Archive for the ‘Sweden’ Category

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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There is a fairly strong public support for the government alcohol stores in Norway and Sweden. (I don’t know enough about public opinion in Iceland or Finland to discuss their situation). There are, however, some issues to consider when you move a particular group of legal foodstuffs out of general distribution.

I have given some quite positive coverage of the Swedish  Systembolaget shops in the past. Their bigger shops have a fine range of beers, while the smaller ones are more hit-and-miss. But these shops exist within a political and legal framework, and there is a broad consensus to keep them. And the border trade keeps the prices at decent levels, at least compared to Norway.

But there is one aspect that provokes me. That is when Systembolaget moves into the political domain to argue for the status quo. A recent case is an interview with the chairman of the board of Systembolaget on the web site of the Swedish temperance movement, where he tries to ridicule those in favour of direct sale of beer and wine from small scale producers.

But we are talking about much more than a newspaper article here. It’s a governmental monopoly that spends a lot of taxpayer’s money to convince public opinion that things should stay as they are.

Systembolaget, Lund

Far better than in Denmark?

I quote the Swedish columnist Mattias Kroon in Sydsvenskan (the translation is probably not 100%, but you get the point):

Systembolaget foresaw many years ago that one might question the role of the monopoly for competiton reasons. They therefore had to run a publicity campaign to give the impression that they had public opinion on their side. In 2002, Systembolaget gave the contract to the company Forsman & Bodenfors.

The aim of this was to avoid that you and me and the rest of the people don’t get the idea that we could buy wine in cozy little wine stores, in cheese shops – or why not as take-away in restaurants. Like in all other civilized countries. The monopoly and the PR company wanted us to feel that such a behavior is a bit dangerous, threatening and unsafe. With a huge budget they managed to form public opinion, give a slanted message, convince – in short: to manipulate us to approve of Systembolaget as such and to make us believe that everyone else feels the same. Well written stories, selected statistics, good commercials. Just what any other gigantic company dose to promote its message and its brand name. Fair enough.

The difference is that the Systembolaget message about the splendor of the monopoly is allowed to stand there, unchallenged. There is no equal competitor or organization to match their promotional budget. Legal? It seems so. Democratic? Doubtful. When a state monopoly runs heavy marketing we usually call it propaganda. And you pay for it. With your money and your freedom of choice.

(There is more in the original article, go ahead and read it, use Google translate if needed).

Vinmonopolet in Norway does not play an active role in the political arena in the same way. They do not have large posters in their stores boasting of the many lives  that have been saved because of the monopoly. I hope it stays so.

If the health authorities and the government wants to argue for the present system, they are free to do so. But let’s not muddle the discussion by having the monopoly companies as political actors in their own right. It’s not only a matter of principle. As we see in Sweden, this arrogance may also cause a backfire.

South of the border: Norwegians waiting for Systembolaget to open.



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The Godfather of beer blogging, Alan in Canada, has asked the question:

What beer book which has yet to be written would you like to see published?

And the question is a good one. This is a part of The Session. The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry.

So the host of Session 95 is Alan, go to his blog to see a round up of all contributions this month.

He also wants to know what books we’d like to write. Well, there might be something happening over here, but it’s early days yet. I’ll let you know if and when things get moving.

So I need more beer books? Well. There are beer books silently staring at med from the shelves. Some have been gifts or review copies, some seemed more promising at amazon or in the bookshop than they turned out to be. So I tend to limit my beer book purchases, and I find it very convenient when I can buy an e-book from Evan Rail, ready to digest in one sitting.

But I digress.  There are many beer books waiting to be written. And I have at least three books I’d like to see published.

First of all, my friend the beer scholar Lars Marius Garshol has done some really impressive writing about farmhouse beers in Norway and in Lithuania. He should be given a scholarship to write about the history of small-scale brewing in The Nordic countries and the Baltic countries, including Finland and Russian Karelia. That’s probably too ambitious. But a book on Norwegian traditional beers would be most welcome. too!


On an even broader scale, I’d like a book on European beer brewing history. Starting with historical and archeological sources, painting the broad strokes of the major players.

  • How empires, was and legislation have given the background for clever entrepreneurs.
  • The contribution of Weihenstephan and other centers of brewery education.
  • The emergence of a science of brewing.
  • Family brewers growing into multinationals. Dreher, Carnegie, Jacobsen, Guinness, Heineken.
  • Did the Russian court really drink stout? If so, where was the beer brewed?
  • European beer in other corners of the world.
  • Intra-European beer trade. How much stout did the czars really drink?

There could be lots of tables and figures in such a book, but I’d prefer the good stories, the anecdotes and how beer history fits into the broader history. And I would like lots of maps, old ads and photos.

But there is another book waiting to be written, too. About the emergence of a company that defied all established wisdom within the industry. A company that has used social media, reached out to bloggers, provoked regulating authorities and getting plenty of press coverage without buying ads.

If I was given some months’ salary and freedom to write a book on a beer related theme, I would write the story of BrewDog. And I’d focus on the beer. Unlike the book by the founders of Brooklyn Brewery. That book is not about beer at all, it could have been a chronicling a chewing gum factory.

The Beer Book for Punks could be sold in pubs and bars, bottle shops – and the bookshops of business schools around the globe. Not to mention airports.

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There is a very heated discussion in Sweden at the moment, as the government retail monopoly Systembolaget has changed its policy on the distribution of beer from small domestic breweries.

There is a general election coming up, which means that this also is of interest for the politicians.  Lawmakers and bureaucrats are in a bit of a twist – one one side there is pressure for a more liberal approach, allowing direct sales of beer, cider and wine from the producers to the public. On the other hand, this could undermine the monopoly, as foreign producers and their importers won’t have the same possibilities and will probably use legal means to challenge the changes. We are talking about a lucrative market with lots of buying power.

Systembolaget, obviously, want to keep their retail monopoly intact, and they have made some changes from 1 September. Their new rules include: Beer from small scale breweries may be sold in up to ten Systembolaget shops within a 100 kilometer radius from the brewery. The brewery is allowed to do the deliveries themselves. In town and cities, this will mean that the customers will have to visit a number of shops to find beers from different breweries. In rural areas, there will  often be less than ten shops within the 100 km radius.

The breweries will still have the option of listing their beers for specioal order through the Systembolaget shops. But they will then have to deliver the beers to the central depot in Örebro. Systembolaget claims that the depot does not have any warehouse capacity, meaning the breweries have to deliver every order by itself, at the brewery’s expense. This does not make sense economically for most of the smaller ones, who are now withdrawing their beers from the special order list.

A better account than the above is to be found on the BeerSweden site, they have published a press release from small scale brewery Beerbliotek (in English).

But I have a personal story to add. Later this week, I plan to visit a new micro brewery in Teveldalen, a conference/ tourist resort an hour’s drive from Trondheim, a stones’s throw from the border with Sweden. I thought I’d use the opportunity to cross the border to Storlien and buy a few Swedish beers. It is some distance to the nearest Systembolaget shop, but they have a network of ombud, meaning you can order your alcohol from Systembolaget and have them delivered to a local supermarket.

This is a modern, hi-tech Nordic country, scoring well on all the indicators for good living, so there is of course a web order form on the web page of the shop in Storlien. I carefully select four beers from the Åre brewery, 60 kilometers further into Sweden, add a few of the more interesting Oktoberfest beers listed in the Systembolaget app, plus a dozen imports from their special order list. I click send on the form, and hope a week is enough for the delivery.

 Screen dump, Systembolaget

Ten minutes later I get a call. From Sweden. From the man handling the alcohol deliveries at Konsum Storlien. Tyvärr, noen of the beers you have ordered are available through our shop.

-Nor even the ones from the local Åre brewery?

-We don’t get our supplies from Åre. We get them from the regional warehouse in Sundsvall. and they do not carry the Åre beers. And the ones from the special order list – we do not carry them.

One more argument for reforming the system, then. What looks like an impressive network of shops boils down to delivery of Carlsberg and Koskenkorva.


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Man in the Moon

Visting Stockholm a few weeks ago, I had a long list of places on my “maybe” list. It was an oval weekend for many, as it included Ascension day, meaning that some places were closed. I managed, however, to try two bars very close to each other. Together they mirror the diversity of today’s beer scene. Ten years ago, I was overjoyed with a diverse beer list and would overlook everything else. Now there is the option of finding the place that suits you most.

We arrived at the Man in the Moon in Vasastan, to the North of the city center, in the late afternoon. This establishment has the decor of an upmarket English pub, or, rather, gentleman’s club. Leather and wood, lots of lamps in different styles. A large room with plenty of space between the tables. Quiet conversation, polite service.

The menu included a numberof aspargus dishes, as they were in season, we both went for the entrecote with asparagus. Not cheap, but a great meal, cooked to perfection.

The beer list was staggering, the bottled list would have been plenty. But, additionally, they are marking their twentieth anniversary this year. This means a special list of draft beers brewed especially for them from the best of the Scandinavian craft breweries:

Amager Bryghus
Beer Here
Dugges Ale- och Porterbryggeri
Eskilstuna Ölkultur
Nynäshamns Ångbryggeri
Ängö Kvartersbryggeri

I had to limit myself to a glass each of the Beerbliotek Double IPA and the Nøgne Ø Barrel Aged Imperial Brown Ale, no less. The double IPA was good, the Nøgne Ø beer was great.

Across the street: Mikkeller & Friends Stockholm. Welcome to Hipsterville. True to the original concept in squeezing everything into what must have been a tobacconist or another type of shop with a modest need for space. Afternoon was giving way to early evening. the front room was filling up, but there was still seating in the back , where you feel like you are a part of a art installation and graying beer geeks struggle to . The usual blackboard with Mikkeller beers and a few of their collaborators. The house geuze is rebranded as Vasastan Spontanale. The beer is served in small glasses – encouraging the customers to go for quality rather than quantity. Their crowd is young and beautiful.

I have to say that this does not appeal much to me – but then I’m not in their target group, either. That does not mean there is anything wrong with the bar or the concept. This is the flavor of the month, where people in their twenties can brag with their newly acquired knowledge about beer styles. But I don’t think anyone has any illusions about this becoming an institution on the Stockholm beer scene. This is a place that will stay open and popular for a year or two, there is no big investment involved. No kitchen, barely a fridge. They did not even have ice cubes when I asked for a glass of tap water. But the gueze was fine, so was the Omnipollo double IPA.

I think the Man in the Moon will be there for its thirtieth anniversary, too. But for craft beer to continue to grow, there has to be beer spots that appeal to other groups than the grumpy men past fifty. Concepts will come and go. I will look in, have a (small, if that’s the only option) glass of their most interesting beer before I walk on to somewhere else.

But we adapt. London pubs that were gutted and redecorated in Scandinavian pine and large windows seem almost cozy now. We’ll get used to the bare brick, steel and concrete, too. If we don’t get too grumpy.

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Quite a heritage!

Though I’ve visited Stockholm many times over the years, my knowledge is to a large extent limited to the central areas, the most renown beer bars and the tourist attractions.  When I was in the southern commuter town Södertälje, I managed to find a micro brewer. This time around I stayed mostly in the northern suburbs, but there is local beer to be found there as well.

I found a reference to Sundbyberg Köksbryggeri in a web discussion. Köksbryggeri means kitchen brewery, so the name suggested that this was just a hobby. A quick search told me that they had indeed started out as a amateur outfit, but that they had gone professional earlier this year. As I was spending an oval weekend in a hotel just a few minutes away, I sent off an e-mail inviting myself for a visit and received a positive reply.

When I arrived at Friday lunchtime, it turned out to be a rather busy day, as they were delivering their first consignment to Systembolaget, the governmental retail monopoly shops for alcohol. I am greeted by Thomas, one of the three brewers. He shows me the setup of the brewery. I later sit down with Per for a chat about the brewery and the Swedish beer scene.

While they are taking a big step these days in delivering to the Systembolaget shops, they have been available in local bars and restaurants for some months. Sundbyberg today is a commuter town just a few minutes from central Stockholm by train or Underground. It has, however, its own identity, to a large extent linked to its industrial heritage. A century ago, the breweries and distilleries of this town supplied the Stockholm are with much of its beer and aquavit.

The new brewery tries to be a part of this heritage, and the ambition is to stay local, to cooperate with local companies and associations. The local market is big enough, they already have problems keeping ut with demand.

They also plan to open a pub on the first floor of the brewery, where there is already exhibition space for local artists. And the building is of particular interest. Because this is also a part of the Sundbyberg heritage. But it does not have an industrial pedigree. The brewery is located in an old church. For marketing purposes, they should have named themselves Church Brewery, not Kitchen Brewery.

The building had been abandoned for years before it was refurbished. All religious elements have been removed. There are stained glass windows, but these are abstract, so they do not carry any Christian message. The new inhabitants have been in touch with the congregation when they stared up, and they even have had the pastor coming in to taste the beers.

As for the refurbishment of the building, there were a number of challenges. There is a blog about this for those particularly interested.

The three friends who run the brewery – Per, Peter and Thomas – do not have any formal qualifications in the field, but they are experienced home brewers. Two of them share a flat, the kitchen in the name is the kitchen of their flat, where they have brewed lots of beers.

The aim, now that they have gone professional, is to brew balanced beers, often in a British style, but also with nods to Belgium and Germany. The beers being distributed now are an English bitter, a Kölsh and a Saison. These are beers with moderate amounts of alcohol – and moderate amounts of hops. Everyone else brews American style IPAs, they prefer to go for something else.

The Kölsch – Halvlager – has become very popular for those who want an all-round alternative to lager to serve with food. Fruity, with a pleasant dry mouth feel. The saison is brewed with a fair amount of coriander, and wehat malt and passion fruit is also added. The saison yeast makes it a saison rather than a wit, but it blurs the distinctions between the two styles.

The Sumpen (slang for Sundbyberg) ale is closely related to an English bitter, a fine session beer.

Their beers are, as I said, widely available in the area, there is a map on their web site showing where to find them. The bottles can be delivered to any Systembolaget shop, I don’t know if you have to order a minimum number of bottles.

A well hidden brewery

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Sometimes you get to go to new places. Not new places on the top of your list of where you’d want to go given time and money, just mundane places. Places you have passed by on a train or in a car, places you would not consider as a destination in their own right.

Södertälje is one of those places. A commuter town for Stockholm, a traffic hub, industry, population about 65.000.

We went there last weekend for a youth sports event, and I did not expect much in the way of beer. But then I started googling.

It seemed there was one decent beer bar in town, and their Facebook page told me they even had their own beer.  Well, there is no lack of pale lagers where you can get your own label, but this looked more promising.  Photos showed the bottle and the label. The Fellowship of Hops Brewing.

A new google search gave me a blog of a home brewer, including an e-mail address. I sent of a question: -Do you brew beer for the 137:ans Kök  & Bar? I got a reply back from brewer Thomas, confirming that he had indeed brewed the beer. The beer was brewed in the pub, which has its own licence.

So. We have a new gypsy brewer and a new brewpub, not registered on BA or ratebeer. I like that.

!37:ans is located in the town center, just a few minutes from the railway station.  It is small, I’d estimate it is full with less than fifty customers. This is a sit down kind of place, and on an early Friday evening, most of the guests were eating. A very comprehensive beer list plus blackboards showing the more rare and exclusive offers – but also a few discount bottles.

The 137:ans India PAle Ale has an alcohol content of 7.4.

Light bodied, pleasant malt character. Nice blend of hops – Citra, Amariallo, Nugget and Hallertauer. Grass. white pepper and herbs. Bittersweet. A very decent all around IPA, not trying for the extreme. I hope to see more beers from Fellowship of Hops in the future!

There are plenty of beers to choose from, the list claims 500. Lots of exotic countries for the tickers, a good selection of trappists, and a number of rare American bottles.

You’ll find it on Oxbacksgatan. Well worth a visit, especially if you are staying overnight.

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