Monday, January 21, 2013

World class beer places in Stockholm

Despite being less than an hour's flight away from Oslo, I had never been to the Swedish capital until a business appointment forced my hand. Thus, on a cold Friday in early January 2013, I found myself on the Arlanda Express train from the airport to Stockholm Central Station, with three days at my disposal.

The Royal Palace in Stockholm seen from Skeppsholmsbron

Stockholm is the capital of Sweden and the largest city in the Nordic countries, with a population of 870 thousand in the city and more than 2 million in the greater Stockholm area. The city was founded sometime in the 13th century at the spot where Lake Mälaren empties out into the Baltic Sea. This was probably a strategically important place to settle, in order to protect entrance to the lake and the old settlements along its shores.

The city originally rose to prominence as a result of the Baltic trade of the Hanseatic League, but it was with the accession of Gustav Vasa to the throne in 1523 that Stockholm really grew into the major city it has remained ever since. Especially in the 17th and 18th century, with Sweden a major European power, did Stockholm take on much of the appearance it has today - with a massive royal palace, impressive architecture and a multitude of harbors.

Modern Stockholm is a mixture of history, art and culture, with endless waterfront walkways and small islets connected by bridges or ferries. Whether your thing is museums, theatres, island hopping, walking along beautiful canals and waterfronts, shopping or dining at great restaurants, Stockholm has it all. And, of course, it also has a world class beer scene.

The easiest way to get to Stockholm is to fly to Arlanda Airport and take the Arlanda Express train, departing up to five times an hour for most of the day. It takes you straight to Stockholm C, in the heart of modern Stockholm, in just 20 minutes.

Södermalmstorg in Stockholm seen from Katarinahissen
The beer scene
The beer scene in Stockholm is old by Nordic standards, several of the great beer places started up in the 1990s, just as the first wave of US craft brewing was peaking. Because of that, the older places still have close ties to US craft brewing, usually offering a number of US craft beers on draft. In addition to much else.

Because of their age, some of them twenty years old, the Stockholm beer bars feel more like great US beer bars than the more hip beer bars I've been to in Copenhagen and Oslo. In Stockholm, it feels like the most natural thing to ask for a SKA Modus Hoperandi or a Girardin Guezue Black Label 2001. No beers are hip, they're just plain, good quailty beers served by people who know what they're doing.

Because I only had three nights, one of which was a public holiday with many places closed, I only got to visit three beer bars on this trip - Monk's Porter House, House of Ales Oliver Twist and Akkurat Restaurang & Bar.

Monk's Porter House
Despite its old appearance, in the cellar of a protected 17th century building on Munkbron 11 in Gamla Stan ("old town"), the Monk's Porter House is actually a fairly new place, which opened up in 2010. It's one of several "daughter pubs" of the famous Monk's Café Wallingatan, in the north of Stockholm, which opened up in September 2006. Like its mother pub, Monk's Porter House is a working brewery, basically a brewpub, which focuses on dark beers, typically stouts and porters, as its name suggests.

Porter steak and stout at Monk's Porter House
When you arrive at Munkbron 11, walk in the main entrance and don't let the wine bar on the first floor fool you, but take a sharp right turn and head down the staircase into the basement. There you'll be met with walls and vaulted ceilings made out of old, reddish brick stones stained by time and what looks like open fires.

The bar is on the left hand and straight ahead you'll be able to peek in, through a large window, onto a dark, cave like room containing all the kegs connected to the tap lines of the bar. All in all, Monk's Porter House sports 56 tap lines, allowing visitors to try locally brewed beer, beer brewed at the Monk's Café mother pub and guest beers from all over the world. And with about 150 types of beer on bottle, again mostly porters and stouts, you should be able to find something to enjoy - if dark is your craving.

I settled by a small table in a dark corner, only lit by a candle. A rather romantic setting, if I had brought a partner, and certainly cozy. The bartender was on my case right away, giving great suggestions both for beers to try and for beers to drink along with my dinner - a tender and juicy porter steak which I ended up having with Monk's Café 101 Oktan imperial stout. A reasonably good match.

Monk's Porter House and Monk's Café both make seriously good beer. Usually strong too. On the night of my visit they had two well aged beers fron Monk's Café on draft, the 101 Oktan Imperial Stout and Trequartista, both around 10% abv and brewed in 2010, making them smooth and well rounded with age, but still very tasty and enjoyable. Of their own beers, I just had to try the Red Rauk'n Roll - a really well made smoke beer of 14,5% abv.

With my cheese dessert, the bartender suggested Dogfish Head World Wide Stout 2009, which turned out to be a great combination with the strong, slightly earthy flavor of the aged brie. Yummy.

Akkurat or Akkurat Restaurang & Bar was founded in 1997 and is located in Hornsgatan 11 in Södermalm, not far from the Slussen metro stop. From the outside it doesn't look like much, except for the reveiling red neon sign for North Coast Brother Thelonious. But once inside you'll be met by an impressive bar with a great number of beer taps and lots of exclusive bottles lined over the bar.

Akkurat Restaurang & Bar in Södermalm

Akkurat is not only the highest rated beer bar in Sweden but has for many years been rated as one of the best beer bars in the world, by the users of With a great draft beer selection and a truly amazing bottled beer menu, containing rare beers of many vintages, it's a place you can spend days and weeks without getting through it all. Akkurat is also one of the few places in the world participating in the annual Zwanze Day event, because of their long and close ties with Belgian lambic brewery Cantillon.

On my first visit, late on a Friday night, the place was so packed I had to stand in the second line by the bar. It didn't make for an enjoyable drinking experience, so the next day I was back shortly after their 3 o'clock opening to secure a spot at one of the long, wooden tables. That worked much better and I was even able to ask the very knowledgable bartenders about beer suggestions before they got swamped by the crowds.

Girardin Gueuze Black Label 2001 at Akkurat
As a sour ale lover, in particular lambic based sour ales, I was amazed by their bottled beer menu which sported several pages of lambics, gueuze, krieks and other fruit sour ales. My eyes fell on a 2001 vintage of Girardin Gueuze Black Label, this 11 year beer cost me just 175 swedish kroner for a 37,5 cl bottle. Ridiculously cheap for such an old an awesome beer!

I also got to try another old favorite of mine, Hair of the Dog Fred from the Wood of 2008 vintage. It was amazing. On draft I tried the very nice Monk's Blood from 21st Amendment, Gouden Carolus Christmas from Het Anker and Närke Vintermörker to name a few.

After my two visits two Akkurat, I understand why this place is so highly rated. But you should make sure to be there early in the day, before it gets too crowded and noisy.

Oliver Twist
House of Ales Oliver Twist opened up to the drinking public in May 1993 and it can still be found in Repslagargatan 6, just a block south of Akkurat, in Södermalm. It radiates more of a neighborhood pub feel than the worldly Akkurat, with a dark, English type of pub atmosphere. The ceiling is covered by banners, for beer as well as sports teams, while the walls are covered with beer ads and blackboards listing what's on tap.

The impressive bar at House of Ales Oliver Twist

Unlike at Akkurat, it never felt that crowded on Oliver Twist, even late on a Saturday night I found a small table to sit down at. The bartender knew his beers, both the Swedish and the American brands. I also enjoyed two good meals at Oliver Twist, a rich and tasty fish soup for lunch one day and a tender sirloin steak for dinner the next. Along with the steak I enjoyed the delicious Belgian Style Yeti from Great Divide Brewing Company, which I thought was a good match.

Because of the neighborhood feel, with many regulars sitting in the bar, it seemed easier to get involved in conversation about beer and food. And when I forgot my guidebook, it was handed over to the bartender who gave it back to me when I returned the next day. Thus, even after just two visits I feel very much at home at Oliver Twist.

Regarding the beer selection at Oliver Twist. On draft I tried several American classics, such as Avery The Maharaja, SKA Brewing Modus Hoperandi and Rogue Ales Old Crustacean, in addition to a number of beers I'd never had before - such as Magic Rock Dark Star from England and the awesome Nils Oscar Saison 2009. On bottle I got to try a couple of rare beers from American craft brewer Michael Lalli, his Brewmaster's Signature Gose and Grätzer.

Choc Brewmaster's Signature Grätzer at OT

All in all, Stockholm more than impressed me as a cultural and craft beer city. Akkurat is just as good as its RateBeer ranking says, though I felt that the atmosphere at Monk's Porter House was more cozy and that Oliver Twist had a more homey, neighborhood feel. But all three pubs are worth several visits, their beer selection will keep you busy for days.

I will surely return, but probably when the weather is a bit warmer than in January.

More photos from my trip to Stockholm can be found at Flickr.

No comments:

Post a Comment