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Archive for the ‘brewing’ 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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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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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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