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Archive for the ‘beer’ Category

Færder Mikrobryggeri building

If you write a book aimed at the Christmas gift market, there isn’t too much you can do to promote it in the new year. At least not to a general public.

On the other hand, it opens new possibilities. There might be a spinoff book this year, there might be a new edition next year.

And beiong a published writer opens doors. To do beer tastings, do other event like beer launches or talks at festivals. For money. Not big money, but at least I get my expenses paid.

So I’ll do at least four paid events in the Oslo area over the next two months. I’ll try to report back on how this works out. So far I’ve enjoyed my stay in the limelight, I thought I was more comfortable behind the keyboard.

And I try to visit even more micro breweries this year. I’ve mentioned Grünerløkka Brygghus, but I have also spent two splendid afternoons visiting Færder Mikrobryggeri  (in Tønsberg) and Dronebrygg in central Oslo.

Færder Mikrobryggeri is a family business, which starde up last summer. I talked to Tone, who is working full time in the brewery alongside her son Mathias. The have a broad range of their own beers, which have been very well received. They are located in an area where lots of people spend their summer vacations and weekends. The challenge is to get their beers on sale in some of the cafes and restaurants serving beer al fresco to locals and visitors during the summer months. Contract brewing, including the beers for the Kolonihagen restaurants, will help secure the income they need.

Tone is proud of what they have accomplished at Færder Mikrobryggeri

Dronebrygg is many things at once. Thery brew no nonsense lagers and light ales with a broad appeal, including a Mexian style lagers others might raise their eyebrows over, as well as more challenging brews. I met Daniel and Anders over a few samples of their beers.

Dronebrygg is located in the basement of Kunstnernes Hus, an art institution. Ther brewers are artists themselves, and some beers are brewed as art projects or as a part of an art project.  Kunstnernes Hus has a terrace overlooking a leafy park, close to the Royal Palace, a great place to enjoy a Kölsch or a pale ale. As I write this, the future for the cafe/restaurant there is uncertain, but I hope there will continue to be an outlet there for Dronebrygg. Remember to enquire for more quirky beers with ingredients like seaweed, mushrooms, herbs and fruit, some of them one offs. Their recently renewed web page is a good place to start if you want to seek out their beers.

Beer as art as well as no nonsense refreshments at Dronebrygg.

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Vespa & Humla front

A quiet alternative

I’m not usually pushing news about the big global players in the alcohol industry. But when they reach out to small individual producers to do a collaboration with no strings attached, I don’t mind.

Jameson Whisky, which belongs to the Pernod Richard group, has been doing a series of collaborations with craft breweries with the same concept – beer aged in used whiskey casks. This time around, Grünerløkka Brygghus in Oslo was invited to join in, and head brewer Kjetil Johnsen has made a limited edition Irish Rock Porter.

This is a Baltic Porter (brewed with lager yeast, if that is of importance to you), which has spent some weeks in casks which were just emptied of whisky. It’s a one off, so don’t expect this to find this outside Norway or for promotional purposes for the destillery.

There was a launch last night in Oslo, and I am happy to report about a very drinkable beer. The whiskey character comes through in a subtle way – it has a lighter touch than scotch whisky barrels with all their smoke or bourbon barrels with a lot of vanilla. Sure, you feel the booze, and the oak plays its part. But it an easy drinking and elegant beer. Grab it if you can.

The tasting was held at Vespa & Humla, the new brewery tap of Grünerløkka Brygghus. They still have their main pub, but the new one is tucked away next door to the brewery.Expect to find a full list of their own brews and a relaxed atmosphere – and good home cooking.

Kjetil with beer glass. Kjetil has every reason to be pleased with his whiskey barrel beer.

 

 

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When I was invited to do a few promotional events for my book in Bergen, I welcomed the opportunity. This meant some hours in a shopping mall signing books, but also taking part in a beer tasting with an additional opportunity for book sales.

Arriving at Bergen airport, I was picked up by Sammy, who kindly drove me to my first stop, the Gulating beer shop, located in a shopping mall some distance from the city center. But we made a short detour, allowing me a brief visit to 7 Fjell, one of the craft breweries being successful, also on a national scale. No price for the scenery, they are located on a no nonsense industrial estate, but the beer they brew is impeccable. They are taking over a larger slice of the building than they are using today, so there will be a tasting room and other facilities in the future.

Helge gave me the ten minute tour. 7 Fjell is doing very well, right now the fermentation tanks are the bottlenecks of the brewing.

Helge at 7 Fjell

Helge at 7 Fjell

Onwards to Gulating, where I spent three hours signing books. Not a huge success, but a trickle of customers. The shop, however, sold a respectable amount of beer  while I was there. The emergence of at first good beer shelves in Norwegian supermarkets and then specialist beer shops selling beers below the legal limit of 4.7% is way beyond what I had expected a few years ago. The Gulating shops buy their beers directly from the breweries, meaning they can offer lower prices to the customer than supermarkets. They also have a great range of beers from the smallest breweries, which are hard to find without extensive travelling.

Gulating bottle shop

Gulating Bergen

A quick check in at my hotel before arrival at UNA bar and restaurant, where I was invited to present my book at a tasting of vintage Christmas beers. This was hosted by Stefan, who has a good routine of doing events like this, I tried to add my bit to the proceedings.

UNA is the place with the most impressive tap list in Bergen, of particular interest when I visited was that they had a home brew on tap. They have their own brewing permit, but so far they just have a tiny setup in the basement. Their first beer is a Light Stout – as opposed to a Dark Stout. Highly drinkable with some coffee and cocoa notes, slightly sweet. Brewed to have a broad appeal, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Across the street to the next brewpub, Bryggeriet, a part of the huge bar/restaurant complex Zachariasbryggen.  I was visiting briefly this summer, with a serious case of bad timing, it was a week before the first beers were due to be released, and none of them were ready.  I had better luck this time, even finding brewer Gareth behind the bar and ready for a chat.

Juleøl tap

Bryggeriets Christmas beer

The original idea was to have a range of four fairly standard regular beers, this has evolved into six of their own beers on tap most of the time, and a wish to be more playful. I sampled Snøwit, a fairly strong wit, which I enjoyed, particularly since it was low on the coriander scale. Their Juleøl is a spiced porter.  My favourite was the Flagship IPA -a great allrounder that would work well both with food and as refreshment.  Grass, citrus and discreet maltiness.

My last stop was the third brewpub, Baran Café, where I had a nice chat with Ali. Well, technically it is not a brewpub, since the brewing is done elsewhere, but he brews his own beer and sells it in his café.  I had a beer, but I’m afraid there are no notes from its consumption. It is a quiet place to hang out, make sure you visit if you are in town.

These rambling notes do not do justice to the Bergen beer scene, but I hope it might inspire tickers and drinkers to make a visit. Bergen has established itself firmly on the Norwegian beer map.

Note: The trip was paid by my publisher, and I did not receive any compensation from the establishments mentioned apart from some beer samples.

Baran sign

A logo appropriate for Bergen

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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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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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