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Archive for the ‘pubs’ Category

Life in a city bordering on the icy northern ocean can be tough. A main street with a brewery at each end makes things more cheerful.

It’s not pitch dark in Tromsø during the last days of November. But when my plane lands slightly after noon, it is already dusk. The cold winds from the Arctic bring sleet and snow. The sensible locals wear sturdy boots with spices to navigate the icy pavements. –I suspect most shops and restaurants will have to replace their flooring every spring. There is a crunchy sound when the metal spikes meet the parquet floor.

Tromsø used to be the last outpost of civilization. A base for the trappers and explorers, traders in timer, pelts and fish. Now it is a sizeable town – for Norway – with a fair number of hotels. The locals are fond of the nickname The Paris of the North.

Among the attractions of today, there is a brewery at both ends of the main street, Storgata. One is a reborn old-timer, the other is spanking new.

Mack is the established one, with a history going back to 1877. As with many in the industry, the inner city location became too cramped, so they moved the main brewery out of town a few years ago. At the same time, they established a micro-brewery in the historical building, well integrated with a bottle/souvenir shop and next to the traditional beer hall.

The beer hall – Ølhallen – is a story in itself. This was the brewery tap, open only during the daytime. This was not for recreational drinking for the chattering classes, rather a place where seal hunters, fishermen and explorers came when they went ashore, rubbing shoulders with locals who took their noontime pint seriously.

Ølhallen still popular

The interior is still like in a time warp, with a stuffed polar beer greeting you at the entrance. The floor is tiled, easy to hose down at the end of the day. There are still a number of tables for drinking standing up. But they have put in more comfortable seating. The clientele dropping in on a Friday at the end of the office week seem to be office workers and academians, no sign of knitted pullovers and sou’westers today.

And the beer range is fantastic. The full range of Mack beers, obviously. But, in addition, fifty taps of Norwegian micro brews. Five from their own micro, the rest from Røros, Lervig, St Hallvard, Austmann, 7 Fjell, Nøgne Ø, Kinn, Ægir, Amundsen, Voss, Grünerløkka Brygghus – and local newcomers Graff Brygghus, more about them shortly.

This is one of the best tap lists in Norway, I sincerely hope they have a turnover that is good enough to keep this going. I limit myself to a glass of the saison brewed in-house. True to type, a beer properly characterized by the yeast, and where the hops and malt are firmly but politely pushed into the background.

Ølhallen is filling up as I leave, most of the locals seem to go for the Mack Christmas beer.

Marius at work

My reason for visiting Tromsø is the other brewery, Graff Brygghus. They launched their first beers just a few weeks ago, but they have been very well received. They did not have their bottling line set up when I visited, but they have a good alternative – selling growlers. When I walked by, there were 15 persons patiently waiting in line to fill up their two liter glass kegs. They filled 150 kegs on a Friday afternoon, most of them with new glassware. They have four of their own beers available, and from what I observed, the customers come back to try them all. This is a way of distributing beer which is fairly well spread in North America, in Norway there are just a few others – Lindheim, Voss and Northern are the ones I know of. It is a good way to get your beers out of the brewery and into peoples’ homes – but they also make great gifts and, most important, they make people talk about the brewery.

Line for growler fill

Lining up for the growler fill

I come back a few hours later, when there is a pub night at the brewery with yours truly invited to talk about my book and do some signing. I was very happy to get an invite from Graff, as they were one of the spanking new breweries included in the book. In fact they were not actually brewing when the book went to print – but I took the chance to give them a two page spread.

Graff Brygghus is run by two young men, Martin Amundsen and Marius Graff. Marius is barely in his twenties, but he has won homebrewing competitions well before he was of legal drinking age. They have set up their brewery in an old wooden house that has been used for various workshops for a century or so. Into this they have set up brand new brewing equipment from Portland Kettleworks.

The beers get their inspiration from the US West Coast, too, hop forward brews without going to extremes. My favourites of the evening were a grapefruity red ale and the seasonal Advent, brewed with just the right amount for rye malt.

These two guys really impressed me. They have attention to detail, they have the technological know-how – and they brew great beers from batch number one. While some of the founders of the Norwegian craft beer movement may be stepping down, there are new ones ready to fill their shoes. I think I have seen the future of Norwegian brewing. His name is Marius Graff. Remember I told you so when his beers turn up in Stockholm, Berlin or London.

 

A few words from the author

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Events that did not have anything to do with beer led me to the medium-sized Swedish town Lund in the early days of the new year. This is not the best time to judge the beer range of pubs and shops, so this is by no means a comprehensive guide to the watering holes of Lund.

Lund has, according to Wikipedia, 82000 inhabitants, but it is also the home of the oldest university in Scandinavia, meaning there is a large number of students in term. There are commuter trains to Malmö and Copenhagen (less than an hour), but time did not allow for any excursions this time.

When you plan to visit a Swedish town of some size, it is worth checking out if it has a pub in the Bishops Arms chain. You are likely to find a decent number of domestic and imported craft beer, a dozen of them on tap, the rest of them in fridges.

On 3 January, Bishops Arms Lund was not exactly crowded. I found a seat at the bar and ordered a Highnose Brew Snow from the Höganäs (enough Umlaut to start a heavy metal band)Brewery. The beer had nothing much  snowy and seasonal about it, but it was a pleasant session APA/IPA with malt, herbs and fruit.

The barman asked if a playlist of classic Who songs was appropriate, and several of us nodded our assent. This led to a conversation about agricultural machinery, motor sports etc with one of the regulars, though I had to admit my part of the discussion consisted mainly of nodding.

There was another interesting beer on tap, Dugges Barrel Aged Winter Warmer. A rather sweet, malty beer as the style calls for, with a nice touch of wood and vanilla from the barrel. Balanced, smooth and very likeable.

I made my excuses, as I had heard that the beer range at the Inferno right up the street was rather good. This is a cozy  bar and restaurant in a building that looks very old. A quiet evening there as well, with polite and attentive service. 10 beers on tap, hundreds of bottles. Extra points for a printed beer list to browse while you make up your mind. Lost of both domestic and import beers. The range was especially good from the Gotlands Bryggeri. This is a fairly small brewery set up by lager brewer Spendrup to make more specialized beers – a macro aiming for the craft beer market. This seems to work rather well, I’ve been quite pleased with several of their beers. I went for one on tap, the Shogun Jipa. The tongue-in-cheek reference to Japan is easy to explain, as this is a single hop IPA brewed with Sorachi Ace. Sweet malty body, delicate notes of peaches and apples. Slightly medical, but a very nice beer.

Inviting lights at the Inferno

I’m sure there are plenty of good bars in Lund, most of them hidden from general view. A university town like this probably has some vaulted cellars with a good beer range and reasonable prices, more or less licensed. But that’s not for me for find out.

A few notes to round up: The local branches of Systembolaget are quite small, but  good if you want to try the beers of the local Lundabryggeriet, not so for also quite local Brekeriet, the rising star of Southern Sweden. If you want a really good range, you need to jump on a train to Malmö.

And some Gotland beers were available at my hotel, too, the Park Inn. A Sleepy Bulldog on tap, a Frosty Bulldog winter beer in bottles. Neither of them extreme, just nice, highly drinkable beers, offering a low threshold to the ever-present pale lagers.

Lund Cathedral

Make sure you visit the Lund Cathedral as well!

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I was very happy to receive a book in the mail just a few days before Christmas, a bit too late for a review to help the holiday sales.

The Berlin beer scene has seen much the same as in London, an explosion in the number of micro breweries, beer bars with an interesting range of brews and beer shops.

HeidenpetersI have tried to document some of this on my blog over the last decade, but a comprehensive guide was really needed. And that is what we’ve got.

Markus Raupach and Bastian Böttner has written a bilingual guide to breweries, beer gardens, brew pubs and beer culture in Berlin. The German text is longer, but the information in English is likely to be what you need to navigate.

There are 24 breweries in Berlin (including Potsdam) now, so a weekend is not enough to cover them all. At least you have a tool to do your planning.

Lots of nice color photos. Published by GuideMedia Verlag Bamberg. Be sure to get one before you go!

You can order from their web site.

Meierei, Potsdam

Meieri im Neuen Garten, Potsdam

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I don’t read many beer books. As a matter of fact, I buy slightly more beer books than I actually read. I interact a fair bit with other beer bloggers, but I don’t even read them as systematically as I did. The demise of Google reader is partly to blame.

A blogging duo which I have followed for years is an exception.Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey have a love of language as well as a love of beer, and, have a personal voice between them that is personal, not private.
They moved out of London and settled in South Western England some years ago, showing yet again that you dont have to be based in a major city to play a part in the beer writing community.
They have been open about their bigger projct for a long time, putting together a history of British beer over the last five decades, starting with the early beginnings of The Society for the Preservation of Beers in the Wood  (SPBW among friends) and CAMRA and ending up with the fantastic diversity of today.
They have researched this in depth, using a long list of printed and oral sources. Their blog has been used cleverly for crowd sourcing information.
The result, Brew Britannia,  is impressive. It is a story of businesses that thrive or fail, of consumer rebellion, of enthusiasm and organizational strife. And, given the topic, a story of English eccentricity told in such a way that a smile and a chuckle is never far away.
In addition to the well told main part of the book, there are appendixes and comprehensive notes, even an index, which you don’t find too often nowadays. (You’ll even find me in the index, which is, come to think of it, even rarer).
When you write a book like this, you have to choose what to include and what to leave out. I have followed the British beer scene for most of this period, and I did not find any omissions to point out.
Go ahead. This won’t end up on the shelf with the unread beer books. And it’s in paperback, meaning you can read it on the bus, which is more than you can say about the heavier tomes full of glossy photos.

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Freddy Delvaux

Professor Delvaux guides in the old brewery

Zigzagging our way through the Flemish countryside, a lunchtime stop was at the Brouwerij de Kroon, where we were welcomed by Freddy Delvaux, head of the family that owns and runs the brewery.

But this is more than a brewery. A bar/restaurant, a museum and a laboratory. They call it a multifunctional centre of brewing and taste, no less.

 Let’s start with the lab part, which is where Freddy has his background. He was appointed head of the laboratory at the Artois brewery in 1973, and continued in this position for many years as the brewery merged many times over.  He also established a lab at Leuven University, which he ran for decades.

When the university told him he was approaching retirement age, he decided to set up on his own together with his sons, and they have established a lab doing services for 25 Belgian breweries. They also have a yeast bank, and they develop new beers for a number of breweries.

The facilities they use today was opened only last year, but in the same building as the historical de Kroon brewery, which closed down in the nineteen eighties  but is remarkably well-preserved – showing brewing methods going back many decades. The equipment and the recipe books show that the beers used to be brewed with mixed fermentation, among the beers they made was the lost style of Leuven beers. A modern beer inspired by this is brewed today, the Super Kroon.  The highest volume was lambic-like table beers with alcohol content between one and three per cent.

The modern brewery is next door to the old one, and this is where they make their own beers as well as developing and testing new ones for other breweries.

The brewery tap also reflects the activities in the lab. There is one beer here from each of the 25 breweries that de Kroon does the lab work for, in addition to the three house beers.

There is an enclosed courtyard in the center of it all, a sun trap even on a slightly chilly spring day. I did not really study the menu, but they have some really nice salads if you want to tend to your lunchtime hunger.

 

Of their beers, the mentioned Super Kroon was the most interesting. The tap line goes directly from the unfiltered tank in the brewhouse, the beer is a hazy amber. It is bittersweet and fruity, with an elegant lemon-like sourness.

De Kroon is reachable by bus from Leuven station, it takes about 25 minutes. You could do worse on a sunny day.

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Straffe Hendrik Wild

On the Wild side

This is actually a place I have visited before, I had lunch in the bright and airy restaurant/café some years ago. The Half Moon brewery is a tourist destiantion in its own right.  If you are in Bruges, this is a nice place to visit, good food and family friendly.

We did not meet the brewer here, but this is also a destination in its own right. While running a modern brewery, this is also a museum showing how the company has developed from its humble beginnings. The tour takes about an hour, be prepared for many steps up and down and some narrow passages, but also lots of breweriana and splendid views from the roof.

There is even a new beer worth trying, Straffe Hendrik Wild. A fruity beer with some brett adding another layer to an elegant beer. Apricots , almonds and funk. Limited edition – catch it while you can.

 I imagine this is a place that gets very crowded in the summer. Try to get on the first tour in the morning.

View from brewery roof

A brew with a view

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Lunch in Brussels meant cured meat, cheese and bread – and a beer tasting. While the two Moeder Lambic bars have established themselves as cornerstones on the Brussels beer scene, this is the first time I have visited any of them. Easy to find, minutes away from the main attractions for the tourist and strategically located if you are in town for business. Business usually meaning government.

We enjoyed a conversation with  Jean Hummler, one of the two owners of the company since 2006. With great passion he gave us samples of some of his beers while talking about his philosophy about beer (and food).

Their focus is on Belgian beer, but not exclusively so. Among the 150 Belgian breweries, there are 15 outstanding, according to Jean. When he considers which beers to order, he considers both taste and how the beers are made. Freshness is the imperative word, and the taps and the temperature control makes sure the quality is as good as it gets.

There is a broad range of customers in the bar, an estimate is 60 per cent local, the rest expats and tourists. Most are in the 25-25 age range, but there are also students saving up to drink the best beers they can get.

There is no best beer in the  world, says Jean, but there is one that is best for my palate.

Among the beers we got to sample were an Oud Bruin from Verzet, less sweet than others of the same style, and a very interesting brewery to follow.

Cuvee de Ranke is a blend using sour beer from De Ranke blended with Girardin lambic. The lambic has consumed the sugars from the other beer, but it still has a hop profile that is is more prominent.

This is a bar, not a restaurant, but there is excellent cheese, salami etc if you cannot tear yourself away.

Endless rows of beers on tap, bottles in the fridge, too. Not exclusively Belgian, we even got to try a fresh pale ale from Kernel while we were there. But the imports also have to live up to the demands for freshness that they set for the national beers.

Check out their website for a list of the current beers on tap. You will not regret a visit.

 

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