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Posts Tagged ‘Oslo’

Vespa & Humla front

A quiet alternative

I’m not usually pushing news about the big global players in the alcohol industry. But when they reach out to small individual producers to do a collaboration with no strings attached, I don’t mind.

Jameson Whisky, which belongs to the Pernod Richard group, has been doing a series of collaborations with craft breweries with the same concept – beer aged in used whiskey casks. This time around, Grünerløkka Brygghus in Oslo was invited to join in, and head brewer Kjetil Johnsen has made a limited edition Irish Rock Porter.

This is a Baltic Porter (brewed with lager yeast, if that is of importance to you), which has spent some weeks in casks which were just emptied of whisky. It’s a one off, so don’t expect this to find this outside Norway or for promotional purposes for the destillery.

There was a launch last night in Oslo, and I am happy to report about a very drinkable beer. The whiskey character comes through in a subtle way – it has a lighter touch than scotch whisky barrels with all their smoke or bourbon barrels with a lot of vanilla. Sure, you feel the booze, and the oak plays its part. But it an easy drinking and elegant beer. Grab it if you can.

The tasting was held at Vespa & Humla, the new brewery tap of Grünerløkka Brygghus. They still have their main pub, but the new one is tucked away next door to the brewery.Expect to find a full list of their own brews and a relaxed atmosphere – and good home cooking.

Kjetil with beer glass. Kjetil has every reason to be pleased with his whiskey barrel beer.

 

 

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OK, so I finally got around to visiting the new brewpub in town, Amundsen Bryggeri og Spiseri, meaning Brewery and Eatery. The Amundsen in the name is of course the polar explorer, but this is not a place with seal fur and the remains of polar bears, it’s just named after the street outside, which is named after Amundsen. So there is no need to stay away, even if you are in the Scott camp in this centennial year.

I was there on the opening night, too, but they did not have any of their own beers on as yet, and it was too hot and noisy to get a real feel of the place.

I came back on an early afternoon while the World Skiing Championships was still on, and the place was fairly dominated by screens large and small. So, if sports bars are not your thing, one of the identities of this place is precisely that. I had a quick look at the lunchtime menu, which was a bit pricey, edging up towards the 200 kroner mark.

The pub/restaurant is split into several areas, giving a quite intimate feel. You may sit at a table or find a stool at the bar.

Their two first beers were on, though the VM Ale was almost finished. This was their first brew, and I got the feeling that they had rushed it a bit too much. To much unfermented mash here, some yeast and hops, too, but not properly balanced. I got the feeling that given some more time fermenting and conditioning this would have made a decent pint of bitter.

Their pale ale was just released, and that was much better. Not an extreme American variety, but a fine and dry hoppiness made this very moreish.

There is a comprehensive printed beer list, which does not include the bottles they have stocked their beer cellar with. Through a glass wall you see the cellar, which includes some interesting Belgians and Danes, various vintages of Thomas Hardy, Fullers Vintage etc. The beer list is a bit more mundane, but it covers the Norwegian micros more comprehensively, and has  a strong list of German beers. Keg beers from Handbryggeriet, Ægir and Nøgne Ø, lagers from Hansa, even a few beers from Hansa’s brewpub in Bergen.

Amundsen has a prime location, close to the National Theatre, City Hall and the rest of downtown Oslo.

A new brewpub is always welcome, though I doubt that this will be a regular hangout for me. They will probably aim for several markets at once. It is convenient to meet there for a beer after work and there will be lots of tourists passing by. I’d be surprised if some of the TV screens won’t be showing soccer, it remains to be seen if they will dominate it all.

Verdict: Definitely worth checking out, even if it’s not my first choice.

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Sake at Nodee

Sake at Nodee

What is a beer? Well, it’s fermented grain, isn’t it? Usually barley, usually hops, but if you’re not too obsessed with the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot, it’s the cereal that’s at the core. From grapes you get wine, from grain you get beer.

One avenue to explore is then to look at the varieties that don’t use malted barley as their starting point. Some go for historical recreations, studying Middle Age manuscripts or stone tablets in the Middle East. There are brews with millet, sorghum and all the old types of wheat you can imagine.

But then there is a major type of beverage that is, technically, a beer, even if you have to be a beer nerd to consider it.

Sake.

To have a range of sake in Oslo, you’ll have to find one of the upmarket Japanese restaurants. Alex Sushi has lots of Chablis, but only two brands of sake.

I went with my family to Nodee recently. They have some special imports, covering a range of styles, flavours (and prices).

The food is divine, but if you order sushi a la carte, it is expensive. Try one of the pan-Asian set menus, starting off with sushi and sashimi. Splendid value.

I don’t have the knowledge to suggest any sake for you, but I am sure the polite and observant staff can help you out.

Table reservation recommended. And it’s right across the street from the Frognerbadet public pool if you want to work up an appetite.

Thats just for starters

That's just for starters

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Sagene Lunsjbar is a relic from a lost age. I’m not sure what’s fact and what’s legend, but there has been an inn here since the 1850’s, providing food and drink to people passing by on what was a busy road in and out of Oslo.

I don’t think this was very pretentious to start with, but it slid steadily downhill over the decades, and it ended up being a refuge for serious daytime drinkers.

The area surrounding the old inn was sold for development a few years ago, and everyone expected that the old timbered house would be chopped up for firewood. No such thing. It was wrapped up in plastic for years, but then it suddenly reappeared, polished like an old gem.

I don’t think there is much daytime beer drinking there now, it appeals to a more varied clientele. A good range of low priced lunch and dinner dishes,  a coffee menu and table service seems to have hit the spot in this working class and not quite gentrified neighbourhood. A few tables outside on the back for warm days.

The beer of choice? They seem to be tied to Carlsberg/Ringnes. A bottle of Hoegaarden is the most interesting on the list.

A vintage watering hole

A vintage watering hole

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Easter offerings

Here in Norway we tend to take a long Easter break, starting this weekend. Some people go skiing in the mountains, where you can get a really nice tan from the sun and snow if the weather permits. Others go to the coast to greet the spring. Some go to Sweden and try to smuggle 758 liters of pale lager and get caught by the customs. Boys will be boys…

Lots of people prefer city life, the tempo slows down, and if you are lucky you can find a watering hole with a sun trap where you may enjoy a pint. Come to think of it, the heaters for the smoking areas have taken some of the thrill out of having the first al fresco beer of the season.

But there are offerings in the evenings as well. We used to have legislation which gave special restrictions on the sale of booze during the holidays, but that’s history.

If you are in Oslo, there will be some special events.  Bar & Cigar will have some special American beer imports on Thursday and Friday, and Dr. Jekyll’s will have a tutored tasting on Saturday.

If you are on the other side of the globe, the Verdugo Bar in Los Angeles seems like the place to be. They showcase the He’Brew/Shmaltz beers:

Enjoy one of the few kegs of Coney Island Human Blockhead as well as the very special, and very rare Lenny on Rye (Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A. aged in Rittenhouse 100 Kentucky Rye Whiskey Barrels).

I would’t mind one (or two) of these…

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A warm welcome

I found this in the window of one of the old “brown” restaurants in Oslo the other day. This used to be a place for rustic food and serious drinking (half liters of lager), and they obviously frown on anything that makes the guests linger longer than strictly necessary. This being Norway, it goes without saying that there is no smoking. And no dogs.

 

The sign says (in broken Norwegian): It is not allowed to play cards, chess or any other games. Cannot use portable computer.

I did not venture inside to check if this policy has filled it up with customers. Life is too short.

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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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Lots of non-beery things going on in the run up to the holidays, there are trees to be bought, cards to be sent, dinners to be planned, end of term events at school and at work. And it is pitch dark, just above freezing with a drizzle of rain, meaning it hardly gets light even at midday. Time to pick up the latest Rankin book and a decent beer when the day is done.

There are some nice side effects of being a blogger, too. (No, there are still too few breweries sending me beer!) I was contacted aboutattending a beer event in Romania, aiming at educating the country’s journalists about beer styles, beer tasting and beer history.  Too bad I don’t have time for activities like that – I have a day job and a family. I was very happy to help out when one of the mid sized US craft breweries asked me to point them in the right direction to find a Norwegian importer recently. I hope this can lead to something, as soon as there are concrete results I will let you know.

As I told you recently, the beer scene here in Norway is generally improving. I popped into Bar & Cigar last night, and it is very nice to see the Nøgne ø industrial chic beer engine on the counter and their porter available on tap. In addition they have the Haandbryggeriet Ardenne Blond on cask, which is a rare treat hereabouts. It’s been on for quite some time and it is probably past its prime, but it still has a wonderful hoppy aroma and the flavour is far better than any alternatives on tap around town.
Ole Gunnar, who is running the bar, is very pleased with the new beer range. He is rotating keg beers from Nøgne ø, one 40 litre keg sold out in two days.
Nøgen ø is now distributing keg beer to a number of bars in Oslo and the rest of the country, so this is really promising. They are switching to disposable 20 litre containers, which makes the logistics much easier and ensures that there will be a new beer on very often.


I talked briefly to a man who has been involved with Vinmonopolets beer range. He was proud that they increased the range from about a dozen in 2002 to 60 in 2006, buthe is not optimistic aboutthe future developments. There is no knowledge or passion for beer in the system, and the corporate leadership all have their background from general retail chains now, with no specialist knowledge about the products they are selling.
There are some new Nøgne ø beers that have yet to find their way into the Vinmonopolet lists, luckily they are now turning up in bars around the country. Recent reports say that Olympen is the best bet of finding those gems in Oslo. The best beer bar in Norway is Cardinal in Stavanger, which I am yet to visit. Both those bars have the new Dugges/Nøgne ø collaboration, which is a beer inspired by the obscure Finnish sahti style. I’ll have to find time to visit Olympen soon!

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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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