Beer Fan Terminology Update

What with all the April’s Fools joke posts as well as at least one seemingly authentic blog funeral announcement, it was good to see an true advance in the thinking about being a beer nerd/fan/geek and, as usual, the news comes out of Scandinavia as Knut describes:

I don’t care much what I’m called. When I talk to my wife, I refer to (in Norwegian) my beer friends or beer mates. I would not use the words connoisseur or aficionado, either, but it is probably the most spot on description. There is a Norwegian term that is slightly old fashioned – beer dog. I kinda like that.

The word in Norwegian is even better: ølhund. So “beer hound” is born. It has the nerdiness of “rock hound” as well as the cool of “You Ain’t Nothing But A Hound Dog”. While pivar is pithy, can any other language group top ølhund?

Knut Goes To Scotland

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The trend of splitting up European nations into smaller units seems to be over for the time being. There is Kosovo, of course. And then, possibly, a part of a union that has lasted for centuries, and where nationalism seemed to us outsiders to be mostly a joke. Scotland. I’ve been in Scotland before, but that was about twenty years ago, so I looked forward to a brief visit in August. The last time I went to Edinburgh, this time I had an invitation to go to Glasgow. It is actually a city that’s very easy to get to from Oslo, Ryanair flies several times a week to Prestwick, and even if a $1 ticket ended up being $100 for a return ticket, including taxes and charges, you can hardly complain about the price. And the secondary airports used by Ryanair and other low cost carriers are actually very comfortable, you get through security in seconds rather than hours.

And an extra bonus is that you leave Prestwick airport via a walkway to the railway station where you get a splendid view of moorlands, stone houses and the Irish Sea. If you are lucky, you will also have picked up a bottle of Scottish ale from Peckhams delicatessen in the terminal building.

-You cannot drink this in the airport, sir.
-A plastic glass? For the train? Here you are! A Styrofoam coffee cup for the train journey.

The train is filled with Norwegian golfers, and the landscape seems to be split evenly between heather, grazing land for cattle and golf courses. Looks like a successful mix. I enjoy my bottle of Dark Island Dark ale. A rich ale at 4.6 %, it has treacle and spices. I find myself wondering if a stronger version of this would have been even better. I am lucky to get hold of a bottle of the same beer aged in whisky barrels the next day, which now waits in my cellar to be tasted.

knutscot2Arrival in Glasgow forty minutes later. The Toby Jug is right across the street from the Central Station, and the Friday afternoon crowd is well into their pints. I manage to squeeze both myself and my suitcase into the pub, and enjoy two halves of cask Scottish ale, Kelburn Red Siddy and Pentland IPA. Both are fine beers, though maybe a bit on the sweet side for my liking. But I can’t expect every brewer to have as much of a hops hangup as myself. I find my hotel and meet up with the rest of the ratebeer crowd, who have done an Edinburgh pub crawl and are quite jolly when we order dinner. I try my best to catch up with them, and over a period of 30 hours or so, I manage to see quite a few of the pubs of Central Glasgow – at least the ones where there is cask ale on tap.

And how is the scene? Basically, you have two types of pubs selling cask ale. You have the Wetherspoon chain pubs, large establishments where the architecture is often impressive. they tend to be converted banks or offices, often with fine details intact. The crowds are, however, not quite as stylish as the pubs. The business concept is to offer cheaper drinks than the competition, including beer. This means you have a busy just-after-office-hours type of crowd in the early evening, who tend to behave themselves. Later you get the serious drinkers. Large pitchers of vodka and Red Bull, Endless supplies of alcopops and cider. Day-glow green shots ordered by the dozen. But, even late on Saturday evening, these pubs were not full, which means that there are too many of them in town, or, even, that the punters want something else, even if they have to pay an extra 50 p for a pint. In addition, you have a number of smaller pubs. The Toby Jug has been mentioned, The Horseshoe Bar looked inviting, too, but did not hold any temptations ale-wise. If you want the best range of well kept cask ale in town, you should head straight for the Blackfriars. You may have to fight for a table, but I can assure you it will be worth it. A good range of Scottish beers on tap, and, at least when I was around, there were some amazing bottled beers, too. Ask for Tom, and tell him I sent you, he’ll get you something special.

The brewing scene? There seems to be breweries just about everywhere – the Hebrides, the Orkneys, you name it. The most exciting beers I got to try came from Brew Dog, a micro in Aberdeenshire. They age some of their beers in whisky casks, with magnificent result. They sell bottled beers by mail order in the UK, and I intend to have a dozen bottles waiting for me at the hotel the next time I land in the UK. Of the cask ales, the Kelburn beers, brewed in Glasgow, are widely available, and they seem to do a fine range.

What else? You understand approximately 50 per cent of what people say to you. Maybe received pronunciation was not such a bad idea after all. You feel slightly retarded when you try to make out what they actually try to tell you in their broad accent. The pub food was good, though I did not get any haggis. Luckily the same Peckham shop at the airport had some, so I have some plans involving haggis, beer and whisky. But I had a full Scottish breakfast, including black pudding. A bit too rich to have every day, though!

Knut Pays The Taxman

[This post was written by Knut Albert Solem aka “Knut of Norway”]

The wait is oknutsbeersver. But the picture of the package on my doormat is not quite how it went. No, there was a new slip of paper in my mailbox, telling me there was a package to be picked up at the post office. So, what was the tab?

  • The alcohol tax was about 100 Norwegian kroner.
  • The value added tax (based on an estimated value of 300 Norwegian kroner!) was about 100 kroner.
  • The fee for the postal service to process this ended up at 180 kroner, including tax.

A total cost of 386 Norwegian kroner. 47 Euros or 61 Dollars. Not the most expensive beer known to man, but pretty close, as these beers retail at a few Euro is civilized countries. But, considering all the man hours involved, it was a quite cheap service. And they managed to stall me from abusing these beers for a month. The beers look fine, they have been carefully packaged, and their warehouse is probably quite cool at this time of the year. So, it is time for a big thank you, to Alan, to Jeff from the Cracked Kettle. I don’t know about the Department of Substance Abuse, though.

Knut Goes Nowhere And Hangs Around His Mailbox

[This post was written by Knut Albert Solem aka “Knut of Norway”]

knutOn the outskirts of Europe there lives a peculiar tribe of people. Like most other nations, they feel that they have the solution to every problem on the planet. Other small nations have had to bow to the necessity of adjusting to their surroundings, but Norway had the curse to find oil and gas in the 1970s, giving them the possibility of constructing their own reality.

One of the inhabitants of this country is a contributor to A Good Beer Blog, sending his impressions from his travels across Europe. When the generous editor Alan managed to find some sponsors for his blog, he wanted to share some of the spoils with his contributors. One sponsor is the Cracked Kettle in Amsterdam, and Alan figured that they could probably send a few beers to two of his European contributors. Packages were dispatched in early February, and the one sent to England arrived within days. Here is what happened to mine:

The package to Norway was first returned because the shipping company couldn’t deliver outside the European Union. Fair enough, they found an alternative.

Two weeks later, I get a letter from the Norwegian Postal Service, Posten. They can tell me that they have received a package from abroad, and that they can do the customs clearance for me. For a fee, of course. I sign a form authorizing them to do so, and wait for the package to arrive.

Another two weeks, and they send me a new letter, telling me that I should provide them with a receipt, an invoice or similar documentation for the package. I reply with a short handwritten note that this is a gift, and I do not know the value of the package.

Another two weeks, until yesterday. A new letter, cheerfully telling me that I must fill in a form. This is an application that has to be processed by the Directorate of Health and Social Affairs, which decides if I should be allowed to receive the gift. In the instructions following the form, I am told that the maximum amount of alcohol I can receive in this way is 4 liters. Luckily the package only contains 2 liters. For more information, see the back of the page. The back of the page is blank.

I do not know which criteria the Directorate of Health and Social Affairs use to determine if I should be allowed to receive the package or not. Will they check if I have been prosecuted for bad behaviour in public places? Will they ask the neighbours if I beat my wife? The answer is probably written in invisible ink on the back of the form, or possible posted somewhere in a basement as in the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I faxed over the form today. If the Directorate of Health and Social Affairs decide in my favour, I will then receive a permit to import the beer. This permit will then be mailed to Posten, who will then talk to the Customs people.

It would be interesting to find out how many hours of work it will take for various government employees to process this package containing two litres of beer. And I have a strange feeling that there might be more efficient ways of combating drunkenness and alcohol abuse. But what do I know?

Knut Goes To The World’s Northernmost Bar

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Three hours by plane straight north from Oslo, excluding 45 minutes stopover in Tromsø, and you arrive at Longyearbyen airport. It is minus 20 degrees Celsius, but the gale hits you as you exit from the plane and run for the terminal building. It is pitch dark, which shouldn’t be a surprise, as the sun was last seen hereabouts sometime in October. As soon as the luggage arrives, it is time to get those extra layers of clothing before entering the airport bus.

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The bus takes just a few minutes to downtown Longyearbyen, and we are happy to find our warm lodging. We are three adult males who have known each other for about three decades, and we have planned this trip since early last year, despite any evident enthusiasm from our spouses.

So what is Longyearbyen? It used to be a company town, established for the sole purpose of coal mining – and maintaining a visible Norwegian presence in the area, especially during the Cold War. It has developed into something resembling an ordinary Norwegian small town over the last few decades. There is now a local assembly, privately owned houses, a school, a kindergarten, a few hotels etc. The miners, and later their families, were the only ones allowed to live here, but now the working population is one third connected to coal mining, one third works in research, and one third works in tourism.

There are daily flights from the mainland, and there are lots of empty seats in mid January. One of the hotels is closed, and the general pace in the shops and the service industry is slow. We decided that a dog sleigh excursion would be the most adventurous part of our stay, and booked tickets before stocking up for our stay. There are regulars ships to Svalbard when the ice conditions allow it, maybe six months per year. This means they have to stock up on food and drink – it is rather expensive to fly the stuff in. Sure, you can get fresh milk, vegetables and fish, but you have to pay for the air transport.

nor6Nordpolet (which is a pun on the Norwegian names for the North Pole and the Wine/Liquor monopoly) is a department in a surprisingly large co-op supermarket, but it has the special attraction of offering duty free prices on alcohol. There are quotas on how much you can buy, both for tourists and for the locals. The beer prices are low, but there are few real finds here, mostly domestic and imported lagers. The Norwegian beers are mainly from Mack, imports are from the Netherlands, the UK and Mexico(!) I had hoped the Russian presence here had made some Russian beers available, but no such luck. The selection of fine wines was rather more impressive, the aquavit was cheap, and you can get some limited edition cognacs unavailable elsewhere.

nor2The dog sleigh trip started with us getting into a heavily insulated outfit before driving a few kilometres out of town. The dogs were eager to get some exercise, and while we fumbled a bit before the sleights were ready to go, it was an incredible experience once we were on our way. A faint blue light on the southern horizon and no sound except the scraping of the skis against the snow. The Northern Lights were flickering while the dogs ran eagerly through the darkness.

Three hours of this was enough, as it was to cold to take any long breaks along the way. Time for a shower before we hit the pubs. The bar closest to our cabin is the one that can claim to be the most northern on the planet, not counting short shore excursions during the summer when they set up a table. The Barentz pub is part of the Radisson SAS hotel, and – as hotel bars tend to – is perhaps not the coziest place. But they have friendly and attentive staff and the best selection of beers in town. Mack Pils and Bayer on tap, Stella on tap too. Don’t ask me why! The bottles span the globe, Singha, Tiger, three Erdingers wheat beers and even the outstanding Goose Island IPA! The pizza was so-so. The next stop on the pub crawl is the Karls Berger pub. The motto here seems to be More is More. Five types of bottled beers, but thousands of varieties of hard liquor. Hundreds of cognacs and single malts, long rows of aquavit and vodka. The locals at the bar were discussing how many times they’d been barred, but they seemed fairly harmless.

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Our favourite hangout was Kroa at Spitzbergen base camp, with the interior having a local flavour, based on driftwood and animal pelts as shown at the top of this post. Comfortable chairs and tables, lots of locals, good food. Beer and aquavit at decent prices. One evening we went up to Huset as well, the remains of the glory days of the coal mine, when most of the social life was focused there. When we popped in, the restaurant was totally empty, and there was lots of room in the cafeteria, too. This is the place to go to splurge, as they have a huge wine cellar and a kitchen that gets good reviews.

How do you get there? There are flights from Oslo via Tromsø year round, and there are boat trips, including more luxurious cruise ships during the summer. And, if you book well in advance, Scandinavian Airlines considers this a domestic destination in Norway. That means that your Star Alliance bonus miles can go a long way.

Knut Goes To Italy

…L’ultima creazione di Renzo…
 

The city of Parma is quite sleepy on this spring afternoon. Actually, so am I, I got up at half past in the morning to get there, but that is not the point. The bus stop in front of the train station is largely deserted, too, but a young man from Ghana helps me to find the right platform. The 02:12 bus is not appearing, and not the 02:20, either. I give up and walk across to the taxi stand, and a taxi driver quotes a rate that is quite acceptable for a 20 minute ride, so I get in.

My destination is the Panil Brewery, located in the countryside to the south of Parma, where the flat landscape of the Po plain gives way to small hills. It is a pleasant drive. The poppies are already in bloom at the roadside, and the leaves are a dozen shades of green. The fields smells of manure from the cows and sheep that produce the Parmesan and Parma ham. It turns out that this is a holiday, so that is the reason for the bus not turning up. On Liberation day most things shut down (and a fair portion of the population had turned out to heckle the mayor, according to reports). And I will not go into who they were liberated from. The Italians?

The brewery is in the countryside within view of the picturesque castle of Torrechiara. It sits in an idyllic setting with a few tables outside the shop, a dozen hens of various colours walking feely around the premises. The place is quite deserted when I arrive, although the doors are open. In addition to the brewing, they also make wine from grapes from the area, which I take note of trying out another time.

After some time spent walking around calling out for assistance, I get help from Aba, a lady fluent in English. She tells me that the brewery is run by her sister and her husband, but that they are not around at the moment. She presents the range of beers they have – very much inspired by Belgian styles. There is a pilsener, a blonde ale and a brown ale, and there is a stout in the making which is not bottled yet. The most interesting beers in the range, however, are two ales aged in oak barrels and then again fermented in the bottle – triple fermented. One of them is a sour version of their Barriquée ale, which I have tasted before, the other is the September ale, which is brewed with grape juice blended in – a sort of beer/wine hybrid. She tells me that these beers are mainly for export and sale directly from the brewery, the locals tend to find them too extreme!

I buy as many bottles I manage to carry with me, and I really look forward to trying them out. While I wait for my transport back to town I notice a small restaurant around the corner. The next time I will probably make a day trip out of it and make some time to see the castle, too!

[Ed.: Check here for the Beer Advocate’s take on these brews. Check here for more of Knut’s travels. Click here for Knut’s own blog.]

A Norwegian Travels South-west

I was in London last week, which is pleasant during all seasons, but this has been the hottest July for 30 years, so there is an extra need to refill the body’s liquid reserves.

I first visited the splendid Pitfield Beer Shop, which sells both a number of bottle conditioned ales from its own micro and a broad selection of beers and ales from Britain and the rest of the world. Friendly staff that know their beers as well, so it is definitely woth seeking out, even if it is a bit out of the way for most visitors to London. I bought as many bottles I could reasonably carry, and walked back through the Clerkenwell area, where I decided to try the new golden ales on offer from Young’s and Fuller’s, the two independent London brewers which both own a number of pubs serving their beers.

Next stop was the Sekforde Arms, a friendly Young’s local on a side street. Young’s have Golden Zest as their seasonal ale this Summer. It is dark gold in color, but while it looks like a lager, it is certainly an ale. Light and refreshing, but not a groundbreaking brew. Served at the proper cellar temperature – what critics of British beer call “warm beer”, this could actually have been served colder on a hot day like this. It was nice to try the Golden Zest, but the next time I will return to their Special. The brewery blurb for this 100% malt brew: Maris Otter pale malt, lager malt, English Fuggle and Golding hops come together to produce a wonderfully light and refreshing golden beer. A few minutes walk to the Fuller’s pub City Retreat, a great place on a hot afternoon (or a cold Winter evening, as I’ve been there before). The new ale from Fuller’s is Discovery, and this was something else. An ale with a depth of flavour. It is fruity, with hints of apple and peach. A splendid summer beer, but I am not sure where it will fit in the market, as it is neither a lager nor a typical ale. According the Fuller’s, this is to be added to their year-round range of ales, along with London Pride and ESB. This was served chilled, and I found that suited the beer well. According to Fuller’s, this is “brewed using a unique blend of malted barley and wheat for a delicious malty taste bursting with rich, biscuity flavours. Liberty hops are added for a distinctive zesty character and fruity bite, whilst Saaz hops add a gentle bitter taste for a clean, refreshing finish.”

It seems like they have both aimed for the same type of beer, with “zesty” being a common denominator. It is worth mentioning that Young’s launced a beer a few years ago, the Triple A, which also aims at the drinkers who dont’t want the full flavour of their bitters. This is not a real ale, and it is served chilled, rather like a Kilkenny, but with a bit more taste. Purists frown on this, of course.

If you stay in the British Museum area of London, these two pubs are just a few minutes away by bus or taxi – if it’s not too hot they are within walking distance. They are much to be preferred to the more busy and touristy pubs in the Covent Garden/Soho area, being frequented by people who live or work in the area. You can look up their addresses on http://www.youngs.co.uk and http://www.fullers.co.uk, where there is plenty of information on their beer range, too. And, if you have more time on your hand, both breweries have tours of their premises and they have brewery taps and souvenir shops. Young’s even have published books on the history of the brewery and their pubs, see a review on my self-named Knut Albert’s Beer Blog.