Sunday, August 26, 2012

Grünerløkka mat- og mikrobrygg festival

On August 24 and 25, 2012, Grünlerløkka mat- og mikrobrygg festival was held for the fifth year running. After a humble start in September 2008, on the pavement outside Parkteatret, this has become a very popular and well known food and beer festival in the Norwegian capital. This blog post is a brief report from the opening day this year.

Early visitors at the 2012 festival, before it got crowded.

The festival
Except for the first year, when the festival was held outside Parkteatret, the festival is held in the back yard of Café Vespa, in Københavngata 4, just north of Sofienbergparken in Oslo. It's arranged by the Jan Vardøen-owned Grünerløkka Brygghus gastropub.

As its Norwegian name implies, "mat- og mikrobrygg" meaning "food and micro brew", this festival is all about good quality food and beer. However, because of limited exposure to the food selection this year (there were looong lines by the time I became hungry) I will keep to the "micro brew" part of the festival in this report.

This year saw a couple of changes at the festival. First and foremost, you couldn't pay with cash or credit card at the beer or food stalls anymore, but had to use tokens. The tokens were purchased at the entrance, for 300 NOK you got 10 tokens. This is a sensible change, because it should take less time at the head of a queue to transer two tokens for a beer than to find the correct amount of cash or even use a credit card to pay. However, the execution was a bit flawed since you had to return to the entrance and line up with those waiting to get in. Thus, it could easily take 10-15 minutes to obtain more tokens, which ruined the gain of quicker service at the beer stalls.

The other change was that the organizer, learning from last year, had erected big party tents to let visitors take cover in case of rain. And this proved to be a good precaution, because we got some rain this year too! It was also said that the gate would close when the festival area was full, to avoid the crowded atmosphere and long queues of last year. This turned out to be the case, but in my view they did so a bit late because the festival area was already very crowded by the time I saw the big gate closing. This had several bad effects.

  • The line of people for the restroom was constantly long, forcing you to plan well ahead so that you could line up in time to relieve yourself. Or else you would have to do like some did, run for the park! 
  • The crowded area also made it near impossible to sit down to eat or get some rest, since all the seating space were taken. And those seated always ran the risk of getting beer poured down their necks from people bumping into each other as they tried to pass behind the back of those seated.

Aside from these issues, the festival was a resounding success with a record number of craft breweries attending, nine in all bringing draft beer as well as bottled beer. Visitors could choose from more than 40 beers on draft and a lot more on bottle, including many new and rare beers. It was certainly enough to keep even the most hardened beer geek occupied for two full days.

Here follows an alphabetical list of the attending breweries.

Amundsen Bryggeri & Spiseri
Oslo based brewpub Amundsen Bryggeri & Spiseri, which opened up in February 2011, attended the festival for the first time this year. They brought along three draft beers, the 4.7% hefeweizen Hveteøl, the 4.6% Pale Ale and the brand new 7% black IPA called Black Bird. The latter was a really smooth and hoppy black ale.

Scottish punk brewers BrewDog had stand at the festival, manned by their importer - Cask Norway, serving some of the most interesting beers at the festival. On draft they offered Punk IPA, Hardcore IPA and 5 AM Saint, all excellent beers but these days fairly common. Even in Oslo. It was the bottle menu that attracted my attention, with three novelties: Abstrakt AB:10 - an 11.5% imperial brown ale aged on wine barrels from Malaga, International Arms Race - a 7.5% Flying Dog collaboration beer,  and Dog A - a 15.2% imperial stout brewed with vanilla, coffee and naga chili!

Like BrewDog, nobody from the Danish brewery Hornbeer were actually present at the festival. Instead, their Norwegian importer Beer Enthusiast manned a stand serving some draft beers from Hornbeer, including the tasty 11% Caribbean Rumstout and the 9.3% Hophorn black IPA.

From Drammen, west of Oslo, HaandBryggeriet has attended all of the five festivals so far. This year Ole Richard Lund and Rune Eriksen represented the brewery, and they brought along some well known draft beers, including the popular 6.2% Fyr & Flamme IPA and the massive 11% Odin's Tipple imperial stout. On bottle they brought along two new ones, the smooth and nicely roasted 6.5% Sundvolden Porter (only released in 3360 bottles) and the 8.2% Fatlagret Porter - a porter aged on akevitt barrels, just like the old Akevitt Porter.

HaandBryggeriet Sundvolden Porter
- brewed for Sundvolden Hotel
Kinn Bryggeri
Based in Florø in Sogn og Fjordane, on the west coast of Norway, Kinn Bryggeri is less than three years old but already among the top breweries in Norway. Like last year, founder and brewer Espen Lothe showed up with a number of outstanding draft beers. Including the 9.5% Bøvelen abbey tripel and the 10% Svartekunst imperial stout.

Midtfyns Bryghus
Danish brewery Midtfyns Bryghus attended because they had another engagement in Oslo. Its owner, Eddie Szweda, manned the stand, serving several great draft beers. Including the awesome X Porter (originally brewed with Menno Olivier from De Molen) and the brand new 5.9% American Pale Ale with Wasabi and Ginger - fittingly served with a sushi taster!

Nøgne Ø
The oldest and most successful Norwegian craft brewery, Nøgne Ø, is also a veteran of this festival, and this year they brought several new beers with them. On draft they offered a potent pilsenser, the 9% Imperial Python Pilsner, as well as the 6.5% White IPA - a collaboration with Bad Attitude brewed in Switzerland. They also served the new batch of Pumpkin Ale from tap, which tasted very different from the one last year and seemed a bit thin.

Bryggerikjelleren at Sundbytunet is the domain of the old Nøgne Ø brewer, Frank Werme. Since opening up less than a year ago he has already attended several beer festivals and made a collaboration beer with Italian brewer Teo Musso from Le Baladin. At Grünerløkka, Frank brought with him several excellent draft beers - including the 6.7% Emmigrant IPA and the 6.5% Vinterporter. The last one is a gem of a porter, smooth and tasty.

Ægir Bryggeri
Based in Flåm in Sogn og Fjordane, on the west coast of Norway, Ægir Bryggeri is a veteran at this festival, attending for the 4th year running. This year, founder Evan Lewis stayed home to attend matters with his brand new brewery complex which opened up for the 5 year anniversary in June. This year, Ægir brought along a brand new beer, called Dirty Blonde. From what I heard, this 4,7% ale was made by aging the regular Bøyla Blonde Ale in an old Lynchburg bourbon barrel. The result was fruity and good. They also offered Sumbel Porter on draft and a new batch of Lynchburg Natt on bottle.

It can also be mentioned that Brooklyn Brewery had a stand, serving one draft beer.

Concluding remarks
Grünerløkka mat- og mikrobrygg festival is still the best craft beer festival in Oslo, 2012 had an even more impressive list of breweries and beer than last year. Its friendly atmosphere and good location makes it a great place for people to come and discover beer.

The 2012 festival also revealed some problems that have to be addressed.

  1. The current location has become too small for such a popular festival, causing crammed conditions and long queues at the few restrooms available. It would be nice to have seating space for all visitors.
  2. Tokens should be sold at more than one location, or at least be moved away from the entrance, allowing those already inside to more easily purchase tokens.
But these are minor issues. Overall, the festival was arranged in an excellent manner by the people at Grünerløkka Brygghus and I send my warmest thanks to everyone involved - also the brewers and breweries. Thank you very much for this year!

Ægir Dirty Blonde on draft at the festival.

More photos from the festival can be found at Flickr.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Midtfyns Bryghus at Amundsen

On Thursday August 23, 2012, Erik Nielsen and Eddie Szweda of Midtfyns Bryghus visited the brewpub Amundsen Bryggeri & Spiseri in Oslo, to brew a special beer and give a beer tasting. This blog post is a brief summary of that eventful day and night.

Midtfyns Bryghus at Amundsen in Oslo.

Midtfyns Bryghus
Midtfyns Bryghus was founded in late 2004 in Brobyværk, on the island of Funen (Fyn) in Denmark. The first beer was released in March of the following year, but the brewery struggled to make a profit - hardly selling for a million Danish crowns in its first year of operation. It wasn't until Eddie Szweda took over the reins in November 2006 that things started to get better for the small brewery.

Eddie Szweda is a US expat who is married to a Danish woman and has lived in Denmark for the last 19 years, speaking the language fluently. When he took over the brewery, he changed the way Midtfyns Bryghus brewed their beers and completely revamped the beer lineup, introducing a number of exciting new beer styles. Over the next few years, Midtfyns Bryghus would consistenly be named one of the top craft breweries in Denmark, and they've won the "Årets ølnyhed" (best new beer of the year) competition, hosted by the Danish Beer Enthusiasts, three times:

- For 2007 with Midtfyns Imperial Stout
- For 2009 with Midtfyns Chili Tripel
- For 2010 with Midtfyns Rough Snuff

No other Danish brewery has won this competition three times.

Brewing Rough Snuff
Rough Snuff is a remarkable beer, in many ways. It was originally created by home brewer Erik Nielsen and made with real snuff (snus). Eddie Szweda got to taste it and liked the beer so much that he asked Erik to brew a full batch at Midtfyns Bryghus, which he duly did. And it turned out really well. However, shortly after being voted the best new beer in 2010, Rough Snuff was banned by the Danish authorities because it was brewed with real snuff, which is illegal according to EU regulations. Thus, a Rough Snuff II was created, brewed without the use of snuff, and this is the beer you'll find in most beer shops and bars today - not the long gone original.

Tom Alfred Øimo and Erik Nielsen brewing up to something
This legal business was the reason why Erik Nielsen and Eddie Szweda decided to make a trip across Skagerak and visit Oslo in August 2012 - to brew Rough Snuff according to the original recipe, in a non EU country. That latter part is crucial here, the beer in itself is illegal to brew in the European Union, but it can be brewed elsewhere and still be sold within the EU.

On August 23, the brewer at Amundsen, Tom Alfred Øimo, opened up his 500 litre brewhouse to welcome Erik Nielsen for a memorable Rough Snuff brewing session. Using real snuff. This batch should be ready in time for the Oslo Ølfestival in early October, but it will not be bottled only sold from keg.

Erik Nielsen, by the way, now has his own contract brewery, Ø-Bryg.

Beer Tasting
Eddie Szweda is an experienced beer tasting leader, according to he holds some 160 beer tastings annually and has so far had more than 10 thousand people at his tastings! So, it was only natural to add a beer tasting event to the program at Amundsen. Thus, with Rough Snuff fermenting happily a few feet away, some fourty guests turned up for the Midtfyns Bryghus beer tasting at 7 o'clock.

Eddie Szweda of Midtfyns Bryghus

The plan was to taste five different beers, three from keg and two from bottle, but because two of the kegs had gone bad we ended up with only one beer on keg - the Wasabi and Ginger pale ale - plus an extra beer on bottle, the Gleipner:

  • Midtfyns American Pale Ale with Wasabi and Ginger (5.9% pale ale)
  • Midtfyns Ale (6.5% ESb)
  • Midtfyns Chili Triple (9.3% abbey tripel)
  • Midtfyns / De Molen X Porter (8% imperial porter)
  • Midtfyns Gleipner (9.2% black ipa)
  • Midtfyns Barley Wine (10%)

For some reason or other, the largely Norwegian audience felt more comfortable with English, so despite being fluent in Danish - a sister language to Norwegian - Eddie Szweda held the beer tasting in English but with Danish terms liberally used throughout. He started by telling us about the brewery, that Midtfyns Bryghus makes batches of 800-1100 litre and that all of their bottles have been manually filled and capped. At most they can bottle 9,000 bottles per week. That's craft brewing for you!

Another thing he was very proud of was the beer brewed for the 100 year anniversary of the Danish Blind Socity. It was a brown ale which came in bottles with blank labels, they carried not text whatsover. Except for braille. Thus, a normal seeing could not tell what kind of beer it was, only a blind with knowledge of braille!

Midtfyns Wasabi and Ginger Pale Ale
The beer tasting started with a brand new beer, the American Pale Ale with Wasabi and Ginger. Eddie Szweda got the idea for this beer while enjoying a meal of sushi with a tasteless Japanese lager, which didn't really stand up to the food. After playing around with some ingredients he ended up with a mildly hopped American pale ale, spiced with wasabi and ginger.

The beer poured a cloudy orange color with a white head. It had a mild spicy aroma, with a green apple fruitiness and hints of ginger. It had a nice, light mouthfeel with a soft carbonation. The taste was fruity too, with a mild ginger flavor and some herbal spiciness. The wasabi added a mild hot touch at the very end, but very subtle. This is a surprisingly balanced and good ale, and it does go really well with sushi.

As for the other beers at the tasting, Midtfyns Ale, Gleipner and Barley Wine were of the more average kind, but still pleasant to drink. The highlights for me, in addition to the wasabi and ginger pale ale, were the Chili Tripel and the X Porter.

The Chili Tripel is an awesome abbey tripel, with all the right fruits and yeasty spices but with a surprisingly warm touch from the chili at the very end. The high alcohol is well concealed making this a very drinkable beer. Eddie Szweda told us that the Chili Tripel is their best selling beer, accounting for 22% of Midtfyns' annual sales.

The X Porter, originally made with dutch brewer Menno Olivier from Bouwerij de Molen, after the Copenhagen Beer Festival 2010, is a silky smooth imperial porter with a lovely "dark aroma" of roasted malts, licorice and chocolate and a rich taste of coffee, cocoa and mild caramel. It's a rich and delicious beer. 

At the end of the night, Eddie Szweda walked around answering questions and asking what people thought of the various beers he had presented during the tasting. I can safely say I had a great time, enjoying some excellent beers from Midtfyns.

Thank you very much to Amundsen, Beer Enthusiast, Erik Nielsen and Eddie Szweda for making this a great night!

More photos from the brewing session and beer tasting can be found at Flickr.