Thursday, June 18, 2009


Virgin Beer Festival

Øl og Mat. Or Beer & Food. Light years away from Rome's Bir & Fud, mind you. In more ways than one, it was not only the cool Oslo summer night that marked a stark contrast to its hotter namesake in Rome. While the latter is maybe my absolute favourite beer bar in the world, with a passion for craft beer that you are unlikely to find (expressed) anywhere else, the former is a new entrant on the Norwegian beer scene, still struggling to find its feet.

Øl og Mat is a virgin beer festival hosted in the biggest park in central Oslo, the Sofienbergsparken, located in the trendy neighbourhood of Grünerløkka- far from as cool as Friedrichshain, but less gentrified than Islington.

No jokes about their ambitions, though- the festival fills up a big chunk of the park (much to the annoyance of local Christian People's Party representatives who do not believe much in joy this side of death). I have to admit that my initial enthusiasm was soon replaced by skepticism when I saw the beer list- how can you promote craft beers in Norway when our two most excellent craft breweries, Nøgne Ø and Haandbryggeriet, are not even there with a small tasting?

Craft or not, the scale was impressive for Oslo, even though there were many empty seats on this windy Wednesday evening (plus there was a big Metallica concert 1 kilometre away competing for attention). Though the volume of the rock band playing inside the biggest tent indicated that they were up to the challenge.

Each country likes to do things their own way when it comes to beer festivals, it seems. In Belgium and the Netherlands tokens ("bonnen") rule; in the UK, cash is king. In connected Norway you refill your festival card yourself at the terminals near the gate. Practical as this may be, there is no hiding the fact that the price level is quite steep for a beer festival- 2,50 euros for the card, 3 euros for the tasting glass and 5 euros each for 20 cl tastings.

Cold numbers aside, warm thanks go to the Danish craft brewer Svaneke which provided an extensive range of beers to the festival, many of which I have not tasted before. Personally I do not think that all their beers rock the world, but showing up in force at this festival proves their commitment to the cause (unlike their Norwegian counterparts, one may argue). Also the Scottish craft beer range was quite extensive, but these beers you can already find at premium super markets in the Norwegian capital.

The atmosphere is undeniably amicable for such a big scene with a good mix of people. Knowledgeable middle-aged craft beer lovers can be spotted, but here and there are even some young beauties brave enough to try a Skull Splitter (some of them possibly craft beer virgins).

Virgins themselves at arranging this kind of festival, I have to say that the festival is better than feared. There is no reason for seasoned Ratebeerians to make their pilgrimage to the Øl & Mat festival in Oslo, but for those of us who live here, it does add some flavour to a city that only has one (or possibly two) beer bars of real class.

It is achieved mostly with a little help from international, rather than national, friends. The bar tenders may be all Swedish (like in the rest of Oslo), but ultimately it is the Danish craft brewer Svaneke and its Anglo-Saxon equivalents that represent the craft in the beer festival. The Norwegian alibi was provided by a specially crafted festival beer from Oslo Mikrobryggery that was quite decent, too. All in all, not too bad a performance for a virgin, I guess.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


Kris Not To Be Missed

I have for too long. Regularly in London, yet still managed to avoid this find.

Kris Wines is the second best beer shop in London, but the number one, the Utobeer stall, is only available during the limited Borough Market hours. On contrast, Kris is available even in late, post-meeting hours.

Not all roads lead to Kris, and my route is probably not one you would try out a late evening wearing your most flashy designer gear. Having attended quite a few beer festivals, my observation is that the latter may not pose too much of a problem to many beer enthusiasts.

The route involved taking the Piccadilly line to Caledonian Road, just one (long) stop east of King's Cross St. Pancras, and making the 10 minute walk up North Road to this splendid beer and wine shop in 394 York Way. From the tube station you get a glimpse of the imposing Emirates Stadium- on Saturdays the fashion code is red and white Emirates shirts in this area. The walk continues past 19th century buildings, full of character despite having seen the ravages of time, dreadful post-war estates that have fared much worse, and then there is the odd noughties building with solid fences around.

Finally inside this unimposing off-licence an impressive arsenal of craft beers- both international and British- await you. Among the international guys, the Belgians impress the most, but the British selection is still the main draw to me.

I think I have found my new, regular hotspot in the British capital, besides The Wenlock Arms. Both offer sufficient ammunition for most beer hunters, in my opinion.

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