I bought a few bottles of an excellent Lebanese wine we had earlier at a seafront restaurant – the meze at Maquam al Sultan was the best meal in town.

Then to the big disappointment – The Brewery. Presenting itself as a brewpub in a prime spot in town, they even offer a sushi/Thai buffet once a week. I was very disappointed by both the food and the drink.

There is what looks like brewing equipment on the first floor, but on closer examination it is fake and dusty. It turns out they have never brewed beer on the premises at all. Our waitress tells us they buy the beer from Germany. On the plus side you get a sampler set of the beers for free, but the beers were all very dull. Pretending to have a range of nine beers, and pricing those at three times the going rate of domestic brews is not acceptable. The buffet was not up to much, either, even when the restaurant was half full, the cooks struggled to keep up with demand, and the cooking was very basic.

Cyprus 2

I can recommend Larnaca as a holiday destination. The beaches are clean, the service is generally very good, the food is of high quality (though there is a tendency to deep fry similar to Scotland) and people speak good English. And the widely available national lagers, KEO and Leon, are pretty good, I found that Leon had a bit more flavor. There are import beers, too, including some cans with pretentions. Like in Italy, some people think that a German-looking Omlaut is a sign of quality. Insëlbrau was the local example.

Cyprus 4

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