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Archive for the ‘craft beer’ Category

teo

Thirty years ago, Teo had a dream. A dream that slowly would give birth the the Italian beer revolution. A dream that has grown into a giant brewery, but is much more than that.

Thirty years ago, Teo Musso started a beer bar in his home village Piozzo. He was tired of the bland industrial pilsners on offer, and he knew there were some interesting beers out there that he could sell. His bar soon featured 200 beers, mostly imported, many of them Belgian. Hoegaarden was an early favourite.

For ten years, the bar grew in reputation and scope – and then Teo created his Baladin brewery.  The rest is history.

Piozzo is one of thousands of sleepy Italian villages, among the hills in the Northwestern corner of the country. It’s lush and green here, the Alps make sure there is enough water both as rain and as rivers. The crops here are barley and maize – but mostly grapes.  Alba 20, Barolo 7, the signposts say as we approach.

I was one of a selected few beer writers invited to mark the anniversary of Baladin and the opening of the brand new brewery. Which is much more than a brewery.

The new brewery is situated on a sizeable area of land, with possibilities of growing ingredients, brewing beer with state of the art technology and the aging of beer in 14 century cellars. There is no real threshold for production here. The new brewery does not start out with a capacity far beyond the old one, but the possibilities for expanding are endless.

The bar turned into a brewpub in 1996, and the first bottled beers were sold one year later. Since then there has been a slow expansion, until this year’s move to fantastic facilities outside the village.

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The investment is sizeable, 12,5 million Euro plus VAT, but then everything should be in place. Some of this is crowdfunding. This is not only for the financial aspect, it is also a way of getting the local community seriously involved.

The most impressive is the automated bottle maturing process. This is bacically a closed box. The beer is matured for various lengths of time at three different temperatures, and a robot makes sure it is moved to the correct place at the correct time. Groundbreaking beer technology, with a potential in other fields like winemaking or cheese production if you ask me. This was intended as a Horizon 2020 project, but a Spanish partner had to resign, and Baladin lost 1.5 million Euros because of that.

There is more. There is land set aside for growing barley, other grains and hops. There is a drying area for hops, and they plan to build maltings. They are establishing a magnificent garden open for the public, with stone mills, and old communal oven and cheese makers and butchers invited in. The craft of barrel making had almost died out, Baladin uses Japanese craftsmanship to build new ones and to take care of old ones. There is education, too, with a small brewery set up for students at the nearby Gastronomical University to acquire brewing skills.

Baladin is no longer one of a handful of Italian craft breweries. There are now one thousand Italian breweries – yet the growth potential is big. Craft beer still account for just 3% of the Italian market. Baladin sells half of its production abroad, and ten percent in their own bars and restaurants. There are Baladin bars in a number of Italian cities, as well as in New York.

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Teo is proud of what he has managed to achieve. I have moved mammoths, he says, and points out that the Italian beer revoulution is also a cultural revolution. What is important is the next stage is to watch out for the big industrial players making beer they pretend to be craft.

I admire people who set u a goal and then work towards it for decades. Some have to throw in the towel, but Teo did not. His contribution to the European ber scene should not be underestimated.

I had expected a range of inventive beers for this launch, but I assume we will have to wait until the products from the new brewing plant have been allowed to mature, be it in the old cellars or in the new warehouse with temperature zones. One beer to look out for is a light, hoppy blonde simply called POP. Available in brightly colored cans, ask at your local beer shop wherever you live. Of course you should enquire about the Xyauyu range of beers too, aimed for a more discerning public. And there are lots of beers in between to explore, too.

And if you are in the area, there are tours of the brewery. A gallery going through the building gives good Access. There is even a shop selling souvernirs and beer.

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Check out Martyn’s report on the event as well.

Disclaimer: I was invited to the opening of the new Baladin brewery as a guest, and they paid my travel expenses.

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I often sing the praises of the tiniest breweries, and of course they make good stories. But the ones capable of taking a significant bite of the Norwegian market are the medium sized breweries, often with a strong regional standing. In Oslo there are now several breweries to be taken seriously – one of them is St. Hallvards Bryggeri.

A trio of beer enthusiasts with Anders Rohde as the key figure started brewing in 2015, just in time to get featured in my book. They have listed 17 beers available for a beer event next week – when you add special beers for restaurants and supermarkets and three new Christmas beers, the total adds up to about 25.

Several restaurants in Oslo are shareholders in St. Hallvards. The brewery was crowd funded, and they have 450 shareholders.

St Hallvards. does not aim for the extreme ends of the market, the focus is on high drinkability and lots of flavor. They have the usual range of British, Belgian and American styles. What has impressed me most are the beers brewed at 4,7%, allowing them under Norwegian legislation to be sold in supermarkets. There are lots of dull beers on the market because of this limit, St. Hallvards is one of the exceptions. Look out for their saisons and brown ales of various strength.

St. Hallvards Bryggeri is named after the patron saint of Oslo, and their beers are named after various colorful characters from the city’s history.

Look for their beers in the Meny supermarkets and in Vinmonopolet as well as well stocked bars and pubs and beer festivals. The last project they are involved in is a series of beer and aquavit glasses in cooperation with  Magnor Glassverk, Arcus and Sentralen restaurant.

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No stones unturned

StoneThese two cans sort of followed me home the other night, or, as they used to say when there was a sale of contraband in Oxford Street: “Fell off a truck, mate!”

The beers are fresh off the canning line in Berlin, where Stone have set up their European operation.

The IPA has intense hoppiness – grass and pine. A fresh, in-your-face IPA. If that’s what your’re looking for, look no further!

The Arrogant Bastand Ale is one notch up. Deep red, full malty body. PAcked With fresh hop aroma and a punch of bitterness.

Both cans show that they are part of both the Norwegian and the Swedish recycling scheme with a deposit. Should mean that they will be widely available soon.

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Ten minutes walk from the centre of Horten you cross a Canal and enter the old fortress Karljohansvern. Next time I’ll spend some time exploring the area, which is now a museum, now I went straight for a large wooden building, home to Sjømilitære Samfund. This is a building belonging to a voluntary organisation, freely translated as The Naval Society, built in 1883 and retaining the old charm.

The house is now run as a hotel/restaurant by Stig Thorsen and his wife Torill. They do a lot of business functions, and they are now expanding, there is a side building under construction with more hotel rooms and conference facilities. With a central location surrounded by a beautiful park, this should have a great potential. The main building is to a large part restored to its former splendor, well worth a visit in itself.

But Stig also brews beers to be enjoyed by his guests. He only has a municipal licence, and the restaurant does not have regular opening hours for the public, this means that his beers  have been under the radar, even for most beer geeks.

The beer is brewed on a Speidel in 50 liter batches, then bottled. I was happy to be presented with a broad spectrum of brews, all with a consistent high quality.

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I particularly enjoyed two of his beers:

Biblioteks, a Belgian Dubbel With oak chips in the boil. It has lots of sweetness, yet, there is enough hops to keep this in check.

Tordenskiolds Porter is well hopped, giving a complex beer. Asphalt, liquorice, molasses – and bitterness.

But the most interesting was the Vestfold Ale, brewed with floor malted grain grown in the area. This is discreetly hopped, letting the delicate maltiness be in focus. Elegant. I am very happy to see small-scale malting in Norway, I think there is a great potential that taps right into the current interest in real local food.

The overall quality of Stig’s beers impressed me, they should be available to more serious beer drinkers. Perhaps an annual beer and food event during a quiet period with advance ticket sales could be an idea? A beer festival is not a serious option with the present capacity of the operation.

Local malt

 

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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 thought I would stick to Norwegian beers this spring, book writing and all. I was wrong. When I got an e-mail telling me BrewDog wanted to fly me to Scotland to visit their brewery, I was not difficult to persuade.

So, last Thursday, as the pubs were opening, I found myself on Union Street, Aberdeen. One of the places on my list was just a few minutes from the hotel, and it came recommended by the taxi driver that took me in from the airport.

The Grill does not look like much from the outside. It probably had a more elaborate sign, perhaps windows with frosted glass and more trimmings some decades ago. Some details of hops and grapes shows that this was more upmarket in another age.

A look at their web page – I was surprised they had one, shows a long history, the name unchanged since it opened as a restaurant in 1870. Their claim to fame, however, is of another kind:

When the pub reopened after the 7-month long refurbishment, (in 1925) John Innes hung a sign in the window which said “ No Ladies, Please”. For nearly 50 years this remained the policy, despite an invasion by female delegates attending the Scottish Trades Union Congress at the Music Hall in April 1973. This demonstration made front page headlines in the national press and the police had to be called to disperse the thirsty ladies!

It wasn’t until December 1975 that women were officially served in The Grill, following the introduction of the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975. This was followed sometime after by the construction of a ladies toilet in 1998.

Going inside, it is a well kept pub. Nothing fancy, but tidy and clean. No signs of any food, let alone a grill, though, this is a place for drinking. A place dominated by regulars, good atmosphere, where people are greeted on their way in and their regular is poured right away. Local beers on several hand pumps.

I ask for an American APA from the Windswept brewery. The adult lady tending the bar asked if I had tried it before, and offered me a taster. This was apparently a bit outside the mainstream of their beers. It was pouted expertly, topped up and served with a fine head. The cask gives smoothness, but there was a fine bitter mouth feel, too. Malt, caramel, oranges, discreet pine. And APA? The cask treatment makes it difficult to say. An ESB with American hops is perhaps more correct.

A quite small bar, I looked in later, and it was more packed in the after work rush hour. Personal and attentive service. Some serious drinking old men, some reading their paper, some chatting. Not the cheapest place in town, but certainly not the most expensive.

I liked this place. No pretensions, polite service, well kept beer. But I would not be surprised if it was replaced by a fake Italian place with over priced coffee the next time around. I don’t know if Union Street will keep its name either, come to think of it. Go while you can.

Windswept APA

A proper pint

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