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This winter has seen a heated discussion about the acess to Norwegian supermarket shelves for small producers of beer and food. We are down to three groups of retailers controlling 99% of the market, and I would not be surprised if we end up with just two within five years or so. A major reason for this is the customs barriers, particularly for meat and diary products, which makes it impossible for European retail chains to establish themselves in Norway and enjoying the benefits of low costs for Pan-European products. LIDL gave it a try, but gave up after a few years.

The smallest of the three, REMA 1000, has, to a lot of ridicule, decided to cut down on the number of breweries they want to give access to their shelves. The big acror benefiting from this move, Carlberg, is sitting very quietly, hoping no-one will notice the elephant in the room.

This has, of course, been discussed a lot on Facebook, and I agreed to chair an event celebrating the diversity of Norwegian beer as a contrast. This was arranged by Gulating Trondheim, one of a chain of specialist beer shops who now number almost 20 outlets.

We decided to focus on beer for  the Trondheim region, Trøndelag, and ended up with beers from 21 breweries. We could have included more, but 22 samples was probably enough. (There were two beers from both To Tårn and Røros).

 

These were the breweries:

Austmann
Bryggeriet Frøya
Fjord Bryggeriet
Hognabrygg
Inederøy Gårdsbryggeri

Kolbanussen Mikrobryggeri
Klostergården
Lierne Øl
Moe Gårdsbryggeri
Namdals Øl
Reins Kloster
Rodebak
Røros Bryggeri
Røros Bryggeri
Stjørdalsbryggeriet
Stokkøy Bryggeri
Storm Brygghus
To Tårn
Valset Gårdsbryggeri
Ølve på Egge

Tommy at Gulating was the one really doing the job here, and it was a great afternoon. Børge Barlindhaug, head brewer at To Tårn brewery was also present, bringing samples of his most exclusive beer. This was a beer brewed with the bacteria culture used for the blue mould cheese Selbu blå, which turned out great.

Just a few days before the event, it was announced that Mathallen, the food hall where the Gulating shop is situated, have to move out of their premises to make way for a discount store. In fact, out beer tasting was the last evenet taking place at Mathalle. Too bad, but a nice way to say farewell.

And if you know of somewhere in Trondheim that could be suitable for a beer shop, pleas get in touch with Tommy!

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julequadNorwegian Christmas beers have traditionally been sweet, malty beers, a relation to German Bock beers brewed for the same time of the year.

December is a month when we tend to buy a lot of beer, meaning there is now a broad spectrum of Christmas beers, covering lots of styles.

Some of my favorite seasonal brews from Norwegian breweries are in the strong Belgian style. Kinn has brewed Tomasmesse for several years, and Austmann offers Stille Natt. This year there is also an excellent quad from St. Hallvards. A newcomer is also this gem, Nøgne Ø Julequad. I don’t know if it is available in other countries.

If you want to pair this with food, a rich and mature cheese and some walnuts should do the trick.

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Stockings and socks could mean two things around Christmas – stockings to be filled with candies and toys or stockings instead of more creative gifts.

The one on the left is a Stocking Stuffer from Little Brother brewery here in Oslo. It is a spiced red ale. The spice is prominent enough to make it most suitable for puddings and cakes. Available from their beers shop and growler fill Growleriet.

The one of the right is to be put under the tree. I found it in a bookshop in Berlin. A fun gift, though I have a suspicion the Little Brother beer is far better! And if you want spend a little more, order a growler with fresh beer to be picked up just before Christmas. There are a number of growler fills around the country now, including brewery outlets at Qvart, Graff, Lindheim and Voss.

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I did a book promotion at Gummibaren in Drammen last night. No standing ovations, but a good conversation with those in attendance.

Drammen is half an hour from Oslo by train. The town itself has a population of about 65000, but if you count the surrounding communities you could double that. A sizeable town in the Norwegian scale of things.

Gummibaren has a fine range of beers to offer – all of them local. On tap you find local lager brewer Aass, the oldest brewery in the country. They have established their own micro brewery, and three of those beers are available, including a lager brewed with fresh spruce shots.

Additionally you find beers from Eiker Ølfabrikk, Hegg Ølkompani and Haandbryggeriet.

There is a good selection of beers from Aja Bryggeri, too. I really enjoyed this brand new IPA, really fresh and brewed with a liberal dose of lingonberries. Would be splendid with Norwegian Christmas fare.

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Today I link to an article in the Spectator. Ted Goldsmith Points out that there is a good reason for many pub closures – they were dreadful.

A landlord can preside over civilised ambience — with proper beer, no fruit machines and chairs made for comfort — or he can pump dance music through the stereo and offer two-for-one shots of Jagermeister to punters seated on working recreations of medieval torture devices. Of course, some pub ‘managers’ are only obeying orders — but really good pubs are run by people who know what they are doing and can call the shots.

 

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The beer scene in Berlin has been developing fast over the last few years, with micro breweries, contract breweries and beer bars popping up all over the city. I’ll get back to that.

Today I’ll just mention the one factor that will really change the European beer scene, the Stone Berlin brewery.

I hope to get back to presenting the brewery itself later. Today I’ll just recommend vising the bar and restaurant. This is an old brick building converted in a grand manner, with space for hundreds of people. When the outside space is developed, this will also be an splendid place on summer evenings.

You don’t have to splurge on a meal, just sit down at the bar and sample some of the beers. Some are exclusives brewed here, some are barrel aged rarities from the Stone catalog. Some are guest brews from across Europe.

A total of about 65 beers on tap, if I remember correctly, so it could easily turn into a long evening.

A gift shop with their canned beers and various merch, too.

It’s in southern Berlin, some distance from the nearest U-bahn stop, but there are buses. Google maps will help you find the way.

The really good news for everyone, if we are lucky to get to Berlin or not, is that we get fresh beer from the Berlin canning line across Europe. Right now there is a Christmas stout available.

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I found this sign in Berlin – a Kietzkneipe is a local pub in Berlin slang. Sometimes that’s what you need. With your standard beer, some local heroes to hang out with. And if you ask them politely, you might convince them to order some bottles of your favorite brews. Ask some brewery reps to deliver a few samples.

I’m afraid I don’t have any local pubs in the neighborhood. But there  is one close to work I should step by more often. With a fine range of bottled beers and sidewalk seating in the summer.

That’s a new year’s resolution for me.

I used to go to London in early December every year, and if you want a broad range of English beers at one place, including hard to find cask ales, this is the place to go. Good, inexpensive snack food, sale of books and memorabilia, obscure beers from the Continent and stronger beers to take home by the bottle.

This is organized by the East London and City branch of CAMRA, and is staffed by volunteers. Well worth a visit if you are in town.

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“And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).

We all know this, of course. And Norwegian craft brewery Færder Mikrobryggeri decided to brew one beer named after all the three gifts as their seasonal offering. Gull, Røkelse and Myrra in Norwegian.

Røkelse, frankincense, has a Norwegian name with association to smoke, so this beer had to have some smoke malt. It ended up at the top of the list at the most comprehensive Christmas beer tasting, hosted by regional newspaper Adresseavisen.

Færder Mikrobryggeri is a family business, with Mathias Krüger as head brewer. He is educated as a medical doctor, put has put his career on hold to follow his passion for brewing. His parents are also very involved in the business.

You’d be very lucky to find a set of these beers now, but other Færder beers are broadly available in Norway and on the Color Line ferries between Norway and Denmark. And during  the summer moths, they have a pub in the back yard of the brewery in Tønsberg, a town about an hour by train from Oslo. And it’s right by the railway station.

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I aim to publish short daily pieces during December, let’s see how it works.

I haven’t read Henry Jeffreys Empire of Booze so far, but it is certainly on my own wish list. It was recommended on the BBC Food Programme (you should subscribe to their podcast)

As a side interest, this book was successfully crowd funded, but that should not distract you from the  contents. This is about how Britain created the first global drinks. The India Pale Ale is in it, obviously, and I don’t know how this retelling will hold up to the scrutiny of historians like Martyn.

But what caught my interest was the story about Sir Kenelm Digby, the inventor of the modern wine bottle. It made possible the production of champagne, but they started out as bottles strong enough for sparkling cider. The cold climate made it impossible to make domestic wine, and wars with France, Spain and the Netherlands put a stop to imports. Cider was then embraced as a substitute. You can read this fascinating chapter online.

From the book:

Other members of the Royal Society in London took an interest in apple growing, cider making and putting fizz in the bottles. The greatest minds in the country turned themselves to perfecting this home-grown product. It was soon noted that the bubbles would be all the more vigorous if extra sugar was added to fuel the secondary fermentation. John Beale from Herefordshire cider country and formerly of King’s College Cambridge read a paper to the Royal Society on 10th December 1662 in which he describes putting a ‘walnut of sugar’ into bottled cider. This is about 20g of sugar, roughly the amount of sugar (‘dosage’) added to modern dry champagne.

You can buy this from amazon, but the authors Unbound page offers more alternatives.