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I was sipping a beer ( a very nice brown ale, since you ask) at Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeri, one of the Oslo brewpubs, some days ago. Their blackboard shows their range of beers on tap, six of their own, the rest hand picked from around the globe. Wheat or wit, IPAs, pale ales, usually at least a sour ale, an imperial stout, maybe a barley wine.

But, for the last six months or so, they also have their own pilsener. They have always had Hansa pils, but it is not promoted in any way. An industrial alternative for those who get too scared of all this craft stuff. The Hansa pils is not selling much, though. The regulars want the home brews or the hand picked imports on the blackboard. Their own lager is another story. The barman told me they have pulled it form the menu at times to stimulate the sale of their other beers.

If you want Norwegian craft lager to take home, there are a few really good ones available from micros like Lillehammer Bryggeri and Sundbytunet, but they have a very small distribution.

Lervig started out as a lager brewery, way before Mike Murphy arrived to start making top fermented beers. Their pilsener varieties did not impress anyone back then. I’ve been told that they are much improved now. I will give them a try, but there is a lot of marketing work to be done as well, perhaps integrating a pilsnener and a few other lager varieties into their series of well designed bottles and cans.

But the one to look out for is further north on the west coast. Kinn has announced that they are reducing their range of beers to concentrate on a core range. But among those core beers, there will also be a pilsener. Knowing the quality of Espen’s beers,  I’m sure this will be a winner. But they might have to consider the price level. I’m not sure how much the Norwegian consumers are willing to pay for a bottle of pils, however good it is. We are used to drinking our pale lagers in larger quantities than the darker and stronger beers, so it’s a matter of keeping the price of a six-pack down to a reasonable level.

I know I’ve been lazy.

But I’m keeping quite busy elsewhere, particularly on the Facebook page of the blog, which has turned out to be a great success. But more about that later.

If you look on a map of the population density in Norway, you’ll see that we get more and more dispersed the further you go to the north. This means, obviously, that there are fewer breweries in Northern Norway as well, even with the present boom.

But there are some promising developments, notably Bådin in Bodø, which started brewing just over a year ago.

Bodø has some brewing heritage, with Bodø Aktiebryggeri established in 1897, eventually gobbled up by E.C. Dahls which today is a part of Carlsberg. They officially closed in 2000, though the Nordlandspils is still a brand name in the Carlsberg portfolio, misleadingly marketed as “local beer”.

There was also a brewpub in town, Bryggerikaia, which was rather short-lived. My guess is that they were five years ahead of their time, similar to Møllebyen in Moss.

This means there were no local beer available when Bådin started in 2013. They were a bunch of friends who did this for fun in their spare time. Two of the six founders actually live in Oslo, but they commute home to help out several times a month.

The local reception has been very positive, both in local pubs and in Vinmonopolet. They are slowly getting some national distribution, and, starting 1 February they have a full-time brewer. The capacity with the present setup is 800 liters six times per month.

The beers so far have been pale ales, IPAs and saisons, all of them of a very respectable quality.  My favourite so far is Moloen, a hoppy saison. PEaches and flowers in the nose. Well balanced with notes of grapefruit and oranges, just the right amount of funk. You should also look out for their Reinsåsen series of single hop IPAs.

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!

There is a fairly strong public support for the government alcohol stores in Norway and Sweden. (I don’t know enough about public opinion in Iceland or Finland to discuss their situation). There are, however, some issues to consider when you move a particular group of legal foodstuffs out of general distribution.

I have given some quite positive coverage of the Swedish  Systembolaget shops in the past. Their bigger shops have a fine range of beers, while the smaller ones are more hit-and-miss. But these shops exist within a political and legal framework, and there is a broad consensus to keep them. And the border trade keeps the prices at decent levels, at least compared to Norway.

But there is one aspect that provokes me. That is when Systembolaget moves into the political domain to argue for the status quo. A recent case is an interview with the chairman of the board of Systembolaget on the web site of the Swedish temperance movement, where he tries to ridicule those in favour of direct sale of beer and wine from small scale producers.

But we are talking about much more than a newspaper article here. It’s a governmental monopoly that spends a lot of taxpayer’s money to convince public opinion that things should stay as they are.

Systembolaget, Lund

Far better than in Denmark?

I quote the Swedish columnist Mattias Kroon in Sydsvenskan (the translation is probably not 100%, but you get the point):

Systembolaget foresaw many years ago that one might question the role of the monopoly for competiton reasons. They therefore had to run a publicity campaign to give the impression that they had public opinion on their side. In 2002, Systembolaget gave the contract to the company Forsman & Bodenfors.

The aim of this was to avoid that you and me and the rest of the people don’t get the idea that we could buy wine in cozy little wine stores, in cheese shops – or why not as take-away in restaurants. Like in all other civilized countries. The monopoly and the PR company wanted us to feel that such a behavior is a bit dangerous, threatening and unsafe. With a huge budget they managed to form public opinion, give a slanted message, convince – in short: to manipulate us to approve of Systembolaget as such and to make us believe that everyone else feels the same. Well written stories, selected statistics, good commercials. Just what any other gigantic company dose to promote its message and its brand name. Fair enough.

The difference is that the Systembolaget message about the splendor of the monopoly is allowed to stand there, unchallenged. There is no equal competitor or organization to match their promotional budget. Legal? It seems so. Democratic? Doubtful. When a state monopoly runs heavy marketing we usually call it propaganda. And you pay for it. With your money and your freedom of choice.

(There is more in the original article, go ahead and read it, use Google translate if needed).

Vinmonopolet in Norway does not play an active role in the political arena in the same way. They do not have large posters in their stores boasting of the many lives  that have been saved because of the monopoly. I hope it stays so.

If the health authorities and the government wants to argue for the present system, they are free to do so. But let’s not muddle the discussion by having the monopoly companies as political actors in their own right. It’s not only a matter of principle. As we see in Sweden, this arrogance may also cause a backfire.

South of the border: Norwegians waiting for Systembolaget to open.

 

 

Mosaic Single Hop IPA

Single hop IPA from Kolonihagen

 

There are several companies who claim to be the first organic (økologisk) brewery in Norway. Reins Kloster in Rissa, an hour’s drive from Trondheim is probably the winner. Their beers have a growing distribution in restaurants, bars and shops in the region, check their web site for a list. Close behind is Kolonihagen in Oslo. They have sold beers in their cafes/restaurants since last summer, and they have now signed an agreement for supermarket sales. Kolonihagen is opening a new restaurant in Hamar in a few days, which will also feature a micro brewery. Their brewery is not set up yet, but they aim to have their own pilsener on tap.

There are two more making their first brews right now – Eiker ølfabrikk in Mjøndalen, near Drammen and Grim & Gryt in Hareid on the western coast.

This has not been a major trend in Norway so far. Our farming is small scale compared to the rest of Europe, and most consumers (myself included) feel that the food generally available in the shops is healthy enough.

But this is a niche market, and I think there is a potential here. And, if you insist on buying organic food, it makes more sense that it is produced regionally, or, at least, nationally and not sent halfway around the globe.

Barley field

The Godfather of beer blogging, Alan in Canada, has asked the question:

What beer book which has yet to be written would you like to see published?

And the question is a good one. This is a part of The Session. The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry.

So the host of Session 95 is Alan, go to his blog to see a round up of all contributions this month.

He also wants to know what books we’d like to write. Well, there might be something happening over here, but it’s early days yet. I’ll let you know if and when things get moving.

So I need more beer books? Well. There are beer books silently staring at med from the shelves. Some have been gifts or review copies, some seemed more promising at amazon or in the bookshop than they turned out to be. So I tend to limit my beer book purchases, and I find it very convenient when I can buy an e-book from Evan Rail, ready to digest in one sitting.

But I digress.  There are many beer books waiting to be written. And I have at least three books I’d like to see published.

First of all, my friend the beer scholar Lars Marius Garshol has done some really impressive writing about farmhouse beers in Norway and in Lithuania. He should be given a scholarship to write about the history of small-scale brewing in The Nordic countries and the Baltic countries, including Finland and Russian Karelia. That’s probably too ambitious. But a book on Norwegian traditional beers would be most welcome. too!

 

On an even broader scale, I’d like a book on European beer brewing history. Starting with historical and archeological sources, painting the broad strokes of the major players.

  • How empires, was and legislation have given the background for clever entrepreneurs.
  • The contribution of Weihenstephan and other centers of brewery education.
  • The emergence of a science of brewing.
  • Family brewers growing into multinationals. Dreher, Carnegie, Jacobsen, Guinness, Heineken.
  • Did the Russian court really drink stout? If so, where was the beer brewed?
  • European beer in other corners of the world.
  • Intra-European beer trade. How much stout did the czars really drink?

There could be lots of tables and figures in such a book, but I’d prefer the good stories, the anecdotes and how beer history fits into the broader history. And I would like lots of maps, old ads and photos.

But there is another book waiting to be written, too. About the emergence of a company that defied all established wisdom within the industry. A company that has used social media, reached out to bloggers, provoked regulating authorities and getting plenty of press coverage without buying ads.

If I was given some months’ salary and freedom to write a book on a beer related theme, I would write the story of BrewDog. And I’d focus on the beer. Unlike the book by the founders of Brooklyn Brewery. That book is not about beer at all, it could have been a chronicling a chewing gum factory.

The Beer Book for Punks could be sold in pubs and bars, bottle shops – and the bookshops of business schools around the globe. Not to mention airports.

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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