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Fugl 1

Oslo is no longer just a place to escape from, it is a destination in itself. The cheap direct flights to Central and Southern Europe are not all filled with Norwegians, we get a fair amount of weekend trippers who want to visit us, too.

The newly developed area Tjuvholmen was buzzing with Italian, Catalan and German in addition to us natives and the Swedes who live and work among us. In the low winter sun the views of the city and the fjord were spectacular. Particularly around the Astrup Fearnley Museum, which displays spectacular pieces of modern art, one of the very few private institutions of its kind in Norway.

Steel, concrete and glass meets wood and water, you don’t have to buy a ticket to enjoy the spectacular architecture.

A museum needs a café, and Vingen has a splendid view. To my surprise it even has a decent beer list.

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Of course there is a long list of coffee drinks to be had, and there is a food menu very much in the New Nordic style. But you also find beers from Dronebrygg, Oslo Brewing Company, Lervig, Oosterrijsen and Eiker Ølfabrikk. There is even a local cider.

Dronebrygg is closely associated with art, they are even located in the basement of Kunsternes hus, a foundation for promotin contemporary art. Some of their beers are connected to art events, others more mainstream.

On tap at Vingen was Dronebrygg Tennissball IPA. A hazy NEIPA at 6%. Lovely flavor of freshly squeezed grapefruit, refreshing and moreish. Nothing highly sophisticated here, just simple pleasure. Long bitter finish.

With temperatures below freezing, it is easy to find outside seating. Come summer, I’d grab a chair when they open. There is even a small public beach just around the corner.

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The beer scene in Berlin has been developing fast over the last few years, with micro breweries, contract breweries and beer bars popping up all over the city. I’ll get back to that.

Today I’ll just mention the one factor that will really change the European beer scene, the Stone Berlin brewery.

I hope to get back to presenting the brewery itself later. Today I’ll just recommend vising the bar and restaurant. This is an old brick building converted in a grand manner, with space for hundreds of people. When the outside space is developed, this will also be an splendid place on summer evenings.

You don’t have to splurge on a meal, just sit down at the bar and sample some of the beers. Some are exclusives brewed here, some are barrel aged rarities from the Stone catalog. Some are guest brews from across Europe.

A total of about 65 beers on tap, if I remember correctly, so it could easily turn into a long evening.

A gift shop with their canned beers and various merch, too.

It’s in southern Berlin, some distance from the nearest U-bahn stop, but there are buses. Google maps will help you find the way.

The really good news for everyone, if we are lucky to get to Berlin or not, is that we get fresh beer from the Berlin canning line across Europe. Right now there is a Christmas stout available.

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We had decided that Oranienburg was a promising destination for a day out from Berlin. A shining renovated palace, hopefully a picturesque town, too. And I had a lunchtime spot penciled in.

It’s about an hour’s train ride from central Berlin by the rather slow S-bahn, with nothing spectacular to watch along the way. Some of this is rather drab DDR suburbia, probably better to be seen in midsummer.

The town of Orianienburg is not much to write home about, either. Seems like half of the shops and cafes on the main street at named Am Schloss, showing where the focus is.

The palace goes back to the 17the century, and our guide took us through the centuries, starting with prince electors who were pretentious enough to make themselves kings of Prussia. Beautiful tapestries and paintings have survived burning, looting and warfare, while there is not much original of the building itself.

Photographs are not rnormally allowed, but when we were shown the beautiful 30 liter beer glass (with a small tap on the side for cheaters), I asked in my best German if they could make an exception. Permission granted.

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I bought a booklet in the souvernir shop on the way out – Beer and winemaking in Brandenburg. The man behind the counter gave me a piece of advice:

-Frankly, the wines of the state of Brandenburg are not up to much. But there is some really good beer here, I would recommend the Schwarzbier.

Time for lunch at the Alte Fleischerei, as the name implies, the old butcher’s shop. Very good food, I had a slow boiled shoulder of mutton – Lammhaxe. With this a glass of Oranier, a local beer from a brewery as yet undocumented on Ratebeer. But  frankly, the beer was not up too much. So I wouldn’t make an excursion just for that!.

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Visiting Norwegian breweries does not only mean downtown brewpubs and drab industrial areas. Some of them are in idyllic surroundings – and the smallest ones combine brewing with rather exotic activities. I wanted to visit Furuhaugli Turisthytter this summer, and sent off an e-mail. The reply came fast, asking me to please call ahead, as the owner might be out guiding on a muskox safari.

My wife and I were in the Dovre National Park last year, and got quite close to the animals. We saw the through a bus window, but this safari offered a chance to get closer to them. So we decided that  instead of just stopping for a few beers, we included dinner, a night in one of their cabins and a muskox safari the next day.

When we checked in, we were made very welcome.

  • So, you are the author? We have your book right here!

Inger-Lise and Stein runs the establishment now, they are the third generation to rent out cabins in the mountains – Inger-Lise’s grandmother started this in 1930.

You can make your own meals in the cabins, but you should really try their food. Excellent home cooking, we had pan-fried Arctic char, which Stein and their children had caught themselves, but there are other options as well.

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Stein claims to have the smallest commercial brewery in Norway, and I am sure he is right, his 25 and 50 liter batches are unlikely to wipe out the competition. He likes to brew a wider range of beers and to keep them fresh. The beers are not for sale off the premises, they are only available in the restaurant.

I try the Blonde at 4.5 % ABV. It is dry and fruity. Light and drinkable, with moderate amounts of American hops. The Red Ale is stronger, at 5.9%. It is a rich, malty beer, with just enough hop bitterness to make a pleasant balance.  A true to type Wit (5%) has lemon, camomille and coriander, while the Amber X at 5.8% is malty with notes of nuts, toffee and roasted grain.

The beer labels do not hide the inspiration for the brews, Stein has used several of the recipes from Gahr Smith-Gahrsen, which are freely shared both through 7 Fjell Bryggeri and via the book Den norske ølrevolusjonen.

This is not the place to go for extreme beers – but for beers to enjoy after a day’s hike in the mountains and to go with the wholesome food.

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In addition to large mammals like muskox and elk, the Fokstumyra nature reserve is very close, giving excellent opportunities for birdwatching if that is your thing.

The muskox safari takes place on foot in the Dovre National Park, a short drive from Furuhaugli Turisthytter.

We were in a group with various nationalities setting out on the safari the next morning. Expect a hike of about five hours – obviously depending on where the animals are. They tend to be closer to the road and railway in spring and autumn. The guides are experienced, and as these walks are arranged every day in the summer, they know the animals well, know where to find them – and know how close to them you can get and still be on the safe side.  They are big enough to be dangerous if you provoke them.

We were able to get very close to a young bull, who did not seem to mind us watching while he was grazing. An experience well worth the time and money involved.

Noet that you are free to hike in these mountains on your own, a guide is not required. There is a network of well-marked trails and a number of hostels within a day’s walk of each other. In the winter you can go skiing instead. But if you do this on your own, you should be careful to stay well away from the animals.

Furuhuagli Turisthytter and the muskox safari are easy to access – both just off the main road – E6 – between Oslo and Trondheim. You could make arrangements to be picked up at Dombås or Hjerkinn Railway station as well.

Thanks to my wife Astrid for the photo below!

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Furuhaugli is not the only Norwegian micro-brewery to offer a good combo with outdoor activities.Here are some more:

At Ansnes Brygger, Hitra, you can go hunting, diving or fishing.

You can bike the spectacular road along the railway line from the 1223 Micro Brewery at DNT Finsehytta (at 1223 meters above sea level) to the Ægir brewpub in Flåm (at the end of a fjord offering boat connections.)

You can go rafting, explore glaciers or do some serious mountaineering at Espedalen Mikrobryggeri, which is located in Ruten Fjellstue.

You can hunt for small game, go skiing or fishing at Tuddal Høyfjellshotel, the new home of Fjellbryggeriet.

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Restaurant Håndverkerstuene in Oslo has specialized in Nordic Food and Nordic beer (as well as aquavit). This is reflected in their seasonal menu, and you will also find a dozen craft beers on tap, most of them Norwegian, but the other Nordic countries are also represented.

This year is the third time they are running Bryggeribråk or Brewery Brawl. The concept is simple – every Monday the restaurant sets up a three course menu. Two breweries try to match the dishes with beer. Up to 60 diners then vote for the best match for each dish. The winning brewery goes on to the next round. Most of the breweries are Norwegian, but they have also invited participants from Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden.

It’s a great way to get people interested in beer and food combinations, it’s a nice opportunity for the breweries to promote themselves, and it fills the restaurant on a Monday evening.

Disclaimer: I have been invited twice as a guest to the event. But I would not recommend it if I didn’t enjoy it. And, compared to many beer tastings, it is excellent value for money.

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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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I am still an optimist. I think there is room for more breweries in Norway. But most of the should be brewpubs. Like the one in Horten.

On Saturday, I was home alone, except for the cat. Nothing wrong with the cat, but as I have ambitions about visiting a fair number of Norwegian micro breweries this year, I looked at my list. One town stood out, with two breweries, and as they both responded positively to my e-mails, I set out.

The old naval town Horten is not far from Oslo as the crow flies. There is no railway station in town, but a short ferry ride from Moss gets you there comfortably.

Horten is no metropolis, it has around 25 000 inhabitants, including the rural areas and smaller towns in the municipality.

Horten Mikrobryggeri is a newcomer, it opened in October 2015. The story is fairly typical – some home brewing friends deciding to go professional. This is done in close cooperation with BorreBrygg, a homebrewing supplier that’s been around for some years.

Horten Mikrobryggeri is a brewpub. I met up with Elisabeth, who is the Manager of the place, who found time for a chat, despite this being her day off.

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This place has become very popular over its six months of operation. There were the usual startup challenges of having the right amount of beer at the right time, but the timing must have been just right. When I visited, they had eight of their own beers on tap at the same time, a first, they usually have one or two guest beers. They have a kitchen, although it’s not a full scale restaurant – excpect upmarket pub Food with ingredients from small  local producers.

This is no replica of a British pub, there is a modern interior playing on the maritime history of the town with a lot of wood and brass.

The beers on tap were a wheat beer, two pale ales (one of which I’d call a bitter), a pils, an IPA, an amber, a blonde and a stout. The overall quality was fine. Of course there are low treshold beers to appeal to a broad public, and there is nothing wrong with that.But there were Three beers that stood out. The Torpedo Stout, with fine notes of coffee and roasted grain. The Løs Kanon Pale Ale, with liberal amounts of Citra hops. And my favourite, the Fulle Seil Amber, with a nice malty body and sweetness properly balanced by a piney bitterness.

They have applied for a national licence, meaning that there will be a few bottled beers available in the shop they run in cooperation with BorreBrygg just around the corner. But to get the full range, you’ll have to go to the brewpub. Which is well worth the effort. If you plan to go on a Friday or Saturday evening, you should probably book a table. Best of all, go when the weather gets warmer and get a table on the pavement outside.

But, as readers of my book will know, there is another brewery in town as well. More about that next time.

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