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When I was invited to do a few promotional events for my book in Bergen, I welcomed the opportunity. This meant some hours in a shopping mall signing books, but also taking part in a beer tasting with an additional opportunity for book sales.

Arriving at Bergen airport, I was picked up by Sammy, who kindly drove me to my first stop, the Gulating beer shop, located in a shopping mall some distance from the city center. But we made a short detour, allowing me a brief visit to 7 Fjell, one of the craft breweries being successful, also on a national scale. No price for the scenery, they are located on a no nonsense industrial estate, but the beer they brew is impeccable. They are taking over a larger slice of the building than they are using today, so there will be a tasting room and other facilities in the future.

Helge gave me the ten minute tour. 7 Fjell is doing very well, right now the fermentation tanks are the bottlenecks of the brewing.

Helge at 7 Fjell

Helge at 7 Fjell

Onwards to Gulating, where I spent three hours signing books. Not a huge success, but a trickle of customers. The shop, however, sold a respectable amount of beer  while I was there. The emergence of at first good beer shelves in Norwegian supermarkets and then specialist beer shops selling beers below the legal limit of 4.7% is way beyond what I had expected a few years ago. The Gulating shops buy their beers directly from the breweries, meaning they can offer lower prices to the customer than supermarkets. They also have a great range of beers from the smallest breweries, which are hard to find without extensive travelling.

Gulating bottle shop

Gulating Bergen

A quick check in at my hotel before arrival at UNA bar and restaurant, where I was invited to present my book at a tasting of vintage Christmas beers. This was hosted by Stefan, who has a good routine of doing events like this, I tried to add my bit to the proceedings.

UNA is the place with the most impressive tap list in Bergen, of particular interest when I visited was that they had a home brew on tap. They have their own brewing permit, but so far they just have a tiny setup in the basement. Their first beer is a Light Stout – as opposed to a Dark Stout. Highly drinkable with some coffee and cocoa notes, slightly sweet. Brewed to have a broad appeal, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Across the street to the next brewpub, Bryggeriet, a part of the huge bar/restaurant complex Zachariasbryggen.  I was visiting briefly this summer, with a serious case of bad timing, it was a week before the first beers were due to be released, and none of them were ready.  I had better luck this time, even finding brewer Gareth behind the bar and ready for a chat.

Juleøl tap

Bryggeriets Christmas beer

The original idea was to have a range of four fairly standard regular beers, this has evolved into six of their own beers on tap most of the time, and a wish to be more playful. I sampled Snøwit, a fairly strong wit, which I enjoyed, particularly since it was low on the coriander scale. Their Juleøl is a spiced porter.  My favourite was the Flagship IPA -a great allrounder that would work well both with food and as refreshment.  Grass, citrus and discreet maltiness.

My last stop was the third brewpub, Baran Café, where I had a nice chat with Ali. Well, technically it is not a brewpub, since the brewing is done elsewhere, but he brews his own beer and sells it in his café.  I had a beer, but I’m afraid there are no notes from its consumption. It is a quiet place to hang out, make sure you visit if you are in town.

These rambling notes do not do justice to the Bergen beer scene, but I hope it might inspire tickers and drinkers to make a visit. Bergen has established itself firmly on the Norwegian beer map.

Note: The trip was paid by my publisher, and I did not receive any compensation from the establishments mentioned apart from some beer samples.

Baran sign

A logo appropriate for Bergen

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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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TrondhjemsamplesBeer blogging and beer book writing are two different worlds. When I blog, I write, find an appropriate photo, run the spell checker, do some metatagging and push the publish button. There is even an automatic tweet function.

Book writing has a number of different stages. Fact finding, the actual typing, finding illustrations, proofreading, page proofs etc.

And then the promotional stunts.

The book is due from the printers Friday 23 October. The same day I will be on stage at the What’s Brewing Festival in Stavanger. I am trying to figure out what to say to the crowd that afternoon, I hope to make this a conversation between me and somebody else, I’m not very good at standing up talking.

Thursday the following week has the Christmas beer launch of the Norwegian Brewer’s Association, where my publisher has a stand among the beer stalls. Then the last plane of the evening to Trondheim, where I am due in a radio studio the next morning at eight, talking about the beers of the region. I hope to fit in a newspaper journalist at lunchtime (though he doesn’t know it yet). Onwards to the Trondheim Public Library, where I give them a copy of my book. Good for Facebook, hopefully for their Facebook page as well.

A tasting in the evening with breweries and beers from the local area at Mathallen Trondheim and a signing session at the Gulating beer shop the next morning.

The week following I’ll have an event at Verkstedet in Oslo, with a capacity of 50-60. This will be a combined book launch and tasting with five breweries presenting one beer each and joining me on stage to talk about them.

I hope I will convince a few confused souls to buy the book after all this. But what do I know about publishing, marketing and what have you. I’m just a beer drinker.

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A number of universities and research institutes in Norway has an annual event to promote research. It’s a challenge to find new ways to present what’s going on. This year the University of Oslo has the food and drinking habits of the Vikings as one of the topics.

Botanist Anneleen Kool at the Museum of Natural History has studied the plants and herbs found in the preserved Viking ships. She is also a home brewer, and in cooperation with Kjetil Johnsen at Grünerløkka Brygghus, just a stone’s throw from the museum, she has recreated a Viking beer. The beer is brewed with smoked malt, juniper twigs and yarrow. There is also hops in the beer – archeological finds dating back to AD 800 shows that hops were in use – presumably in beer.

Anneleen

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Last week I was at a low. No photos were coming in, I really doubted if I was able to follow the schedule. Now the dropbox icon on my computer is living its own life, telling me about documents popping in.

And then there are all the great beer people getting back to me, explaining why they are busy. Most do brewing as a second job. One of the brewers is having a full-time job, running for mayor in her municipality and still finds time to brew and distribute beer. She sends e-mails at five in the morning. One is a sheep farmer, and explained that he had to get through the lambing first. Those who have hotels, catering or restaurants have one of their busiest seasons during May and June.

So my next challenge is to process all the material, to get back to those who have given their input and make sure I got things right.

But the second half of this week, I’ll be doing something completely different.

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The German broadcaster ARD has an interesting web article – audio, too, if your German is up to it. The story is about the growing Craft beer scene in Vienna, well worth reading.

What I particularly liked is how the Austrian newcomers to the scene establish their own terminology. There have been discussions in English and other languages on how to describe beer producers like Mikkeller and Evil Twin, who don’t have their own equipment, but rents capacity from others.

Gypsy brewers is one suggestion.

In the radio spot from Vienna, they use the term Wanderbrauer. I like that. It echoes from earlier times, when craftsmen travelled and set up shop.  It echoes Patrick Leigh Fermor.

But it does not translate well into English. Not really into Norwegian, either.

On the other hand,  they also use the expression Fernsehbiere about the dull industrial beers. TV beers. We could use that.

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Fancy an Austmann beer?

It’s beer festival time. I try not to envy people flying off to Bergen, Borefts, Stavanger – or planning for a week of drinking at the 2015 Copenhagen Beer Celebration.

I limited myself to the Grünerløkka Brygghus festival last weekend, and I made a point of being there early on Saturday afternoon. Lots of friendly brewers represented, particularly nice to have a chat with the guys from out of town – Austmann, Lindheim, Voss, and Halden. The festival took place in the brewery itself, giving a nice, rustic, down-to-earth atmosphere. They have chosen to keep this a small event, year after year, and as a drinker, I applaud this.

Voss and Lindheim. The plums were as good as the brews!

Sensible sampler sizes, and lots of interesting beers. A very pleasant raspberry gose from Lindheim, a spicy 13% imperial stout on cask from Nøgne Ø, two wild yeast beers from Halden. But the star of the show was the traditional ale from Voss, brewed with an old yeast strain that’s been used in home brewing in the area and was saved in the nick of time. The beer is rather sweet and malty, as they have used a very low amount of hops to let the yeast be the star.I’ll have to get back to this one to make better tasting notes.

Several of the breweries report good sales of takeaway beers, filling up growlers at their brewery shop.

 

 

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