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Archive for the ‘brewing’ 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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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’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 was sipping a beer ( a very nice brown ale, since you ask) at Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeri, one of the Oslo brewpubs, some days ago. Their blackboard shows their range of beers on tap, six of their own, the rest hand picked from around the globe. Wheat or wit, IPAs, pale ales, usually at least a sour ale, an imperial stout, maybe a barley wine.

But, for the last six months or so, they also have their own pilsener. They have always had Hansa pils, but it is not promoted in any way. An industrial alternative for those who get too scared of all this craft stuff. The Hansa pils is not selling much, though. The regulars want the home brews or the hand picked imports on the blackboard. Their own lager is another story. The barman told me they have pulled it form the menu at times to stimulate the sale of their other beers.

If you want Norwegian craft lager to take home, there are a few really good ones available from micros like Lillehammer Bryggeri and Sundbytunet, but they have a very small distribution.

Lervig started out as a lager brewery, way before Mike Murphy arrived to start making top fermented beers. Their pilsener varieties did not impress anyone back then. I’ve been told that they are much improved now. I will give them a try, but there is a lot of marketing work to be done as well, perhaps integrating a pilsnener and a few other lager varieties into their series of well designed bottles and cans.

But the one to look out for is further north on the west coast. Kinn has announced that they are reducing their range of beers to concentrate on a core range. But among those core beers, there will also be a pilsener. Knowing the quality of Espen’s beers,  I’m sure this will be a winner. But they might have to consider the price level. I’m not sure how much the Norwegian consumers are willing to pay for a bottle of pils, however good it is. We are used to drinking our pale lagers in larger quantities than the darker and stronger beers, so it’s a matter of keeping the price of a six-pack down to a reasonable level.

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I know I’ve been lazy.

But I’m keeping quite busy elsewhere, particularly on the Facebook page of the blog, which has turned out to be a great success. But more about that later.

If you look on a map of the population density in Norway, you’ll see that we get more and more dispersed the further you go to the north. This means, obviously, that there are fewer breweries in Northern Norway as well, even with the present boom.

But there are some promising developments, notably Bådin in Bodø, which started brewing just over a year ago.

Bodø has some brewing heritage, with Bodø Aktiebryggeri established in 1897, eventually gobbled up by E.C. Dahls which today is a part of Carlsberg. They officially closed in 2000, though the Nordlandspils is still a brand name in the Carlsberg portfolio, misleadingly marketed as “local beer”.

There was also a brewpub in town, Bryggerikaia, which was rather short-lived. My guess is that they were five years ahead of their time, similar to Møllebyen in Moss.

This means there were no local beer available when Bådin started in 2013. They were a bunch of friends who did this for fun in their spare time. Two of the six founders actually live in Oslo, but they commute home to help out several times a month.

The local reception has been very positive, both in local pubs and in Vinmonopolet. They are slowly getting some national distribution, and, starting 1 February they have a full-time brewer. The capacity with the present setup is 800 liters six times per month.

The beers so far have been pale ales, IPAs and saisons, all of them of a very respectable quality.  My favourite so far is Moloen, a hoppy saison. PEaches and flowers in the nose. Well balanced with notes of grapefruit and oranges, just the right amount of funk. You should also look out for their Reinsåsen series of single hop IPAs.

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Mosaic Single Hop IPA

Single hop IPA from Kolonihagen

 

There are several companies who claim to be the first organic (økologisk) brewery in Norway. Reins Kloster in Rissa, an hour’s drive from Trondheim is probably the winner. Their beers have a growing distribution in restaurants, bars and shops in the region, check their web site for a list. Close behind is Kolonihagen in Oslo. They have sold beers in their cafes/restaurants since last summer, and they have now signed an agreement for supermarket sales. Kolonihagen is opening a new restaurant in Hamar in a few days, which will also feature a micro brewery. Their brewery is not set up yet, but they aim to have their own pilsener on tap.

There are two more making their first brews right now – Eiker ølfabrikk in Mjøndalen, near Drammen and Grim & Gryt in Hareid on the western coast.

This has not been a major trend in Norway so far. Our farming is small scale compared to the rest of Europe, and most consumers (myself included) feel that the food generally available in the shops is healthy enough.

But this is a niche market, and I think there is a potential here. And, if you insist on buying organic food, it makes more sense that it is produced regionally, or, at least, nationally and not sent halfway around the globe.

Barley field

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