Sunday, May 28, 2006


Danish Micros: Small IS Beautiful

Size matters after all. The biggest beers come from the smallest breweries. That is the first article of confession for any craft beer enthusiast.

It is a message that seems to have stuck in little Denmark. The Mikkeller Brewery states on its labels that "as Denmarks smallest microbrewery" they have been a well-kept secret in the beer world. Meanwhile, also Holbæk Brewery markets itself as Denmarks smallest microbrewery. Braunstein, being slightly more modest, just promises a big beer from a small brewery. And the list goes on.

And small they are, indeed. The Bøgedal Brewery has an output of 20000 big bottles or 150 hecto litres per year. Artisanal Cantillon in Brussels makes 900 hecto litres in comparison.

With small volumes the microbreweries can pay special attention to the raw materials going into their brews. The picture is from the Raasted Brewery stand at the Københavnske Øldage 2006. The brewery is an impressive little business run by a 24 year-old law student, already with a professional web site, yet with parents giving a helping hand at the stand. I tasted their Trippel Special Edition, made with "Westmalle yeast"- a beer that would make any Belgian brewer proud.

Still, the biggest the difference between the big and the small may not so much be just the raw materials- if anything those are more the consequences. What distinguishes the small (at least outside Germany) is a willingness to experiment. Experimenting is inherently small scale and requires a lot of enthusiasm. It is just that sort of enthusiasm that easily gets drowned in a sea of bland mass-produced lager.

Saturday, May 27, 2006


Denmark Twelve Points, le Danemark Douze Points!

Last weekend it was time for the annual festival again, proving beyond any doubt Denmark as a winner. There are no prizes for guessing that I am not referring to the Eurovision Song Contest, where Denmark ended up disappointingly as no 18.

Danske Ølentusiaster, however, made it again, bigger than ever before. More than 11000 visitors could taste more than 1000 Danish and foreign beers during the Københavnske Øldage. Great numbers, but actually the quality of the beers on offer was even more impressive. I cannot recall tasting a single mediocre beer.

Well-organised the festival is as well. Conveniently scattered around in the Valbyhallen are containers of water, so that both the glass and the palate can be rinsed before a new 10 cl tasting. Another great invention was the glass carrier featured in the picture.

Seating may be scarce, though, unlike at many Belgian beer festivals, where seating seems to be essential. But then again, whereas the latter seems to draw mostly middle-aged men, the Danish festivals also draw a much younger and sexually mixed crowd. A reflection of the society it probably is- a modern society embracing equality, a society where even young people have the ability to spend a little extra on a craft brew rather than having to accept a cheap mass-produced lager. Add to it a population-wide enthusiasm for craft beer not found in the rest of Scandinavia and genuinely friendly people, 12 points from the Norwegian beer jury is practically guaranteed.

Denmark may be a young superpower of the beer world, but has already 8 of the 50 top Ratebeerians, some of the world's most promising breweries and not to mention world-class beer bars like Ølbaren and Plan B. The latter can be found in an excellent little (free) leaflet called the CPH Ølguiden (the CPH beer guide).

Short in distance, but yet so far is indeed the beer desert of Norway from this beer mecca.

Sunday, May 14, 2006


Orange Outlets

Southern California does not only boast world-class beer bars, but also some of the best beer shops around.

One place that combines as a bar, sandwich deli and beer outlet is Hollingshead Deli in Orange. Knowledgeable and friendly owners, a great range of imported (especially from Germany) as well as excellent West Coast craft beers, makes this a great excursion from Los Angeles.

The deli, part of a shopping mall with the address 368, S. Main Street, makes a 20 minutes walk from Orange Metrolink station. From there the trains take you to Los Angeles Union Station in just about 45 minutes. Make sure to get on the last train, though; it departs already at 5.30 pm. (Downtown LA may not be your favourite spot very late, anyway.)

Still in Orange County, but further south in Costa Mesa, is Hi-Time Wine Cellars. It is "only" a shop, but what a shop! It might very well be one of the best-stocked beer (and wine) outlets around- their walk-in beer fridge/cellar is just amazing. It is best reached by car, though OCTA bus no 55 runs pretty close by and takes you to the Santa Ana transportation hub.

After a good time at Hi-Time pack wisely because the 23 kg/50 pound coach class weight limit per suitcase is closely monitored at the airport. If, like me, you are served by the extremely inefficient Northwest Airlines check-in staff at LAX (serving 5 customers per hour, staring helplessly at the computer screen while people lose their flights), the least you want when it is finally your turn is yet another delay.

Unloading some rare bottles is a great time for any beer tourist- just make sure it is at the kitchen table back home and not at the check-in desk (or even at the customs counter!)

Friday, May 12, 2006


Aarschot Appreciated!

Easter is a time filled with traditions. In the Philippines the dedicated whip themselves or get crucified.

A rather more pleasant tradition is the beer festival arranged by the Aarschotse Bierwegers- the beer weighers of Aarschot. It is the local branch of Zythos in this historic town in the Hageland ("Garden Land") part of Vlaams-Brabant- half an hour by train from both Antwerpen and Hasselt, 12 minutes north-east of Leuven.

This small beer festival, or Bierfestijn, was held for the 13th time this year on Easter Saturday and Easter Sunday. The venue is the rather hard-to-find Zaal Bekaf, a good 20 minutes walk from the railway station. Prepare well, because there are no signs. Finding the narrow path was never easy, but it does bring rewards.

This year the beer list boasted 69 items, all nicely presented with knowledgable comments in a nice Easter-yellow leaflet. Many are real gems, most are rare even by Belgian standards. Even in great Belgian beer cafés Girardin Lambic on draft is not everyday fare. If you are aiming at the super-gems, the Saturday session is your best bet since the venue attracts both locals and foreign beer tourists with a nose for good beer. They know what to order!

One extraordinary beer was the Bink Tripel from the Kerkom brewery. It is quite a hoppy beer, normally not seen on this continent as it is brewed for export to the US. Luckily, it was halted in Aarschot before managing to leave the country. Unfortunately, being a small festival, the beers are sold by the bottle, some like the Bink Tripel in 75 cl, and not in small size tasting glasses, which is problematic for beer tourists travelling on their own (or with a not-so-enthusiastic spouses).

Still, it continues to impress me that a town of less than 30,000 souls can come up with such a great little beer festival, where the organisers have put a lot of effort into finding the unusual. It is the perfect Easter pilgrimage for believers in craft beer. Certainly no brewer represented here deserves crucifiction (though the two biggest might need a little whipping).

Monday, May 08, 2006


Micro in Milltown

Microbreweries and brewpubs in Norway are few and far between. Møllebyen Mikrobryggeri (literally Milltown Microbrewery) is situated in what is easily the most attractive spot in the most dreary small town of Moss, 40 minutes by rail south of Oslo.

The address is Fossen, meaning the waterfall, and the brewpub is part of an old industrial estate, now consisting of several nicely renovated turn-of-the-previous-century brick buildings built around the waterfall. With the outdoor seating it feels like a rather spacious affair, especially on a slow Sunday afternoon. The walk from the railway through the city centre takes 10-15 minutes.

Well inside the almost empty brewpub the cardboard informed me of the four beers available on tap: A steamer, a pilsner, a summer beer (classified as a kölsch on Ratebeer) and an IPA. They are all very dry, hoppy beers, but rather less fruity and complex than their likes at the Oslo Mikrobryggeri. The IPA is the most successful in my opinion.

Four glasses of 0.4 litres each will set you back 214 kroner (some 27 Euro), and you will have to spend the same amount for your return ticket from Oslo. Only the most dedicated beer tourist might travel the world for the Milltown microbrews, but they are definitely not your average Miller's.

Sunday, May 07, 2006


Busy Office

Now that the sun is finally appearing in this polar country people cannot get out of the office soon enough. Father's Office in sunny California does not seem to be suffering from the same mentality.

It is not only because Americans spend longer hours in the office than most Europeans. Father's Office happens to be one of the best beer bars in the LA area.

The crowd, though, seems to be more of prospective office-workers. Located at 1018 Montana Avenue in Santa Monica the UCLA campus is not that far away. The bar does not open until 5 pm on most weekdays, 4 pm on Fridays and 3 pm in the weekend. Arriving at 3.30 pm one Sunday afternoon (by Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus no 3) the place was already packed with young beerlovers. America's craft beer scene seems to have a bright future!

The beer menu features some 20 craft breweries, mostly from the Golden State- an appropriate name in this regard. Hennepin, a saison from the excellent Ommegang farmhouse brewery in upstate New York, was one of few brews to have crossed the continent. Still a great selection and with no boring macro brew as far as I could see.

Now this is an office I could spend time in!

Monday, May 01, 2006


Red Beer Day

Red may not be my favorite colour, but I quite fancy the red colours on the Norwegian calendar for May. Today, May 1, is the reddest of them all. This beer tourist thought that was worth celebrating with one of the reddest beers around, the Schaerbeekse Kriek from 3 Fonteinen.

True, there are several high-quality oude krieks around, including another one from 3 Fonteinen. Yet, this is the only one using traditional cherries from the Brussels borough of Schaarbeek- most of the others have resorted to cherries from the province of Limburg. And few others add as much as 350 grams of whole cherry fruit to be steeped in lambiek per liter kriek.

In a previous post I have praised their Vintage Geuze (from 2002, they started brewing lambiek in 1999 after being "just" a geuze blender since 1953). This is a brewery that is as innovative as it is traditional- no wonder they ended up on the twelfth place of world's best brewers according to Ratebeer.

The 3 Fonteinen Schaerbeekse Kriek has a deep red colour with orange tones and a fine, pink head. The aroma is full of cherries and lemon and some wood, while flavours starts with cherries as you might expect, and then develops lemony and vanilla notes before an almondy, dry finish. It is a complex, yet soft kriek that meets the world-class standard set by 3 Fonteinen.

An extraordinary beer on a day celebrating equality....


Labour or Leisure: Extra or Tripel?

It is the International Labour Day. It is a day to demand more leisure time, it seems, or maybe just to enjoy the extra day off work. A celebration of work it is hardly, though it might have been appropriate, seeing the mass unemployment on the European continent.

The trappist monks at Westmalle (or more specifically, at Abdij Onze-Lieve-Vrouw van het Heilig Hart at Westmalle) have made their choice clear- they have committed their lives to Ora et Labora, prayer and work.

Part of this work has been to create the mother of all Belgian trippels for the rest of us to enjoy at our leisure. Brewing is thirst-bringing work, so the monks have also made a weaker, everyday beer that is normally only enjoyed inside the abbey gates.

Finding the Westmalle Extra outside the abbey is indeed rare (but it seems to occur more often these days alongside the workday beers from Orval and Chimay). On the contrary, even the Norwegian state liquor store with its limited beer range sells Westmalle Tripel, though turnover is hardly overwhelming (the evidence is the old beer labels, and more thorough investigation indicated a bottle date some 10 months ago.)

The Extra is hazy golden, so lighter also in colour than its more cloudy, orangey big sister. The white foam is leaving nice lacing on sides of the glass. The aroma is deliciously sweet and malty with notes of candy sugar and raisins. Admittedly, it is slightly less complex than the tripel with its subdued floral and yeasty nose. The Extra begins with sweet and malty flavours, but with good offsetting bitterness it ends very dry, drier indeed than the tripel. On the other hand, the tripel is more fizzy and has a fuller body as well as warming alcohol that you won't find in the Extra. All in all, these are two surprisingly different beers- both highly drinkable and complex.

Labora seems to bring advantages both to leisurely beer drinkers and to the monks themselves.

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