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Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

When friend and fellow beer writer Lars Marius suggested an oval weekend in Vilnius, I did not need much encouragement to go along. In the end there were four of us traveling, a convenient crowd.

 

I have been to Vilnius before, but that was ages ago. I did a stint in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Mid Nineties and attended a meeting in Lithuania in 1997. I saw a country trying to get to it feet after many decades of oppression, and I did not envisage it as a tourist destination for a long time.

 

Fast forward to 2015. Two hours flight from Oslo to the capital of a NATO and European Union country. They even adopted the Euro on 1 January.

 

But we were not there for the politics, but for the beer. Lithuania has an unbroken tradition of farmhouse and other small-scale brewing. These beers used to be really hard to find, but now there is a fair number of dedicated beer bars across the city where you find a staggering number of beers.

 

And these beer bars come in a number of shapes and sizes. Some are industrial chic, some are really converted garages tucked inside courtyards. Some are just off the gleaming high street. Some serve rustic food, some serve seriously rustic snacks.

 

The most amazing bar must be Snekutis Uzupio. 20 minutes walk from the old town, this looks like a wooden shack somewhere in the countryside. Wooden interior with lots of dusty memorabilia, a dozen or so beers on tap and a fridge full of mysterious brews.

 

It is extremely convenient to travel with Lars Marius, who has even written a book on Lithuanian beer. He tells us what to order. We drink it.

 

The beer is far away from industrial lager, and it’s not a close relation to, say, Czech lagers, either. The beers tend to be full-bodied, with lots of grain and straw in the flavour. Some of them have notes of honey in the aroma, whether they are brewed with honey or not. We’re talking local yeast varieties here, which you won’t find anywhere on the planet.

I don’t take any serious notes, just enjoy the half liter jugs of beer and the good conversation.

 

 

To be continued….

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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 got an invite to a beer launch in Oslo a few weeks ago, but I could not fit it in my schedule. I answered back that I’d be happy to try the beers anyway, and a week before Christmas I had two cans delivered at home.

The idea is simply to combine two Scandinavian brand names to get extra coverage for both. One of them has many decades of changing fortunes, the other a relative newcomer. Scandinavian Airlines used to be the pinnacle of sophistication ca 1963, while Mikkeller is a big worldwide hit ca 2015.

The airline asked the brewer to make two beers for the business class of their long distance flights. The result: Sky High Wit and Sky High Red Lager.

The beers are supposed to compensate for changes in how we experience food and drink on a plane. I cannot comment on that aspect, but I took the two cans along to our cabin in the mountains, 950 meters above sea level.

The wit is true to type, hazy yellow with a fluffy head. A refreshing beer with tones of citrus and flowers. Light body, easy to drink, should have a broad appeal.

The lager is more robust. It has a lovely deep red color and a beige head. A rich aroma with malt and spices. Full bodied, lots of flavor, including caramel, red currants and burned sugar. EVen if the flavor is a bit diminished in the air, there should be plenty left.

Very decent beers, I am not convinced that they should be reserved for the business class segment.

And if SAS were truly bold, they would throw out Carlsberg and ask Mikkeller to brew a house beer for all their flights.

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IMG_1003

Ingeborg, Dag and Jeanette with Gustav Jørgensen

 

I had the pleasure of attending a beer event earlier this week – another case showing how much the scene has developed and matured. This was held at Cafe Sara, which has established itself as one of the very best beer bars in Oslo. The promotion had been fairly low-key, you are not supposed to do much in the way of beer promotion around here. I was really surprised that there was a long line outside when the door opened, and they managed to squeeze in about eighty of us. And we’re not talking big national or global names in the beer world. On the opposite, we were invited to a tasting with two fairly new breweries, who do not even have bottling plants, Voss Bryggeri and Lindheim Ølkompani.

Picking these two was a very good choice, as they both have stories to tell – and the voices to tell those stories. They both brew on a fairly modest scale – around 1000-1100 liter batches, and they are situated in rural areas with small local markets.

Ingeborg Lindheim  told the story of how she went to San Diego to buy their brewing plant, and how she was told by those who sold it to get in touch with a restaurant owner. This turned out to be one of the owners of the Lost Abbey/Pizza Port group of breweries. They struck up a friendship, and they have been doing collaborations with their brewers ever since. Not bad midwives for a small Norwegian company!

Lindheim is a family farm with fruit-growing as its main income. The turnover is too small to give an income for two people,  so they came up with the idea of starting a brewery as a sideline.

This has been very successful, and their most interesting beers use fruit from the farm. They have a Gose brewed with plums, but the most interesting beer of the evening was their Surt Jubileum. Jubileum is a type of plums, and the beer is a Berliner Weisse. Sort of. There is a fresh, clean sourness laced with the plums. Stronger than the usual Berliner Weisse at about 4.5%, yet a feathery light body. They didn’t just buy lactic bacteria from a brewery supply shop, they used live yogurt as a starter.

Lindheim and Voss back to back at Grünerløkka beer fest this summer

 

Voss was represented by Jeanette Lillås and Dag Jørgensen, two fo the three who run the brewery. They have kept their day jobs, meaning they have hired people to do the brewing. They are still very much hands on, however, developing new beers and marketing what they have to offer. Voss is one of the rural communities where home brewing has been kept alive, and they use the local yeast kveik in several of their beers. The yeast has been tweaked a bit, and it now gives a more flavourful beer than when they first tried it out. Their Vossing beer has even more of the traditional, it is brewed with an infusion of juniper twigs, adding a wooden dryness to the beer. (For more on kveik and traditional brewing in Voss, check out Lars Marius Garshol’s fantastic blog. )

Voss also have an Eldhus series of beers. Eldhus are small buildings used for smoking meat, sausages etc, particularly mutton. Dag has another use for the Eldhus, he smokes hops. To make this even more exotic, they pick wild hops for this. A delicate smoky aroma is then transferred to the beer, much more discreet than when the malt is given the same treatment.

The beers from Lindheim and Voss are hard to find, in Oslo Cafe Sara is the most likely place, but Grünerløkka Brygghus or Crowbar have also had their beers. They do not bottle any of their beers today, Lindheim plan to start bottling next year. But they both have been successful in introducing growlers, meaning you can pop in on thursday or friday afternoon and have your growler filled with beers blow 4.7%, fresh from the tank. The rest of the beer is kegged, and this has turned out to be a good format for distribution.

The second wave of Norwegian craft brewing is starting to come of age. I’m happy to see that some of them develop a clear profile. I think that will be needed in a market when everyone with a garage move from home brewing to selling their IPAs. You need a clear identity to survive. And I hope this identity will be mostly connected to unique beers, not just graphic profiles and good networking abilities.

And watch out for a Voss beer brewed with smalahove next year. That is cured and smoked sheep’s head. Extreme beers just got a new dimension.

The Voss growler

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(English text at the end)

20 minutter med buss på gode veier bringer deg til Follebu i Gausdal kommune, et sted jeg må innrømme jeg ikke hadde noe forhold til fra før. Jeg prøver imidlertid å følge med på alle etableringer av mikrobryggerier i Norge, så jeg visste det var aktivitet på stedet. Saloon 7null4 er navnet, og da jeg tok kontakt på e-post ble jeg ønsket velkommen. Jeg fikk til og med tilbud om å bli hentet på bussholdeplassen, noe som kom godt med på en sur oktoberettermiddag.

Jeg blir tatt imot av Amund Heggen og Vidar Kalløkken, som entusiastisk forteller om puben og bryggeriet.

Amund har kontroll i baren

Dette er en hobbyaktivitet for de tre involverte, men det betyr ikke at det ikke er lagt ned mange arbeidstimer i prosjektet. Bryggeri og pub er innredet i et uthus, der både låve og fjøs er tatt i bruk. Man kan bare gjette hvor mange timer som er brukt til nedvasking, snekring, isolering, maling og innredning. Her er det plass til opp til 400 gjester, og det er travelt fra nå og frem til nyttår med julebord og andre arrangementer. Det serveres Ringnes pils også, på en typisk kveld går det 250 liter eget øl og litt mer Ringnes.

Det er av og til åpne pubkvelder, men det lokale markedet er begrenset, så det aller meste av omsetningen er lukkede selskaper.

Fra melk til øl – Vidar har hovedansvar for bryggingen

Bryggeri og lagringstanker er også preget av ombruk, men det er bestilt nytt utstyr fra Kina som vil gi bedre kapasitet.

Vidar er den som driver mest med brygging, og han kan tilby smaksprøver på et stort spekter av øl. Her er det lyse lagerøl, men også pale ale, IPA, en red ale og en brown ale. Dette er ikke ekstremøl, men varianter som skal treffe et bredt publikum – og det har de lyktes med. Det er spesielt imponerende at nivået er så godt når Vidar forteller at ingen av dem har drevet med hjemmebrygging før de satte i gang!

Ølene ble tatt godt imot på en ølfestival på Tretten i sommer, et av dem ble faktisk kåret til publikumsfavoritt.

Så langt er ølene bare å få kjøpt på deres egen pub. Men det ligger en søknad om løyve hos Helsedirektoratet, og da satser man på å levere på flaske til utesteder på Lillehammer. Et sted å spørre er Nikkers.

En spesialitet de serverer i tillegg til ølet er meskebrød – et velsmakende flatbrød bakt med mesk fra bryggingen. En idé for andre bryggerier?

Det begynner å bli en del bryggerier i dette området nå, man kunne kanskje vurdere litt organisert ølturisme?

Mye arbeid når fjøs skal bli til pub

20 minutes by bus from Lillehammer brings you to the small community Follebu and Saloon 7null4. Three enthusiasts have started a brewpub in an old barn. It is a small scale operation, they have all kept their day jobs, but with new equipment coming in, they hope to expand a bit. There is a licence pending to sell beer to others, and they have a few places in Lillehammer ready to sell their beers.

They brew a wide range of beers, lager, pale ale, IPA, porter etc. This is not the place to come for extreme beers, but what you get is fresh, tasty and with more flavour than the industrial brewers usually offer.

They brew 250 liter batches, mostly with an ABV of about 4.5%. Well worth a visit, but get in touch with them first, as they do not have regular opening hours.

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A small piece of Paradise in Hell, according to the cash register.

I spent the best years of my life in this house. Well, that is exaggerating, But this was back when the world was young, when politics were important and you could mobilize thousands of students for a political agenda.

30 years on, Studentersamfundet i Trondhjem – the Student Society in Trondheim – is still thriving. It was always a place for a lot of cultural activities and parties, and it still is. Way back then, the drinks were limited to the local Dahls Pils and a cheap house wine, but they have moved with the times.

I have mentioned my visits to the on site brewery. They have expanded, and there are now four house beers on tap in their dedicated beer pub, Daglighallen. And this is the most dedicated beer pub I have ever seen. They serve beer and soft drinks. Period. Now wine, no alcopops of fake ciders. Not even a bag of peanuts.

Me like.

Sitting in the bar for a few hours on a Saturday night tells me that very few ask for the generic pils – the Dahls. (Often ordered in Norway by raising the number of fingers you need to order the number of half liter glasses you want.) They sell a lot of pale lagers, sure, but there is also a good trade in foreign and imported craft beer. And many customers have heard about the in-house brewery and ask for their beers.

I’d say this is among the top ten beer bars in Norway. And you won’t find their well made beers anywhere else. Check out their opening times before you go.

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