Tuesday, 20 August 2013


The train from Oslo to Bergen lasts about 7 hours, and undulates and bobs around so much that you feel a bit pukey when you finally disembark. The simplest way to put that right though is to head straight over to 'Henrik Øl & Vinstove'. It's not the easy place to locate, until you look upwards at about 35%.

There it is!

You then have to climb some stairs, before being rewarded with a truly wonderous apparition:

There's some of the finest Scandinavian craft brews listed on that monster board.
This was a 'Beer Here' I think...

All this Norwegian (and Danish) beer will have you pining for the Fjords....

Monday, 29 July 2013


The train from Oslo takes a leisurely 8 hours to meander down the coast of Norway, giving you plenty of opportunity to check out countless waterfalls and lakes along the way. Once there, the star attraction is of course not the fjords, but instead the Cardinal.
Henry VIII's fat friend Cardinal Wolsey, we can be fairly sure, owed his impressive girth to drinking wine rather than beer, so it's slightly odd that Norway's most well stocked beer bar should be named after him, but so it is.

The numerous banks of taps that confront you is challenging enough, but the bottled beer menu is on a par with War & Peace.

Neatly divided up by beer styles, I spotted a firm favourite; Danish brewer Midtfyns' Barley Wine.

As soon as the top came off this joker, you could whiff it from a mile off; woooooooof.
There seem to be two ways a beer can be sweet; the disgusting revolting way, like the vile 'Leffe', or the delicate subtle way like a strong Barley Wine. No doubt which camp this one was in.
I noticed that the 'best before' date was distinctly in the past...

Actually, what does a 'best before' date mean on a 10% Barley Wine? It's going to get better, or at least different, the longer you leave it - it might make more sense to call it a 'best after' date. Why put one on, other than regulations? It's not like bottles of wine have a 'best before' date (do they?).
Such depth did this reprobate have that a Hoptilicus seemed ever so one dimensional compared to it.
Pretty decent trade for a pub where you can pay the best part of 20 quid for one beer.

Once you can drag yourself out of this place to check out the fjords, a splendid beer to drink whilst doing so is the locally brewed 'Johnny Low' 2.5% IPA. These come from Stavanger's 'Lervig Aktiebryggeri', who also do a range which includes a red and a brown ale. These others cunningly come in at 4.7% to allow them to be sold in supermarkets.
Quaffing these 2.5% comedians whilst on the boat will give you a much better chance of swimming to the shore should it capsize, compared to if you'd downed 5 or so Barley Wines. Except there isn't a shore, just a vertical rock face, but you can cross that bridge when you come to it.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Oslo Beer

Norway, like Sweden, has the strange policy of only allowing alcoholic drinks below a certain strength to be sold in supermarkets - anything above has to be sold in state owned booze shops. The Norwegian equivalent of the Swedish 'Systembolaget' are the altogether more user-friendly named 'Vinmonopolet' - you don't have to be an expert in Nordic languages to be able to summon up a guess as to what that might mean.
From the outside this one near the Bislett stadium could pass for the Bates Motel...

Once inside though you realise you won't be in any danger of being knifed in the shower, although you could well do yourself a nasty turn when you see some of the prices.

The choice at this branch was way better than the Systembolagets I visited in Sweden. There's oodles of top-notch craft beer from all over Europe, including some great stuff from Italy.

Corrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, look at them lot.
These scrimshankers all together cost me north of 75 quid...

There is quite a significant difference, though, between Norway's policy and Sweden's - in Sweden, the cut-off level for supermarket booze is a very restrictive 3.5% whereas in Norway (as far as I can tell) it's 4.7%. A difference of 1.2% might not seem much, but it makes all the difference in the world when it comes to beer. A good chunk of traditional beers come in around the 4.5% mark, which means that you can still get a perfectly reasonable selection from supermarkets, including some Nøgne and Ægir brews.

These jokers can all be bought away from the government's beady eye. Yes, that one on the left is called 'Aass' - it's not up to much though.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Stockholm beers

As Sweden has the curious approach of not allowing any alcoholic drinks over 3.5% to be sold in supermarkets, a predictable result of this is that brewers, both Swedish and foreign, brew special 3.5% versions of beers which would normally be of regular strength.

3.5%, the lot of them.

"Celt" by "Iron Age" is a beer I've had before in its normal form, and this one suffered a fair bit in comparison - something thin and watery about it.
Some of the Swedish 3.5% dudes were actually pretty good, but of course their brewers will take it a lot more seriously.

This groovy place on Södermalm specialises in mixing craft beer and sausages...

A bottle of "Brother Thelonious" and a sausage will set you back about £17, but this is Stockholm.

Friday, 28 June 2013


"Systembolaget" is not a computer virus, but instead the chain of Swedish state owned booze shops. There are many industries such as rail, utilities and post that we'd all like to see nationalised, but in Sweden they've gone for the slightly unorthodox route of having flogging booze as a nationalised industry.

From what I've read, not so many years ago they resembled austere Soviet type places where you'd fill in a form which you handed to someone with an expression like you'd just condemned his Granny to 80 years in a gulag, but if that's the case they aren't like that any more. The ones I've been in actually have much more cheery staff that you'd find in your average Thresher.
Although I didn't try out my Swedish apparently they'll advise you as much as you want, without actively trying to flog you any booze.

That's actually the idea - it's supposed to be a way of allowing booze to be sold without actually promoting it. The only stuff that's allowed to be sold in a regular supermarket is stuff at 3.5% or below, which pretty much rules out everything other than low strength beer.

I'm not quite sure how many alcoholics there are out there whose path into the dark side was initiated by some bird in "Cheapest cigs'n'booze" flashing her eyelids at them whilst waving a can of special brew, but clearly Sweden thinks that's part of the problem.
Every single academic study has found that countries which integrate alcohol into normal society are the ones who have the least problems associated with it, but just because that's true doesn't mean it shouldn't be totally ignored when deciding your national policy on the subject. And if your policy isn't working, that doesn't mean you should adapt it to be more like your neighbours which have a more liberal and more successful approach - no, instead you should be more different. It's obvious isn't it?
Their opening hours are specially designed to make it as inconvenient as possible to use them. If you suddenly decide you want some wine or proper beer on a Sunday, a Saturday after 4pm, or a weekday after 7pm (and this is in cosmopolitan Stockholm mind) then you can just bugger off to the nearest pub, because you're not going to be getting it from a Systembolaget. That will teach you won't it.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Not Carlsberg

Carlsberg's advertising slogan in Denmark is "this calls for a Carlsberg". What does? Being told you have to take poison? Finding out you have no mouth? Being hired by Meat Loaf as his personal trainer?
In response to the growing availability and quality of Danish craft beer, the fat slobs at Carlsberg decided they'd get in on the game, and so in 2005 was launched "Jacobsen", named after Carlsberg's founder, Jacobsen Jacobsensen. You can get these in Netto, but I passed on them until they were the only serious beer option on the menu of a Chinese restaurant.

The Pale Ale is a creditable attempt and, like the whole range, come in whopping 75cl bottles. It's not overly hopped and doesn't drown you in grapefruit; their "Saaz Blonde" though is better.
This is a serious brew; it's nice to have a heavily hopped beer which is not of the cirtus variety for a change. Suggestion to Carlsberg - stop making your revolting urine based drink for which you are best known, and make some more of this instead.

A Mikkeller beer which really 'stands out' is their "Sleep Over Coffee IPA". If you ever tried mixing tea with crème de menthe, or brandy with lemonade, or red wine with hot chocolate, then you'll have some idea of what this is like. The coffee and the hops in this don't remotely go together, and I imagine that's what the point is. It's Mikkeller.

"Ørsted Ølbar" is a fine pub near the centre of Copenhagen. They have a good selection of craft brews on tap, and hundreds of bottles including lots of Belgian classics. Several of the tap beers were from the local "Amager Bryghus".
"Showdown in Tourpes" is a fine Saison, but the star of the show was their incredible stout "Pride".
At 10% it has a lot of muscle, but it doesn't use it to beat up people who listen to Coldplay; instead it uses it to provide a whopping aroma that almost knocks you out, with a flavour so full of stout type stuff that you have to spend at least an hour or so on one glass.
Cop these...

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Copenhagen craft beer bars

Even if you had only one eye you couldn't fail to spot Lord Nelson as you amble through central Copenhagen.

Here you will find a good selection of Danish craft brews, without a French fleet guarding them.
Some big names in the Danish brewing scene...
Inside it's small but with a traditional pub feel.
I once had a 'BeerHere' by mail order when I lived in Germany ('Fat Cat' as I remember) so I opted for the 'Dead Cat'.
 These 'BeerHere' dudes really know how to brew.

On to the famous Mikkeller Bar... doing a brisk trade early evening.
Walking in you feel like you've just walked into 'Jazz Club'...
Blackboards at school never had anything this exciting written on them...
You won't find these in your local Dog 'n' Duck... it's 'art' I think...
The beers normally come in small 20cl measures (although some are available in 33cl), probably because a 50cl of most of these would cost an arm and a leg.
The "It's alive" is described as 'Chardonnay Mango Barrel Aged'. This took me a bit of working out - was it aged in a barrel which had had mango or Chardonnay in it? Or both? Or did it have Chardonnay hop in it, and had been aged in a mango barrel? Or did it have both Chardonnay hop and mango in it, and it had been aged in a barrel which had contained sheep dip? It was reasonably interesting but I don't think I'd want to pay 6 Euros for 20cl of it too many times.
A 'Wild Winter Ale' I would expect to be something thick and dark and decidedly cellar temperature, and maybe include some wolf howling noises and fireworks and stuff with it, but instead it was pale and too cold and without howling.
I'm sick to the back teeth of IPAs so I tried a 'Lambicus'. It wasn't really like a Belgian Lambic (I'm not even sure it was trying to be) but paired with a beer sausage was probably the best of the three.
As you depart and head on down the street, you come to a beer shop specialising in the Norwegian brew Nøgne, called 'Den Norske Landhandel'.
This geezer's got his sales patter well sorted out - as soon as you come in he pours a beer for you.
He even taught me how to pronounce 'Nøgne' - from what I can remember it's something like 'Nonnoo'.
Cor blimey, look at that lot.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Copenhagen Supermarket beers

"Netto" isn't really a shop you would go to to get your beers unless you had to. They arrived in Britain when I was a student, and boy did I make good use of them. They did 'Saxon Bitter' and 'Viking Lager' for what I seem to remember was around 20p a tin; nowadays that doesn't seem unusual but back then it was.
Of course the quality wasn't up to much; they were around 2-3% and, to be honest, if I was a Saxon or a Viking and found myself in Valhalla, and was given either of them to drink, I would probably cleave off the head of the serving wench and think that dying with a sword in your hand really wasn't worth the effort.
They sprang to mind when I checked out a Netto on its own turf in Copenhagen, and saw a 'Viking IPA'.

It's brewed by Danish brewery Braunstein, and I'm sure it is not remotely related to either of the beers I downed by the sackful back then.
It's a very fine IPA as it happens; the hops noticeable but not overwhelming, and pleasantly florally like Copenhagen itself. Netto also do a couple of decent brown ales by local brewers. At 20-25 Krowns, they clock in at about the £2.50 to £3 mark, which would have had me fainting back then but is about par for the course in Copenhagen.
They also stock beers from the celebrity brewers Norrebro Bryghaus. These come in a bottle which sort of looks like it's just trying to be different; at first I mistook them for vinegar.

They claim their red ale is rund and fyldig and who would argue with that? It's certainly decent but not up to the standard of most Mikkellers I've had.

Moving from one extreme to the other, we proceed to the pompously named 'Magasin Du Nord', one of Copenhagen's le-pomp-du-pomp department stores.

For anyone into their Scandinavian craft beers, the beer selection here will have you sweating out of 11 different orifices at once; a good selection of Mikkellers and other top Danish craft brewers, along with some Norwegian bods. Arrive with well stocked pockets though.

The Mikkeller 'Saison' was about the cheapest there at around £4 for a small bottle, but was sufficiently superb to make it worth it. The Skands Porter was regularly priced and a good example of the style. When I find a misplaced suitcase on a train stuffed with 1000K notes then I might try some of Mikkeller's 'barrel aged' stuff.

"Irma" is a sort of midrange place a bit like Rewe in Germany. It seems just about every supermarket in Denmark is well stocked with fine examples of Danish craft brews.

The Didrick Luxusbryg was thick, syrupy and treacly (if any of those are possible) and tasted like a Christmas pudding; I wish I'd bought 10 of them. The Herslev Økologisk Landøl on the other hand was a bit flat and lifeless; maybe I got a dodgy bottle.