Thursday, November 11, 2010

finally something right



As the holiday season rolls into town with all it´s mediocre viennas and lack of imported ales, we are treated with something out of the ordinary by one of the macros here in Iceland.

Viking Brewery, although situated in my hometown Akureyri in north Iceland, is not the greatest brewery around. They brew pretty ordinary lager beers, that taste somewhat like a scandinavian version of Heineken. Like every nation in the world, Iceland loves it lager beers, and we who like something else than pissy yellow fizzy drinks are not that many, given the fact that Iceland habits only about 300,000 people. Given these circumstances, everything out of the norm is saluted by me. I´m crazy, I´ve refreshing the monopoly liquor store website because I know Old Foghorn is expected. Some people go to the liquor stores and bring cases of Viking beer out, I´m happy with 2-3 bottles of something different or micros. So I´m quite happy, that a "giant" in the Icelandic beer industry decides to do something different.

The Christmas Bock is full bodied bock, that lacks nothing. It is just as good as it´s German cousins and could easily rank among the best. This was bottled only a few days ago and already it has a nose full of nuts, malt and grass. Big palate, with somewhat creamy finish. This is excellent, and I´m already on my 3rd tonight.

In other news, sadly, Ölvisholt is out of business...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Stone Brewing!


I love Stone Brewing Company. I love all their beers. Arrogant Bastard was an instand hit and before that I had sampled Double Bastard which challenged every single DNA strain in my taste buds.

I bought this bottle last year in New York, was going to keep it for a few years but I decided that such a fine ale could not wait a few years, why not open it tonight in my new apartment?

Sometimes I think it´s a good think that I live in Iceland. I have no access to huge beers like this barley wine, although the local imperial stout is pretty damn good! To have access to beers like this would mean that my basement would not be a storage area, it would be a beer cellar! Just a sniff of the aroma that is rising from the snifter is whiff of excellence to my nose. Hops all around, caramel sweetness, hints of dry hey, very floral and reminds me somewhat of new cut grass and a smell of a barn in the country. Obvious citrus undertones. This has a ridiculously small body for such a heavy beer, a bit too drinkable considering the abv. Sticky sweet with a considerable amount of bitterness that hits the tongue. Long hoppy aftertaste. An excellent barley wine which comes as no surprise considering the brewer..

for those that are wondering, that is the very excellent Supermax - World Of Today that is sitting so nicely on the SL

Friday, August 13, 2010

lucky!



Being a beer and wine nerd is not always easy for the significant other. She has to tolerate endless talks about hops, grapes, aromas and psychotic hunts for beer bars when visiting a new city.

I am proud to say that my significant other handles this with ease. Not only does she tolerate the fact that I am a nerd on so many levels but she also encourages me. "Have you tried this?" "Let´s have this" are common words when visiting a liquor store. She likes imperial stouts and krieks, but also the occasional lite session beer (she is a woman for god´s sakes!). The best beer she has tasted was Chelsea Blueberry, and was quite interested in trying new things when we visited The Ginger Man last year.

You might ask yourself why the hell I´m babbling about how much my girlfriend likes beer, but liking good beer is not a given when it comes to the significant other in a relationship. I know beer people who have wifes that don´t even taste beer! Let alone encourage a hobby like this. To open up an exotic beer or wine bottle on weekends is a fun thing to do, and even more fun to share with someone that you love and know that will appreciate the finer things in life, like a good complex beer!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

those norwegians!


Facts about Norway

1. They own a lot of oil
2. Therefor, they have a lot of money
3. Because of this, beer is expensive
4. And while I am at it, everything is expensive!

They also make good beer, although it´s not widely available. They got the same silly monopoly system as in Iceland, with only two Vinmonopoliet stores in the Oslo city center. I am no stranger to the magnificent beer´s of Nogne O in Grimstad. A quite remarkable story of two homebrewers who got fed up by the lack off ambition in the Norwegian beer industry and started their own brewery. Now, beer lovers can get Nogne O beers around the world. (I found it easier to find Nogne O beers in NYC then in Oslo!) All the beers are bottle conditioned and the owners aim to make quite complex and delicious beers with big palate. True pioneers of the Norwegian microbrewery industry and a very remarkable achievement to run a successful microbrewery in a very tough environment (Those norwegians really love their yellow lagers!).

I picked up this Tiger Tripel in Oslo and found it to be quite a good tripel. Massive palate, whole lot of yeast and sweetness with spicy undertones. Did not disappoint me.. 4/5

Sunday, May 16, 2010

new stuff!




Finally, after going from very good to good, and then good to almost average, the fine people at Bruggsmiðjan have decided it´s time for something new and innovative. The new product is Norðan Kaldi. But what the heck is it? Being marketed as ale, I´m guessing this is a english pale ale although it doesn´t fall into any particular genre or style. It´s brewed with english yeast with subtle Czech hops and hops from New Zealand (!?). I would be interested in knowing exactly what hops and what yeast is used in this but there is no information to be found on the label. There is a distinctive hops signature with mild notes of malt. Not an instant favorite but something which I can easily say that is the best beer from this brewery (a part from the first batch of Kaldi back in 2006).

The price is whopping though for a domestic beer that´s only 5.4% abv and 330ml, 389 krónur, which is about 3$ and 2,4 euros. A good addition to the growing selections of Icelandic micros.

Don´t get me wrong though, I´m not slating this fine beer. It´s not a pissy yellow lager so I embrace it! It´s good, not very good but GOOD nonetheless.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

beer communism!

A few weeks ago to my amazement, Orval was no longer available in Iceland. This was ofcourse a huge loss, because as everybody remotely familiar with beer culture, Orval is the best beer in the world! Although gone from my shelfs (and my fridge!) I did not lose myself in suicidal thoughts, other decent beers were still available and just as long as I had access to Duchesse De Bourgogne, I considered myself safe.

Last week, that feeling of beer-safeness was gone, as I bought the last bottles remaining in the country. No more Duchesse De Bourgogne!

The decline of selection in the monopoly stores here in Iceland are a disgrace. Imagine yourself a country without Chimay, without Orval, without good mainstream beers that are available all over the world, like Hoegaarden, Franziskaner, Duvel, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Leffe Brune and so on..

Maybe I´m being naive. Iceland only inhabits about 300,000 people so the market isnt big. In the year 2007 I personally bought over 40% of all the Westmalle stock the country had to offer!! Maybe the ancient beer ban which was lifted on 1989 is to blame, people only drink lager! And maybe, and perhaps the most likely factor in this is that our currency is quite shitty, and due extreme taxes (technically we are bankrupt!), alcahol does not come cheap! The price of wine has gone from 1900 kr for a decent bottle of french bourgogne wine to a whopping 3000 kr! Same is to say about beer, when Delirium Tremens was first available in Iceland, it costed about 290 kr, the last bottles were sold last year for about 800 kr !!

Wherever you are, consider yourself lucky compared to being a beer enthusiast in Iceland...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

so, you are coming to Iceland?


flickr.com via Creative Commons thelivgna

In the past 6-7 years, I´ve got numerous emails from ratebeer members regarding where to go to get good beer in Iceland, what sights to see and just generally how to beer a beernerd in Iceland! I´ve nailed down a small guide for you lonely souls..

First off, let´s start with the beers and breweries we got, starting with the micro breweries.

In the last 4 years there has been a boom concerning microbeer interest in Iceland. Small breweries have been established all over the country and we have now 3 fully active microbreweries.

Mjöður


In the town of Stykkishólmur we got Mjöður Brugghús. Founded in 2007, and seeing first product being delivered in August month of 2008, Mjöður is the newest of the bunch.


Founded by locals, they brew 2 beers with special seasonal beers. The premium beer, Jökull, is a bavarian pilsner, brewed with imported hops from bavaria and clean water from the site. In my opinion not very good, faint yellow with a dry floral finish. Corny aftertaste with hints of chemicals. I must admit, I haven´t had this in quite some while, and they serve a draft version of this at site so I hope it´s better now. Later, they began production of Skriðjökull, a darker version of Jökull. In my opinion, that beer is everything Jökull should be, it´s got a nice bavarian character, tasty floral hops, hints of caramel malt, and is indeed not a bad session beer. I´ve found their seasonal beers to be quite bland, their last Christmas beer was the best of the bunch, a cloudy bock, dry and somewhat bread-ish.


Bruggsmiðjan



Way out in the north of Iceland, Bruggsmiðjan started the micro revolution here in Iceland. It was established in 2005 and began production a year later. Founded by two locals after seeing a small news bulletin on TV about the micro brewery culture in Denmark. This not being done in Iceland before, it was quite a remarkable achievement. The general public in Iceland had been drinking macro swill for years, and never even heard of a micro brewery. The brewery was a big success and even manage to conquer the bottled beer market, with over 430,000 units sold of Kaldi in 2009, against about 320,000 units sold of Viking beer.

The premium beer is Kaldi, a czech pilsner brewed with imported malt and Saaz hops. The production has been very constant and gotten bigger without the beer loosing it´s character. They brew a dunkel version called Kaldi Dökkur which is also quite good. The beer is widely available in Iceland and very popular.

They brewery is in Árskógssandur, tiny village in Eyjafjörður.


Ölvisholt




The very best of the bunch and among the best in the world in my opinion. The tiny brewery is operating out of a barn on the south coast of Iceland, in the county of Flóahreppur.

The premium beer is Skjálfti, a hoppy premier lager which reminds me of Sam Adams. The flagship though is the magnificent Lava, only imperial stout available in Iceland and among the very best I´ve sampled in my lifetime. Ölvisholt have been quite active doing creative and extraordinary stuff, which is quite remarkable baring in mind the size of the brewery (only 300,000 liters brewed annually!). They have 4 products which are available all year round, the other two from the beers I´ve mentioned before are the aggressive Móri and delicate Freyja. Móri is a red ale, brewed with 4 kinds of hops and 6 kinds of malts. Huge amounts of Cascade and Goldings being quite obvious on the palate. Freyja is the opposite, a light belgian wit, dedicated to the women of Iceland.

Their seasonal beers have been amazing, and rarely fall into category. They have have had a chocolate bock, a very yeasty ale they called Mungát, a belgian double and a smoked bock.

A full review of the brewery is pending before summer gets here.

I strongly advice people to stay away from the big macro´s, both Viking and Egils, although Viking brew one specialty beer which is quite good, the Viking Stout. Seems like the brewer had some freedom making one brand of beer and the final product is incredibly tasty.

Getting beer in Iceland

One amazing fact you have to keep in mind about beer in Iceland: Beer was banned until march 1st, 1989!! It was all a strange ordeal for Icelanders and an even more amazing story behind it. Bizarrely, Icelanders voted for alcahol ban in 1908 for reasons unknown to me! A part of the prohibition was repealed in 1922 when wine was imported to Iceland for the first time since before 1908. That was not something that happened over night, it happened namely because Spain refused to import our fish unless they could trade with wine! In 1934 all alcaholic beverages were legalized except for beer! Icelanders went on booze cruises overseas, and beer was some kind of luxury rarely smuggled through customs. I remember my grandfather being a taxi driver in the north of Iceland, getting paid with smuggled beer when ships docked at the harbor. Strangely, airline crews were allowed by law to bring duty-free beer into the country. In 1980 an icelandic business man demanded the same rights as airline crews and went to court. That year, the first cracks of the beer ban became quite obvious. He lost the court case but in the aftermath of extensive media coverage, it was legalized for citizens to bring 12 pints of beer into the country from the Duty-Free store. On may 11th 1988 the Icelandic Parliament passed a bill allowing beer to be sold again in Iceland, for the first time in 73 years. Finally, on march 1st, 1989, the first pints were poured in Icelandic bars, and the public was drunk for a whole weekend.

Although beer is legal, you cant walk to the supermarket and buy beer. Sure, you can get watered down 2.25% abv version of the macro swill but you have to go to Vínbúðin to get beer. Vínbúðin or ÁTVR (The State Alcohol and Tobacco Company of Iceland) is a monopoly in sales of alcahol in Iceland. A bit like Sweden and other want-to-be-communist countries, this is something we have to accept as a fact. No beer on sundays, nothing after 1800 on saturdays and 2000 on normal weekdays! (Bars are open though!)

This was just a small introduction to what to expect regarding beer when visiting Iceland. I´m always opened for questions both on ratebeer and through email, (haukur@bati.is)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

beer controversy in Iceland!



The Ölvisholt Brewery have released their Easter beer, a porter brewed with chocolate, cocoa and vanilla. Very interesting and creative beer.

I´ve mentioned the Ölvisholt Brewery before. They are incredibly small, situated in a barn on the south coast of Iceland. Their annual production is 300,000 liters per year. Seasonal beers appear in 5,000-9,500 bottle quantity when they are released so you can just guess how small this microbrewery is really! But fear not my American friends, soon you will be able to get their beer in the Tri-state area!


The controversy regarding this beer was the label. It was originally named "Heilagur Papi", meaning "Holy Papi". The Papar were a mysterious group of Irish and Scottish monks who settled in Iceland before the vikings. They are mentioned in written sources and ancient manuscripts but there no hard proof or physical evidence that confirm that they were here. The original label (above) has also the Papi holding a cross. The name and the cross was something that the State Alcohol and Tobacco Company of Iceland did not think that was appropriate and the brewery had to re-label every bottle of the beer.

This was a very strange and interesting decision by the state Alcohol and Tobacco Company because products such as Chateauneuf De Pape wines which have a mitre pattern or a cross emblem are sold in the monopoly stores and Jagermeister bottles with an obvious christian cross in the label as well as many other products. According to the chief executive of ÁTVR, the decision was made on the basis that it may offend the religiously sensitive people. Very strange decision indeed.

The beer is equally as interesting. Chocolate porter with a huge brown head. Aroma has obvious hints of cocoa and chocolate, with cocoa kind of dominating the whole nose. Not as carbonated as I would of thought, with fair amount of bitterness in the finish, this is a rather good beer. I´ve yet to re-rate it and give it some more thoughts. Look out for Skjálfti (amber ale) and Lava (imperial stout, simply delicious!) in a beer store near you in the next few months.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Orval!


You either love it or hate it, and there is simply nothing quite like it, the Belgian elixir so many beer connoisseurs love and adore.

The history of Orval is quite unique, and is the only Trappist brewery that only brews one beer (a part from Petite Orval, which is the table version). The abbey is situated in the province of Luxembourg in south Belgium and dates back to the year 1132. The Orval we know has been brewing inside the walls of the monistary since 1931 and according to wikipedia, it was the first Trappist to be widely available in Belgium.

The Abbey itself has a charming story about it´s origin. According to the myth, the widowed Mathilda of Tuscany was visiting the site where Abbaye d'Orval stands now. The legend has it that she lost her wedding ring in a spring on the site, and when she prayed for the return of the ring, a trout appeared on the surface with a ring in it´s mouth. The designer of the Orval glass, Henry Vaes, used this myth when designing the glass, on the back side is a symbol of a ring.

I´m not going to go into details about the abbey´s history. It has a long and violent history, fires, wars and constant rebuilding. Instead, I´m going to focus on their beer, which is perhaps the best in the world.

Orval is a very complex beer. It is incredibly hoppy for a Belgian beer and measures 40 units of bitterness (IBU, international system which indicates the hop bitterness in a finished beer). It enjoys three fermentations with the final fermentationt taking place in the bottle. Interestingly, Orval has wild yeast, same as lambic beers, which gives the beer some of it´s distinct character. Orval has pure white candy sugar, the wild yeast attacks it, as well as the dextrins and leaves the beer high in alcahol with no sugar left.

The final product is remarkably complex, and some say that every Orval is different from the last bottle. Acid palate, tiny hints of sourness made by the wild yeast, dominated by a dry hoppy taste, with notes of dry fruits and faint candy sugar. Some sophisticated spices and strong hints of perfumes.

When I had Orval the first time, I was blown away. It was sampled back in 2003 and was a 2000 vintage. At that time, I never knew that beer could be this complex and aromatic. Since then, I´ve sampled it in every form and age possible. Youngest was just 4 months old, and was in my opinion the perfect session beer. It had a fairly easy palate, almost no head and was lacking perhaps the huge complexity of a 3 year old beer but made it up with extraordinary dry acidness. It peaks in my opinion between the age of 3 and 4. It gains the heavy complexity and is the perfect aperitif. Close to the age of 5 and beyond it develops sourness, which is not a bad thing, but starts to lack the hop character it is famour for. These are just my tasting notes and I would love to hear some opinions about this.

Overall, Orval is something of an acquired taste, but to those who really appreciate it, it is truly one of the best things life has to offer..

Monday, January 25, 2010

Husband's Day



Last friday was "Husband´s Day" or Bóndadagur as we know it in Icelandic. "Husband´s Day" is a day which marks the beginning of the ancient Icelandic month "Þorri". Until the early 1990´s, this day bared no significance except for dinner tradition, but nowadays this day is like a 2nd birthday to men like me, a day when the women go out of their way to surprise their husbands, cook a good meal, give flowers and let open toilet seats and dirty dishes slide.

Luckily, the woman in my life is not only the most beautiful creature on the face of this earth but she is also an exceptional cook, and shares my interest in craft beer. So friday night was going to be special..

For dinner she cooked home made hamburgers. This doesn´t sound like something breathtaking but believe me, it is. Made from scratch with beef purchased straight from the farm, eggs, peppercheese and chili, topped with onions, tomatoes, spinach and dijon mustard, this truly is a thing of exceptional beauty. Being an avid hamburger lover, this hamburger is a work of art, and tastes like God himself made you a hamburger!

With the hamburger I was treated with Kaldi Þorrabjór, from Bruggsmiðjan, a microbrewery in the north of Iceland. This was the 2010 version, a brown amber Vienna with a malty nose. Full bodied with hints of burnt malt. Nice beer, and went down well with the hamburger.

After dinner was the beer that I´ve been waiting a few months for, Ölvisholt Suttungasumbl. A Belgian ale made in a small farmhouse in the south of Iceland. The Ölvisholt brewery is a small company, situated in the south of Iceland in an old barn. The brewery is a bit special and a detailed piece about the brewery is due on this blog and The Hop Press sometime in the near future.
The Suttungasumbl exceeded all expectations. Magnificent orange ale, with a small head. Spicy aroma with obvious tones of yeast and floral hops, with deep layers of something I would tie to an outhouse, and saison aromas. I love it! Faint note of pumpkin as well. The first sips hits you with light bitterness and taste of wild berries balanced perfectly with yeast. The outcome is almost like pumpkin taste! Ölvisholt never fail to impress, and this beer is simply delicious!

The annual "Þorri"-beers are a seasonal product, made for old traditional Icelandic mid-winter food. Dishes like ram´s testicles, putrefied shark, boiled sheep´s head, liver sausage and my favorite, head cheese or brawn made from boiled sheep´s head cured in lactic acid, need beer to go with them!

I almost feel sorry for my friends in New York, not experiencing the Icelandic Husband´s Day, a one way Valentines Day which goes in reverse in next month when we have the annual Woman´s Day!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

authentic Trappist?


Last weekend I treated myself with La Trappe Quadruppel, a beer I´ve had many times before but never really impressed me in recent times. Sure, it´s big, heavy and very tasty, but it´s also completly lacking in character.

I´ve never been fond of La Trappe. Not only being over-commercialized, it´s also situated outside of Belgium. The monks at Koningshoeven have authority over the brewing process and also own the equipment but all business aspects are handled by Bavaria. Due to this fact, I find their Trappist status highly questionable although granted rights to label the beers as Trappist beers from 2005 by the International Trappist Association.

Although my eccentricity tells me different, La Trappe are real Trappists beers today. The monks at Koningshoeven have been brewing beer since the 1800´s. After World War II the brewery was bought by Stella Artois who brutally violated the Trappist name with the introduction of "Trappist Pils". Shortly after the failed introduction of a Trappist Pils, the monks bought their brewery back. In the late 1960´s they were brewing all kinds of beers, which included both Dortmunder and Bock beers. The production was too much for the monks to handle and again they turned to commercial breweries for assistance. In 1980 they decided to take things seriously again, and started brewing the La Trappe Dubbel after an old recipe from the 1950´s. The Dubbel is in my opinion the best of the range with high levels of yeast which creates a very malty and creamy beer. The Dubbel was the only beer brewed by the monks until the early 1990´s when they introduced Enkel, Tripel and Quaddruppel.

What I find very annoying with La Trappe, is the fact that the monks have always been very flexible about both marketing and selling their beer. They even tested the Vatican when they brewed beer for the Sainsbury supermarket chain. Bavaria also brew other beers at the Koningshoeven brewery, which are not labeled as Trappist, and are marketed under the names of Kroon, Moreeke and Tilsburgs.

Being the purist that I am, I tend to draw the conclusion that in 1999 the monks sold their soul, albeit it has worked to their advantage in marketing, as the La Trappe range is known all over the world. It did cost them the Authentic Trappist Product logo, but after modifications on the agreement with Bavaria, they got their status back in 2005.

Although brewing good beer, La Trappe is nowhere near the quality of beers such as Orval, Rochefort or Westvleteren.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

acquired taste


flickr Bernt Rostard

I remember the first time I had Duchesse De Bourgogne. I didn´t think very much of it, thought it was over sour and too vinegary. It is now one of my favorite beers..

The reason is simple, it is the definition of the sour ale style. Aged and fermented in oak casks, this truly is the Burgundy of Belgium. This style has it´s origin in West Flanders where children are probably breastfed Rodenbach Classic which according to beer critic Roger Protz accounts for 84% of the sour ale market. Just like a fine Bourdeaux wine, Duchesse De Bourgogne is blended. It is both young and old cask aged ale which adds both character and complexity. Sour ales are often fermented with wild yeast (same as the lactose-fermenting bacteria used in sour dough) and with Duchesse De Bourgogne, this is probably the biggest factor in the vinegary finish it possesses and the huge levels of tartness.

Sour Ales are not for everybody. It took me some time to get to know the style and truly appreciate it´s complexity. I´ve sampled quite a lot of it, Duchesse De Bourgogne being the very best, followed closely by it´s US sister, the Ommegang Rouge (brewed in Belgium and aged for 18 months in french oak!) and the now retired Liefmans Frambozenbier.

In the words of Ferris Bueller, if you have the opportunity you must try it. It is so choice