Friday, 2 March 2012

Mike Murphy & Lervig Aktiebryggeri: Micro, Macro, Magic!

Mike Murphy started brewing beer at nineteen because he wasn’t old enough to purchase alcohol for himself then. He grew up in Philadelphia in Pennsylvania were alcohol consumption was and still is forbidden unless you’re at least 21 years old. Pennsylvania is probably one of the states most similar to Norway in North America. Endless green forests, cold white winters and state monopoly on wine and liquor. At 27 Mike found himself hopelessly in love and moved to Italy, the local beer tasted like shit so he decided to do something about it. He got hold of a 200 liter brewing equipment and started up his own little enterprise in the backroom of his girlfriend’s pub/restaurant called Starbess, earlier Kenny’s Pub. In 2005 after the breakup he sold his equipment to the new started Danish brewery “GourmetBryggeriet”. But even before that he had made a guest brew with “Ølfabrikken”, also a Danish brewery, who was soon to merge with “GourmetBryggeriet”. One of the highlights at GB was their famous Porter, ranked as the best Porter in the world back in 2008 according to At the same time Mike was also brewing the best Stout in the world according to Ratebeer: Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Breakfast. Mike played an important role during the start of the Danish beer revolution, and has made many collaboration brews with many of the best and most famous Danish brewers like: Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, Shaun Hill (Actually an American) & Andreas Kissmeyer. In 2008 Mike moved back to Italy to be the head brewer at “Bierra Del Borgo” brewery, but two months later he was back in business in Denmark again, things weren’t moving along fast enough for Mike in Italy and it felt like taking a step back for him. Today “BDB” is running the rooftop brewpub “La Birreria” (We have been there!) in New York City with Sam Calagione from “Dogfish Head”. In 2010 a collaboration brew was made with seven Danish brewers, it won the “World Beer Cup” in the category American-Style Imperial Stout, the beer fittingly called “Seven” was brewed at “Nørrebro Brygghus” in Copenhagen, Mike was one of the brewers contributing. But everything weren’t peachy in Denmark anymore, “Harboe Bryggeri” bought GourmetBryggeriet and Mike got on a plane headed for Stavanger, Norway.

Mike Murphy in front of a Dotmaster piece!

“Lervig Aktiebryggerie” story started back in 2003, “Carlsberg” owned “Ringnes” had just decided to shut down local production at “Tou Bryggeri” that they bought back in 1989. Since 1855 Tou the local brewery had produced their beers in the Stavanger area, so of course this news created an uproar, the local beer drinkers enforced a consumer boycott. But this didn’t change a thing and as a result we now have Lervig Aktiebryggeri to defend the pride of Stavanger. (Tou never really did that in the first place anyway!) In the beginning the beer tasted awful, I still have nightmares of “Ein Te” their first brew, made with the help from “Mack Ølbryggeri” in Tromsø. I still remember voting for what pilsner should be their regular one at “Gladmat Festivalen” the summer of 2003. In 2005 Lervig finally got their own facilities when they moved the production to Hillevåg. But until 2010 they made nothing of interest, just light lagers that I personally thought was inferior products, even compared to the already awful Norwegian Pilsners I drank back in those days.

The microbrewery!

2010: Enter Mike Murphy! The dark ages for beer in Stavanger were over! Mike started carefully with Lucky Jack an American Pale Ale at 4,7% ABV. Just 3 months after he had arrived Stavanger it was bottled and sent for the stores in the end of July 2010. Lucky Jack is a Pale Ale, with Pilsner and Crystal Malts and lots of American hops of course, for that wonderful citrusy, cat piss like smell we hop-heads love. But even before that, Mike had already set up some kind of deal with the local Craft Beer/Beer Mecca “Cardinal Pub & Bar”. Rated as one of the 50 best beer bars in the world two years in a row. I remember the first of many special brews Mike made for Cardinal, the heavily hopped unfiltered and unpasteurized “Northwestern Lager”, (Actually made with a Lucky Jack worth, but fermented with pilsner yeast instead.) yummy! Before the end of 2010, Mike put up his own 800 liters microbrewery at Lervig so it would be possible to brew smaller batches. It’s also possible for companies or other geeks to brew here as team building.

The Bourbon casks...

2011 stared with a new beer release from Lervig, Norways first Winter Ale. This 8,3% Ale were brewed with raisins and were the first beer in the “Brewers Reserve” series. Mike had a similar thing going on in his last job at GourmetBryggeriet, but only two beers were released before he quit. These two brews rate as the best beers to ever come out of GB. Next one out were the “Barley Wine aged in Bourbon Barrels”, I’ve mentioned it here before in my blog, this one was only made in 800 liters on Mike’s own set. The Barley Wine were released the same time as what is rated as Lervig’s best beer so far: The “Konrad’s Stout”, this is one awesome beer, a 10,4% Russian Imperial Stout brewer with oatmeal, a full bodied son of a gun, and it just keeps getting better every time it’s brewed. But I guess my personal favorite from Lervig is their “Rye IPA”, originally just brewed as a “one off” for Cardinal, but due to popular demand it’s now a part of the “Brewers Reserve” series, or so I like to think! The Rye is a 8,5%, 100 IBU+, bitter, fruity taste explosion, rye and oats give it the backbone it needs to hold the high bitterness and alcohol level. Stavanger finally getting its own IPA was no doubt one of the highlights of 2011 for me. (Mike you're not only "The father of IPA in Italy", you're the father of IPA in Stavanger also!) At the Gladmat Festival the “Betty Brown” was premiered, sadly it hasn’t done as well as “Lucky Jack”, but Betty is a much better alternative that the “Irish” dark beer alternatives we find everywhere. Mike has been generous with Caramel, Chocolate and Brown malts and evened it all out with Pacific Gem, a hop variety from New Zealand.

The beer dog getting comfortable...

2011 was a fairly good year for Lervig, the best so far. They won a fight with Rema 1000 and got their beers back in the Rema stores in Rogaland, Lervig have also gained distribution to different stores around Norway for their Iddis beers (4,7% ales), they got some new beers out to “Vinmonopolets” lists. Not to forget export to Sweden and Denmark! Lucky Jack got a silver medal in a design competition for the etiquette, the world famous street artist “Dotmaster” gave the brewery a new sexy look. Mike was nominated for the award “Årets ølhund”, and two of their beers made it to the final round in “Det Norske Måltid” award for “Beer of the year” in Norway. In 2011 Lervig produced around 650.000 liters of beer and for 2012 the goal is to surpass a 1.000.000 liters a year. The breweries capacity is 3,5 million liters a year, and with plans for export to both Spain and Italy growth doesn’t have to be only a dream. Lervig are very close to become a profitable business, and 2012 is forecasted to be their first year with a surplus.

And all of this because a billionaire named Kristiffer Stensrud had a dream and an urge to prove that a local brewery can stand on their own two legs in Stavanger!

Enjoy the video, it’s a 37 minutes in depth interview with Mr. Mike Murphy.

Please watch in 720HD and full screen, that means open in youtube!

Alright, back to the story!

Kjetil & me from the blog, with two of our friends Vidar & Eddie spent around three hours at the brewery. Mike really took his time to talk with us, explain, answer questions, show us around and let us taste different stuff, even though he had a hangover! Mike even drove us home, he’s an absolutely awesome guy! Drink more Lervig beers people! Support your local brewery, support great beer!

Trying some Lucky Jack!

When we arrived the brewery, the first thing Mike showed us was his 800-liter microbrewery set, that he made himself with help from 2 friends who were pipe welders. He can chill the worth after the boil in 5 minutes, really impressive. Then we had a look on the macro-brewery, where a batch size is 25.000 liters. After the mash it heats the whole batch up to boil temperature in only 10 minutes, again impressive. When brewing Lucky Jack they now brew full 25.000 liters batches at a time. Lucky sells a minimum of 7-8.000 liters a month, it’s the new Pilsner in Stavanger, and last year it got sold out during the summer, and to supply the demand unfiltered Lucky was sold to Cardinal. We also tried some unfiltered Lucky straight from the tank, and boy did it taste good.

Here be BEER!

But the best thing about this visit was trying the new Barley Wine for the Brewers Reserve Series, at 13% it’s a strong mother, really sweet and malty, absolutely awesome. We tried it straight from the tank and from the Bourbon barrels. It’s stored on barrels from Makers Mark, and it has a lot of vanilla flavor, it was absolutely amazing un-carbonated and straight from the barrel. The last 1.000 liters or so that still were in the tank and might end up on some Port Wine casks that are finding it’s way to Lervig soon. This is going to be the best Barley Wine ever made in Norway, believe me guys and gals! The Port Wine casks are ordered for a special version of the Konrad's Stout!

The bloggers & the brewer!

Mike has done a lot for craft beer, and more is coming, stay tuned, this dude isn’t done yet! New beers are coming, more fun coming in your direction! Mike turns 40 years old this month so remember to congratulate him if you see him, yeah and buy him a beer, but no Tou beer though…

Remember: "Boring Beers are for Boring People!" - Mike Murphy


- Haffy

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