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Talas

Jeremy presents his beers

 

Last weekend I invited myself to a beer festival. Talas is the house brewery at Basarene, the beautifully restored old covered market in Hamar, now an organic cafe/restaurant.

I knew about the brewery, they are in my book, but they don’t have any distribution ousdie their home town, so I found this a good opportunity. As Jonas from Eiker Ølfabrikk was driving, I even managed to hitch a ride.

The festival was a low key affair, with a few selected guest breweries. Some of them were local, all of them from Southern Norway.

The beers from Talas are not made for the beer geek market, aiming instead for a more broad appeal. The one I enjoyed most was the American style lager. Incredibly fruity and inviting aroma, yet light and easy to drink. In the basemanet there are a few wooden barrels with imperial stout – hope to get an opportunity to try it!

Saloon

Beer from the saloon

Other local breweries were Saloon 7null4 from Follebu. I visited them a few years ago, they have invested in New equipemnt and og for a broader distribution in the near future. I did not get to sample their beers, but as they now do bottling, I hope to fix that later.

Tingnes Spiseri is located in an island in lake Mjøsa, the easiest way to get there from Hamar is by boat. The brewery is a part of their family-owned and -run restaurant. My favourite of their beers was the IPA.

Tingnes

Try a beer from Tingnes!

Cervisiam brought their Jungle Juice and Toxic ALEvenger, and they seemed to be very popular – they sold out fast!

Hegg Ølkompani is the new name of the brewery at Svenkefjøset in Lier. They brought two New beers, a Vienna lager and a blonde ale, both a 4.7% ABV. We are talking about beers for a broad Public here, I would say they should aim for something with more caracter to stand out from the big players.

Eiker Ølfabrikk brought a colloboration with Cervisiam, a raspberry saison. Lovely berry flavour that blends in with the beer, will be out in bottles soon. I also enjoyed the linganberry wit, brewed with saison yeast. Lots of tart/sour character, would be nice to pair with food!

Hamar is perhaps not the epicenter of the Norwegian beer scene, but events like this really contribute to expose people the wide range of flavors available. It was sold out, so I hope there will be more festivals in the future!

Eiker

Why not try our lingonberry beer?

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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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Færder Mikrobryggeri building

If you write a book aimed at the Christmas gift market, there isn’t too much you can do to promote it in the new year. At least not to a general public.

On the other hand, it opens new possibilities. There might be a spinoff book this year, there might be a new edition next year.

And beiong a published writer opens doors. To do beer tastings, do other event like beer launches or talks at festivals. For money. Not big money, but at least I get my expenses paid.

So I’ll do at least four paid events in the Oslo area over the next two months. I’ll try to report back on how this works out. So far I’ve enjoyed my stay in the limelight, I thought I was more comfortable behind the keyboard.

And I try to visit even more micro breweries this year. I’ve mentioned Grünerløkka Brygghus, but I have also spent two splendid afternoons visiting Færder Mikrobryggeri  (in Tønsberg) and Dronebrygg in central Oslo.

Færder Mikrobryggeri is a family business, which starde up last summer. I talked to Tone, who is working full time in the brewery alongside her son Mathias. The have a broad range of their own beers, which have been very well received. They are located in an area where lots of people spend their summer vacations and weekends. The challenge is to get their beers on sale in some of the cafes and restaurants serving beer al fresco to locals and visitors during the summer months. Contract brewing, including the beers for the Kolonihagen restaurants, will help secure the income they need.

Tone is proud of what they have accomplished at Færder Mikrobryggeri

Dronebrygg is many things at once. Thery brew no nonsense lagers and light ales with a broad appeal, including a Mexian style lagers others might raise their eyebrows over, as well as more challenging brews. I met Daniel and Anders over a few samples of their beers.

Dronebrygg is located in the basement of Kunstnernes Hus, an art institution. Ther brewers are artists themselves, and some beers are brewed as art projects or as a part of an art project.  Kunstnernes Hus has a terrace overlooking a leafy park, close to the Royal Palace, a great place to enjoy a Kölsch or a pale ale. As I write this, the future for the cafe/restaurant there is uncertain, but I hope there will continue to be an outlet there for Dronebrygg. Remember to enquire for more quirky beers with ingredients like seaweed, mushrooms, herbs and fruit, some of them one offs. Their recently renewed web page is a good place to start if you want to seek out their beers.

Beer as art as well as no nonsense refreshments at Dronebrygg.

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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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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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