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.

Friday, 7 June 2013

The creeping fingers of Evil

One of the great things about Germany compared to Britain is the lack of puritanism and prohibition. You can get a beer practically anywhere - in a museum, at a kebab place, in a park, at the cinema, at the canteen at work. Just as importantly, nobody would dream of batting an eyelid at you for doing so, whatever the time of day. It's perfectly normal to see people at the train station at 9am having a beer whilst waiting for their train.
But unfortunately I recently saw a very disturbing sign on the train from Celle to Lubeck.

This wasn't a Deutsche-Bahn train; it was run by a company called "Metronom", which as far as I can work out is owned by a couple of the states in the area (other accounts suggest it's privately owned though).
I very much hope this isn't the way things are going to go in the future in Germany; I would gladly boycott this revolting train company if I had the slightest choice.
Germany beware - do not invite the odious disease of self-righteous puritanism through your front door, because like Count Dracula it will stick its fangs in and you will never be rid of it.
To get rid of this sick feeling in the stomach, I had to retire to the nearest Brauhaus. Luckily Lubeck has a fine example in "Brauberger".

Situated in a quiet side-street in the Altstadt, they have a traditional look inside.

One wall is adorned with a fat King.

I don't know what this jolly plump fellow would have thought if he'd known that one day in the distant future you wouldn't be allowed to drink a beer on a train in his kingdom. You would have had to explain what a train was first I suppose.
Their house brewed unfiltered Pils needs no explanation though.

Whilst drinking it I had a vision of the fat King smashing a Metronom train to pieces with his axe. Cheers Fatso.

The town of Lüneburg is a gem which should be much more widely known. Apart from a splendidly preserved Altstadt it's other notable feature is the Brauhaus "Mälzer".

Inside the brewing paraphernalia is as usual on full view.

Their unfiltered Pils is decent enough, but what really stands out is their Weissbier.

"Caramel Surprise" is what they should call this beer. The caramel flavour is so strong it's still coming out of your armpits days later. Whatever type of yeast they're using, they should pass on some of it to some Bavarian brewers, who are put to shame by this fine example of the genre.