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Archive for the ‘Belgium’ Category

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.

Westmalle

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

2018?

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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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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Hop-a-billy coming soon, said the poster on the stand your slightly bewildered correspondent happened to stop at. The event was the Zythos beer festival, the biggest national event of its kind in Belgium. They don’t claim to have all the breweries in Belgium present, but there is a fair chance you’ll find something to your liking among the endless row of stands.

But back to the Hop-a-billy. I asked for a sample, and a polite young man barely out of his teens filled my glass. A boy who looked even younger shared the stand with him.

Are you a new brewery? I asked.

– No, we have been around for about ten years

– Have the two of you you been running a brewery for ten years? You must have been very young?

They explain that ‘t Hofbrouwerijke is a family business, and that they were helping out doing the bashing and bottling from the early days.

The beer is a 6% saison, but with some lovely South Pacific hops added in. Crisp and refreshing. Nice to see that when others are playing around with their styles, the Belgians can think out of the box as well.

I also try the Flowersour. As the name implies, it is both sour and flowery, with an aroma of rose petals, sour fruit and balsamico. Maybe a bit too flowery, but I am very happy to have some beers that are not true to their style at this point.

I buy some of their bottled beers to take home, despite the fact that my baggage allowance is way too low.

The festival as such is a pleasant surprise. This is a Sunday afternoon, there is plenty of beer available, and it is nice, clean and tidy. Not too crowded, either. Convenient free shuttle bus from Leuven station, which again has direct trains to Brussels airport. A day trip is doable, at least from Northwestern Europe.

I have a feeling that the Saturday session is more crowded, but I could be mistaken. And a beer festival without enough customers would not be much of a success, would it?

So Zythos is definitely a festival to come back to – next time for a full day session. Some of these breweries and beers are hard to find, and, while I recommend a round trip of Beligum, you are not likely to cover all the ones you’d like to try.

I travelled to Belgium as a guest of VisitFlanders.

 

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– My wife sent me off to the United States with the message:  Don’t come back until you have a smile on your face.

There is a flicker of the smile before he continues:

– I found something to work with. I found a brewery. In a burned out building. I had it dismantled and sent to Belgium.

Our host is Andre Janssens at Brouwerij Hof ten Dormaal, another scenic spot in the Flemish countryside, yet not many minutes’ drive from Leuven. He had a stroke a few years ago, was feeling depressed and did not want to continue his office work.  That was when his wife insisted he should travel.

We are seated around an old, worn oak table in Andre’s living room.

– My father told me three men were made on this table. And five were killed.

This is not only a brewery, but also a working family farm focusing on sustainable production, with hops and barley grown on the farm, even the malting is done just up the road. Much of the energy used in the brewing process comes from rapeseed oil also produced on the farm.

Tending the hop fields

The brewery was started five years ago, and they now brew 1500 liters twice a week.

The beers started off as rather traditional Belgian styles, but things have really taken off with a series of barrel aged beers, using oak barrels previously used for various European wines and spirits. Before they started barrel aging, they cultivated wild yeast. 10 buckets of beer were placed on various spots around the farm. They all went sour, two of them were usable for use when they barrel age the beers.

 

There is the most charming setting you could imagine – a small brewery tap offering beers to drink on the spot or take away. A lovely garden. A pond with ducks and frogs. And even horses of old Brabant stock being used in the hop cultivation.

There is a lot of experimentation taking place. We get to try the Brand von Leuven, a beer in their Taste Lab series. This is to commemorate the firebombing of Leuven. The beer has smoky flavor and aroma, elegant balance of sweet and sour.  The soot and destruction is there in the finish.

A most unusual brewery to visit, check their web site for details. I think you will find their beers quite hard to find in Europe, the distribution seems to be better in parts of the US.

The visit was sponsored by Visit Flanders, who kindly invited a number of Scandinavian beer bloggers last month. They have no influence on the editorial content of this blog.

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When I checked in at my hotel in Leuven, there was a package waiting for me at the reception.

I got a e-mail back in March from Lode Devlieghere at www.belgianbeerz.com. This is a fairly new web shop shipping Belgian beers just about everywhere, and he was reaching out to selected beer bloggers to get some exposure.

As the shop is based in Leuven, I told him that the most convenient would be if he could have a sample box delivered to my hotel on arrival. Less postage for him, no worries about taxes, fees and so on in Norway for me.

What I received was a dozen Belgian Tripels and Saisons. Some from the well known and established breweries, others from more obscure ones.

Two examples of the Tripels:

The St Feuillien has a fruity aroma with some fresh notes of lemon. The flavour has more sweetness, peaches and other soft fruit, but there is enough citrus to leave a clean and crisp imprint. Elegant, a beer that show what you can do within this style.

The Sint Canarus Tripel is sweeter. It has apricots and a little yeast in the nose. An honest example of the style, but it is hard to stand out among the many similar beers brewed in Belgium and beyond. But if you wnat a good example of the style, order this instead of a more famous one. Brewed at De Proef, meaning no flaws.

The beers were were well packed with both an individual bubble wrap on each bottle plus Styrofoam popcorn filling the box. Probably the best packaging I’ve seen from a mail order company.

Check out their web site, giving inventory and prices. There is always room for one more quality supplier, especially for those of us who have meager supplies in our own shops.

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When you look at a typical list of Belgian beers, you could be mistaken to think that there is a limited range of styles being repeated over and over again. On one hand, there is a kernel of truth in this, the market does not actually cry out for one more dubbel or tripel. On the other side, the beers most eagerly sought out do not bother too much about following guidelines and conventions for styles and traditions.

De Struise Brouwers are among the rock stars of the European beer scene. They set the tone for the first Copenhagen Beer Celebration with their van filled with lots of good stuff, I do not envy anyone trying to get attention if they have the stand next to them at a beer festival. We were lucky to be able to meet Carlo at the brewery in their old school house in Ostvleteren.

De Struise have the same humble beginnings as most craft brewers. A group of friends started home brewing together in 2001. One of them lived on an ostrich farm, that’s where the name came from. One of them had a family history of home brewing, and they tried to recreate a strong dark beer being brewed by fishermen by the North Sea a century ago.  The result of this is the Pannepot, named after a flat bottomed fishing boat.

Things were going slow until they were contacted by a Dane wanting to try their beers. It turned out he was Jeppe, who was running Ølbutikken in Copenhagen. They started delivering beers to them, which lead to fame around the world.

While experimenting with beers big and strong, there is also a range of more quaffable session beers, they usually  get less attention than their Pannepøts and Black Alberts.

We were able to sample quite a few of their beers during our visit. Most remarkable are their high strength beers, which manage a balanced flavour despite their extreme punch. If you haven’t tried any De Struise beers, it is about time.

Many of their beers are hard to find, but if you are in Bruges, they have their own shop there – probably the easiest way to try a range of their beers. But you won’t regret a visit to the brewery, either.

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Our hosts in Visit Flanders  provided comfortable accommodation both in Bruges and in Leuven, but these were in chain hotels that do not merit a blog post. The night in between, however, we stayed in a small family run hotel, Klein Nederlo, in the countryside. As rural as can be, but if you look closer, you see the highest buildings of Brussels in the distance.

There are sheep grazing in the fields next to the hotel. It is quiet enough to sleep with your window open – if you don’t mind a wake up call from the cock across the road.

Large, comfortable rooms, too, and a generous breakfast buffet.

I arrived at the Klein Nederlo at the end of a long day, I actually skipped a beer festival to be able to check in and freshen up. But at the reception I was told that their café was still open, and after a shower I felt I was ready for one more.

The Tavern has a menu of small snacks and more substantial meals, but at the time my main interest was the beer list. The usual suspects, of course, also Orval both fresh and cellared for one year. A few hand-picked beers I’ve never encountered. A Moriau Oude Geuze, a Witte Trippel from Ronaldus.

And two beers from the Brussels Beer Project. I went for their Delta IPA. The beer menu said blond, the label said IPA. The color is blond, the hops are definitely IPA. Spicy and herbal, yet there is something Belgian in the background, underlining the crisp bitterness.

Some locals finishing their meals in the back, a quiet and pleasant atmosphere as the day was coming to an end. A place to come back to – perhaps to enjoy a few beers on their terrace while reading a book? Buses with Brussels Zoo as their destination passed right in front of the hotel, so it should be easy to get there.

The Brussels Beer Project popped up again the other day. They are planning their own brewery, but are at the time being hiring capacity elsewhere. They go new ways, crowdfunding their activities and crowdsourcing to decide which test beers to  brew on a regular basis. Not surprisingly they are not in total agreement with the Belgian breweries who, in an open letter, use strong words about contract brewing.

Once more – I traveled to Belgium as a guest of Visit Flanders and local tourist authorities. They do not in any way influence the material I publish.

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