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stone-1

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.

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We had decided that Oranienburg was a promising destination for a day out from Berlin. A shining renovated palace, hopefully a picturesque town, too. And I had a lunchtime spot penciled in.

It’s about an hour’s train ride from central Berlin by the rather slow S-bahn, with nothing spectacular to watch along the way. Some of this is rather drab DDR suburbia, probably better to be seen in midsummer.

The town of Orianienburg is not much to write home about, either. Seems like half of the shops and cafes on the main street at named Am Schloss, showing where the focus is.

The palace goes back to the 17the century, and our guide took us through the centuries, starting with prince electors who were pretentious enough to make themselves kings of Prussia. Beautiful tapestries and paintings have survived burning, looting and warfare, while there is not much original of the building itself.

Photographs are not rnormally allowed, but when we were shown the beautiful 30 liter beer glass (with a small tap on the side for cheaters), I asked in my best German if they could make an exception. Permission granted.

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I bought a booklet in the souvernir shop on the way out – Beer and winemaking in Brandenburg. The man behind the counter gave me a piece of advice:

-Frankly, the wines of the state of Brandenburg are not up to much. But there is some really good beer here, I would recommend the Schwarzbier.

Time for lunch at the Alte Fleischerei, as the name implies, the old butcher’s shop. Very good food, I had a slow boiled shoulder of mutton – Lammhaxe. With this a glass of Oranier, a local beer from a brewery as yet undocumented on Ratebeer. But  frankly, the beer was not up too much. So I wouldn’t make an excursion just for that!.

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There is no lack of beer books, even in Norwegian. Some retell the old tales, some are national versions of multilingual books. But, once in a while, something genuinely unique comes along.

Author Lars Marius Garshol (disclaimer: I am proud to call him my friend, even though I have not been involved in this project) is a well-known name in beer circles. He has been blogging in English for a dozen years, illustrated with his excellent photos, sharing intelligent journalism and analysis.

He has also done an amazing job documenting Lithuanian traditional brewing, in spite of linguistic challenges, resulting in a self-published book in English – Lithuanian Beer – A Rough Guide.

But now he has looked closer to home, where there are other treasures to be documented. The result is just out: the book Gårdsøl –literally Farmhouse Ale.

Some of his source material has been published before, but mostly in obscure and long out of print publications. More important, he manages to tell the story both on the micro and the macro level. This is done by alternating the style of the chapters of the book between journalism/participant observation and historical or other scientific overviews.

Lars Marius manages to convey his great enthusiasm for the brewers he meets and the traditions they share with him. And while the broader picture is well written and educational, it is the living tradition, often spiced with local dialect words that illustrate the process, that makes this book really shine.

The book gives an overview of brewing in various parts of the country, climatic conditions and traditions vary widely. Norway has a tough climate, and wheat was never an important crop until very recently. That means that barley and oats were important for food in most of the country, and in lean times there was not much left for brewing.

The book is richly illustrated, both by diagrams of brewing processes and the author’s photographs. This visualizes both what he observes today and it gives the opportunity to show old brew houses, beautiful drinking vessels and more.

If you want to try brewing in the traditional way, or at least get inspired by it, there is plenty of documentation for that as well.

Two important aspects of Norwegian traditional brewing have been kept alive in different parts of the country, both described in detail in the book.

One of them can be found in the fjords and valleys of the Western coast, with a epicenter at Voss – kveik. These are local yeast strains, some of them in symbiosis with bacteria, which behave in mysterious ways. They work at high temperatures and give complex aromas in the beer.

The other is the malt of the Stjørdal region. Farmers grow their own barley and malt them in small scale malt houses. The malting takes place using smoke and heat from local alder wood, giving a pronounced smoky flavor to the beer.

Could I ask for more? The original manuscript was much longer than the published book, so perhaps a directors cut as an e-book sometime in the future?

And yes, this important part of the Norwegian brewing heritage also calls for an English edition. But, knowing the author, he probably wouldn’t want anyone else to translate it. We’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, check out his blog, where there is a lot of information to be found in English.

And maybe we’ll do a blog collab about the commercially available beers using stjørdalsmalt or kveik, Lars Marius?