Posts Tagged ‘craft beer’

  Following my stay in Munich this summer, I have written a fair bit about small, but encouranging signs of innovation. I´m happy to say that there is a growing debate about key concepts, not entirely unrelated to the discussion in the English (English as in language, not as an geographical entity) beer blogs recently. There are two separate issues, both centered around Craft Bier (Yes, the Germans aren´t shy about borrowing English words these days.). One is about hijacking the term, the other about trying to ridicule it. The first story comes from the newly established Brew Berlin. They tell about the Ratsherrn Brauerei, who have tried to register Craft Beer as a protected trade name in Germany. There have been strong protests that one of the big players in the beverage sector tries to monopolize the concept. Even more important is the issue raised by two Bavarian beer bloggers, following the publication of an article in Fine, a wine magazine. The article tries to ridicule the merging craft beer scene in Germany, using labels like technology fetichists. It states that the craft beers fail to do what the classical pils achieves, to produce elegance and intensity without any fuss. All those double and triple beers, IPAs and AIPAs, do not, with their double or even triple fermentation with high levels of alcohol, match the charm of an elegant pils. The reaction to this was started by Mareike in feinerhopfen.wordpress.com, and followed up by Daniel at usox.org. Mareike points out that the micro, craft and cuckoo brewers make beers that fit into a gourmet setting. Quality is about something else than punching a few buttons on a production computer and then getting beer out at the other end in a few hours. If one wants to look for technology fetichists, it is more linked to the Reinheitsgebot culture, though it does not have much to do with enjoyment. In a letter to the editor of the magazine, Daniel questions the use of the concept quality in the article. He points out that the macro breweries of Germany, who are recommended as having a consistent quality, often cheat by using ingredients like hop extract or malt extract. If there is one thing the craft breweries have in common, it is their committment to prime ingredients. Go ahead, read their blogs. Google translate is there to help you. And cheer them on !

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I am very happy to report that the Haandbryggeriet festival last weekend was a success – and it looked to me that this applied to everyone involved.

Some parts of the concept seemed to work particularly well:

  • Getting to meet the brewers. For most of the dozen breweries attending, there were you actually got to meet several people actually  involved in the brewing process and in developing the brands. We are talking small-scale enterprises here,  meaning you get intelligent conversations, getting to sample various editions of the same brew etc. I think there were the precisely right people to guide the visitors to try beers that were challenging, but not necessarily extreme while also having something for the hardcore geeks.
  • Having the event in the brewery was also a good choice. While it is 15 or 20 minutes by foot from downtown Drammen, they were still able to draw a crowd from near and far. Having the festival within an operating brewery environment added a dimension that would have been absent in a congress centre or in a hotel function room.
  • Diversity – geographically and by style. Breweries from England, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Norway plus bottled stuff from across the pond. Cask session ales. Festival one offs like the Nøgne Ø Oaked Sunturnbrew. Flemish red ales. Barrel aged imperial stouts. Most important: Breweries with splendid beers.
  • Having the breweries present their beers meant you got a proper pour and presentation. Preferable to both enthusiastic CAMRA lads (no offense intended!) and blondes with dirdls (did I really mean that?)
  • Good no-nonsense food – the artisanal sausages I had were splendid value for money.

What do I want next year? More seating and some nice t-shirts, nothing more than that, really.

I’ll get back to you about some of the beers I enjoyed.

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A new proper blog post sooon. For now:

Samples of a Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout aged in Cognac barrels are reported. I don’t know anything about a release date.

A new cranberry IPA, Zombie IPA on tap at Schouskjelleren in Oslo tonight. Their import list is as strong as ever. Lots of good stuff at their sister establishment Olympen Restaurant as well.

There will be a micro competitor in Drammen, the home town of Haandbryggeriet. The industrial Aass brewery is setting up a brewpub in the old Drammen public bath, they are currently inviting tender for the brewing equipment.

Larvik Mikrobryggeri is currently offering beer from Lillehammer Bryggeri, but they plan to start brewing in a few months’ time.

Twh new nanobreweries in Trondheim, both only selling their beers in one restaurant.

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Until now, the spokesmen of the beer renaissance in Norway have been mostly the brewers and the drinkers, with very few bars, pubs and restaurants bothering to enter the field.

The reason this is taking off now is that there are a few bars who take beer seriously, and who are willing to order something new and even are willing to give advice to their customers on which beers to try. I had a bottle of the Haandbryggeriet Haandbakk at Parkteatret some weeks ago, a Rodenbach-like sour ale, and the bar person politely asked me if I knew what I was ordering. That’s the way to do it.

But the place to go for beer at the moment is Olympen Mat & Vinhus. Situated in the old working class, now multi-ethnic-but-not-quite-on-the way-to-gentrified Grønland area of Oslo, it has been a no frills place for eating, drinking and dancing for many decades. It was quite run down, you had the feeling that the nicotine patina covering walls and ceiling were the main factor holding it together. The restaurant goes back to 1892, and I think most of us expected a fast food emporium when they closed a few years ago.

For once, that did not happened. It reopened in time for the Christmas season in 2007, and what a comeback. Old wall paintings are carefully restored, large chandeliers give a civilized feeling, long benches invite parties large and small to sit down. Gemütlich.

I must admit I haven’t tried their food so far, I’ll have to get back to you on that.

Now for the beer.

They were among the very first to offer Nøgne ø beers on tap, and they have a hand picked list of bottled beers. Some nice imports, but also a strong commitment to the Norwegian micros, including seasonals.

Last week, they went even further. Nøgne ø has imported about a dozen of the Mikkeller beers for the Norwegian market, in small quantities. Those are spread over a few selected bars around the country, and rumour is spreading fast on the online forums.

If you don’t know Mikkeller, I’ll give a brief outline. These beers are brewed by Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, a Danish school teacher who is doing this on the side. He does not have his own brewery, meaning he does guest brewing or hires the facilities of other craft breweries – in Denmark, Norway, England, Belgium and the US.  He calls himself a nomad brewer. 

We’re talking the extreme end of the market, it is fitting that several of the brews have Beer Geek in their name. Super-hopped IPAs, enamel-eroding sour beers, barley wines packed with the sweet, the dry and the strong.

Olympen had nine of their bottled beers on Sunday, and Geir Ove, Lars Marius and I happily indulged in a rare opportunity of trying this on our home turf.  I will not go into the details of each beer here, the quality is outstanding, so it is more a question of which beer style you prefer. I found it quite interesting to try two beers from their single hop series, which share the same malt and yeast base as far as I know, but they are then liberally hopped with respectively Cascade and Warrior. This gives a fine opportunity to get the aroma and flavour of various hop varieties, I’d like more breweries to do the same. A slight letdown was the Alesmith/Mikkeller/Stone collaboration, where these breweries have joined forces to make a Belgian ale. This was nice enough, but you get spoiled looking for a wow factor in each and every beer from those guys.

A splendid time, and this would usually be enough for a very satisfying Sunday evening. But there was more to come…

A welcome guest from Denmark

A welcome guest from Denmark

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Pump clips, BQ

Pump clips, BQ

I cannot claim that I know Milan at all. It is a city that I’ve been passing through a few times over the years, more recently I have travelled through its airports quite often.

My 16 hours or so in Milan last year were focused on the beer scene, so when my schedule allowed it last week, I decided to spend the night there before going on to Parma.

I had done my homework as usual, and the hotel I had booked on hotels.com was excellent value at 60 Euro or so for four star lodging including breakfast. Five minutes’ walk from the central station and tne minutes from a tutta Birra, the only thing lacking was a good beer bar in the basement. You’d have to go to Belgium for that, I assume.

There have been positive reports about two related beer bars in the Northwestern part of the city, both by Evan and, more comprehensively, by legendary scooper Gazza. I even managed to find the schedule for a combination of Metro and tram for the BQ bar, but the airport bus in from Malpensa took forever, so I walked up to the station and found a taxi instead.

I arrived at BQ shortly after 9 in the evening, and it was empty. Two smiling young people behind the bar, happy that a foreigner has found his way to their place.

A modern pace in an old area, white walls, high ceiling. The music and choir from the mass in the church next door is competing with David Bowie and other 70’s music. But the main attraction: 20 beer on tap. Half of them Italian craft beers, the rest imports from Belgium, the US, Germany and Ireland. Note that even the Irish beer is a Carlow’s stout, not the usual black stuff.

The Italian beers come from a range of breweries – Birrificio  Italiano, Del Ducato, Baüscia (with the same owner as the bar), Bi-Du, White Dog, Freccia Fenicia, del Borgo…

My mouth waters. I start with the softer pilseners and wheat beers and move through the list. There is always a danger when it comes to places like this – you end up being too full, intoxicated or a combination of the two that you miss out on the last ones. This place offers an alternative. You can order 3 degustazioni glasses of 10cl at the modest sum of  4 Euros. A tickers dream.

I won’t give you notes of everything, but a few of the highlights:

Tipopils, one of the most famous of the Italian craft brews. Lots of hoppy dryness, almost oaky. Complex, yet very drinkable beer. A benchmark pilsener.

ReAle Extra had a fantastic aroma sowing off its liberal use of hops. Round and full mouth fee, piney dry finish. Lovely.

Birrificio Baüscha is owned by the same guy that runs the bar, but he does not promote his own beers on the expense of others. The Mattia Speciale at 7%ABV is clearly inspired by Belgian Abbey ales. Cloudy brown. Rich, malty, yet well balanced. Some spice, including nutmeg and pepper.

I have had a few beers from White Dog before, a brewery set up by an English expat in Northern Italy. I have not been too impress by all of them, though there is a very decent porter.  On offer tonight was the Boot Hill APA at 5.8%. Pronounced hoppy aroma, but not overwhelming. A bit yeasty, fine resin bitterness, full body. This beer grows on you, but this is a style with too many competitiors for me to call it outstanding. It well deserves its place on tap here, though.

Some snack food on the menu, ham, cheese, paté etc.  I order a slice of bread with a mixture of Stilton and Baladin’s vintage Xyaiu beer. Everything is freshly made, and this is truly a good match for fine beers. I’ve had enough of the samplers, and order a full glass of the ReAle Extra.

Customers drift in, a number seem to be regulars, and while it is not full on this Wednesday evening, business seems to be all right. The staff tells me that many Italians are wary about brying craft beer, and it is easier to sell the imports than the domestic beer. The mixed clientele order food and beer, there is quiet conversation, attentive service and polite customers.

I bid farewell and walk into the relatively mild Italian night. The perfect pub? Perhaps . I’ll come back to that in a few days. For a ticker, it is close to heaven, though! But then, there is a bar around the corner, too!

BQ interior and guests

BQ interior and guests

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The last American

Double Dead Guy Ale

Double Dead Guy Ale

The beer shelf in my cellar is getting empty and is in danger of being filled up with ski wax and guinea pig food. Sure, there are a few lagers from the Balkans and other odds and ends, but I am getting low on serious beers.

The Rogue Double Dead Guy Ale is the last of the bottles I dragged home from New York. It is bought at New Beer Distributors or Whole Foods, I think – or it could be from the deli at the corner.

Anyway. Fine carbonation, fine head. Rather malty and sweet aroma. Some hint of forest and wild mushrooms. A little balsamico, perhaps. Nothng strikes out, so let’s hope there is more when I sip.

Sweet malt, but with a fresh resin backbone. Sweetness and oaky dryness play with each other, challenging rather than going for low key harmony. The oakiness is similar to tannin-rich red wines. At the same time you have old fashioned boiled sweets. The finish is the same, the sweet cereals and malt is almost like a bowl of breakfast whole grain flakes, but then the dry wood demands attention and sort of distort the idyllic sweetness.

Free range coastal waters, the label says, but it is not very salty.

Oaky was not the ultimate word for the feeling on the tongue. Their web site says tea, and the pieces click into place. It is the beer equivalent of an English breakfast, including both the strong black tea and the cornflakes. No black pudding, though, this is the more Southern variety.

A lovely beer. I’d buy it regularly if it was available. As you see, it goes well with the furniture, too. Every home should have one!

And maybe, just maybe, there is hope. Rogue is planning to get into the Norwegian market. We will see. Maybe it’s not the last American, but one of the first.

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Some interesting stories from Colorado right now, where the supermarkets are not allowed to sell beer above 3.2% (by weight, not volume). This sounds like the watered down versions of beers you can find in Swedish supermarkets, which I can assure you is pretty bland stuff.


They used to sell some of the 3.2 beer on Sundays, but not any longer. The reason is that the liquor stores throughout the state are now allowed to open on Sundays, and they sell real beer.


This is, of course, a cosy arrangement for the liquor stores. There are about 1650 of them, and, they are, apparently, independent businesses, while the supermarkets tend to be franchises.


To make this more complicated, some of the craft brewers have teamed up with the liquor stores to argue that the present system gives the consumers a better choice.


According to the Associated Press, Brewers say beer selection could suffer if corporate buyers, rather than independent owners, are deciding which brands end up on the shelves.

Eric Wallace, president of Left Hand Brewery in Longmont and head of the Colorado Brewers Guild, said Colorado’s network of 1,650 independent liquor stores has helped foster what he said is the nation’s highest concentration of craft brewers.

The present system sounds fine in principle, but when you give a certain segment of the market a monopoly, you open for lots of interesting deals behind the scenes. What if someone opens a liquor store next door to a supermarket, maybe in the same building? Maybe someone makes sure that they pay a low rent to establish themselves where they will draw traffic to the other shops in the building or area?

I’m sorry, but at the end of the day, free markets where everyone competes on the same terms and a freedom of choice for consumers is the only viable option. And I think the best of the Colorado craft brewers will be doing just fine out in the market, even if it’s cold out there…

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Coney Island lagerss

Coney Island lagers

I will not go into details about every visit abroad in 2008, but I want to mention some new beer experiences. I have been to all of these cities before, except Riga, but not necessarily with an emphasis on beer. And yes, I’ve been to Italy, England, Ireland and other countries, too, even if they did not make the short list.



  • I went with my family to Riga early in the year. It is not a sensational beer destination, but there are very decent lagers to be found, from light session beers with a hint of honey and a full grainy flavour to Baltic porters that have made a revival. Good beery food, too, especially the buffet restaurants.
  • I have been to Berlin twice during the year, and I was pleasantly surprised. There is a fine range of brew pubs scattered around the city, but with logical, fast and clean public transport, you can cover quite a few, even if time is limited. One of the natives found the idea of blogging about beer fairly stupid when I explained it in rather rusty German. I particularly enjoyed Südstern, with delicious food and guest beers in addition to their own.
  • My last visit to Prague was in the mid Eighties, a gloomy city under the iron heel of their Russian masters. To return on a lovely summer day to the Golden city that has returned to its rightful place among the free nations touched my heart. It is a cosmopolitan place, too, I particularly enjoyed a whirlwind tour of some beer bars with Max the beer philosopher. I can assure you I will not wait decades before returning!
  • Copenhagen hosted a major European beer festival in the autumn. Lots of fine beer, remarkably well organized despite an unexpectedly huge turnout. I enjoyed the social side of it, too. Lots of the ratebeer people from Denmark, the UK, Sweden, Norway, the Irish Craft Brewers… A fine opportunity to chat with brewers and other professionals in the industry. All in all a splendid event. I was hoping for a repeat in 2009, but my informers tell me they will probably return to a smaller format festival in May. This is run by volunteers, and having a huge festival every year is stretching it too far.
  • It’s been more than two decades since I was in New York, too, ad I enjoyed my return very much. It is a fantastic beer destination, where all types of restaurants having fine lists of draught beers and even modest delis have several dozen craft beers in their fridges. Some outstanding beer bars and specialist bottle shops, too. I’d jump on a plane right away if I had the opportunity . Favourite? The Ginger Man.
Piovasky Klub, Prague

Piovasky Klub, Prague

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I would not mind trying the Christmas beer from the Ocean brewery in Gothenburg. And it’s not just the design. I tried several of their cask beers during the Copenhagen Beer Festival this summer, and I particularly liked thir porter.

Well, another year…


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There are things happening in Oslo. As I wrote recently, there is a need to educate both bar staff and drinkers. Until recently this was not a problem at all, a we couldn’t get anything more exotic than stout from St. James’ Gate.

Beer list at Parkteatret

Beer list at Parkteatret

Looks like the breweries have had some capacity for domestic marketing. I am primarily talking about Nøgne ø, Haandbryggeriet and Små Vesen. Their beers are now available at a number of hand picked bars around Oslo. Nøgne ø and Små Vesen are even installing beer engines in some places, and Haandbryggeriets wheat beer is available on cask.

Having craft beer on tap is probably not a brilliant business plan in itself at the moment, particularly not for the breweries, who will have to do things by hand. But it is a great way to profile your brewery and your beers, so I hope it will give dividends in the long run.

As for us beer drinkers, we now see the outlines of the promised land. Come January, I think I’ll organize a pub crawl in Central Oslo, focusing on craft beer. Three bars are on my list so far: Bar & Cigar, Parkteatret and Olympen.

Ægir Christmas Brew at Olympen

Ægir Christmas Brew at Olympen

Bar & Cigar are having beer events and offer both Nøgne ø and Haandbryggeriet beers on tap. Their fridge has a nice range of domestic and import beers.

Parkteatret has a craft beer list prominently displayed, and the prices are very fair compared to the state monopoly stores.

Olympen had the lovely Ægir Christmas brew yesterday, and I was happy to see people drinking craft beers during my brief stay. They have decent prices, too.

Additional stops?

(Sorry about the photos – both taken by my mobile phone!)

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