Sunday, 10 February 2013

Culture & Beer (An event & a brewing story)

Update: 27.2.2013: The Video Story

Everything under here remains unchanged after the update...
(This video was sent to me today!)

The Brewing Story: DIY Batch 030: Skogen (Forest)

Back in June last year I got a mail from Sigmund Melberg, the human beer encyclopedia of Cardinal. It was an invitation to participate in an informal brewing contest at Stavanger Archeological Museum, they had just scheduled an exhibition about the importance of the grain and one of the days was to be dedicated to old brewing traditions. My co-writer Kjetil and I thought this would a great opportunity to get some more brewing experience. A whole bunch of people signed up and started preparing for the competition immediately. You see the reason for this competition/exhibition being announced so early was to give the brewers time to harvest what they needed from the splendid Norwegian flora. There were many rules but basically the idea was to inspire brewers to use those ingredients that were available in the past, pre-modern day industrial brewing, and pre-urbanizing "small" world. From back when people used what was available where they lived on their doorsteps so to say.

D.I.Y. Bryggeri Batch 030: Skogen

So Kjetil took to the woods one weekend the summer of 2012, he was with his parents at their cabin to get drunk with his old man, Papa-Kjetil. He came back with a big old bag with juniper berries and pine branches and stocked it all in a freezer until we were ready to brew. So from the beginning the idea was to make a beer with flavors from the Norwegian woods. (Not inspired by the beer with the same name from Haandbryggeriet)

Our friendly competitor in Tandembryggeriet

Come November and we still hadn’t brewed our beer, the beers had to be drinkable by by mid-January so we were running out of time. So we found a weekend we had time and started thinking about what other ingredients to use. We like our beers to be full flavored so we always tend to make alcohol strong beers. Kjetil had fantasized for a while on the idea of making a "Brown Stout", and since anybody with an oven can make brown malt at home that fitted the idea, I mean to use a lot of brown malts. Brown malt also has a nice roasted and nuttiness that does an excellent job on it's own in any dark type of beer. And I guess back in the very old days most malts had a bit of smokiness in them, so of course we had to use some smoked malt. We like our beers full bodied and since we wanted to keep it simple we decided on Marris Otter malt as the base, so 4 kilos of that and 1,5 kilos of Brown and a kilo of German Smoked Malt and done, that’s the grain bill. We did nothing fancy with the mash, just kept it all very simple with a 66c mashing temperature before the mash out and the sparge.

Sigmund Melberg

Inexperienced with what bitterness the juniper berries would give us we supplemented with some bittering hops (30g), we took whatever had the highest alpha acid levels and used as little as possible right at the start of the boil. At the same time we added the pine needles (100g) from the pine branches Kjetil had harvested from the forest. We didn't put the juniper berries (25g at 15min.) in before later in the boil to hopefully get more of that nice juniper aroma on the nose of the beer. We only used the ones with a nice dark color and weeded out the stems. Before putting them in the kettle I crushed the berries and mixed it with some of the worth. We had used some honey in a "Imperial Chocolate Stout" once with great success, so at flame out we added a quarter of a kilo of honey to add more complexity. Just enough to tickle your taste buds in the back of you mouth. Anyway since this were suppose to taste like old school and the forest is full of threes and stuff it was natural for us to use some oak chips to simulate the flavors of barrel ageing, but not too much. We fermented the beer for 5 weeks with WLP028 Edinburgh Scotch Ale, we chose that yeast strain for it's ability to bring out complex malty characteristics. We stared out with an OG at 1.065 and brought it down to 1.011, something we're happy with, 7% plus is a suitable strength for this kind of a beer.

Spekemat + Skogen = Yum

From the beginning out main focus was that this was supposed to taste like a beer first, I'd tried some herbal beers before and a lot of them sure as hell don't taste like what a modern man would call beer, not even an all-consuming craft beer geek like myself. It was suppose to taste different but not totally alien. So with that in mind in searched through a bunch of forums on the net to see how other brewers had used these experiences and with what outcome. After all we wanted our beer to be balanced and not totally overrun by one ingredient that we might use too much of. I guess what I wanted to avoid was a repeat of our first batch, a Christmas beer with different spices among the clove. I remember reading use up to five clove heads and though that sounded way to little so we used fifteen. If you're a brewer you know what that means, "Underlig Jul" go home, it's overkill! Sometimes less is more! One of those forums I checked out was, and if you read Norwegian and want to start to brew this is the place to visit! As usual all our ingredients except the self picked ones were bought at, who just happened to soon open a new store in Stavanger, so if you're from my town you will probably meet me there! (To stay updated like them on facebook:

The brewers with the beer!

So time flew, the beer got ready, bottled & carbonated, we started tasting it, realized it was really good and unique and then the date for the exhibit was announced. Luckily we had enough left to participate, at least 10 liters of the 20-litre batch we brewed. We concluded that we had done what we set out to do and made a beer that tasted like the woods of Norway, but first and foremost it tasted like a beer and the ingredients were balanced. I sat down the day before and made etiquette's and we were ready to serve the thirsty crowds and mingle with the other brewers.

The Event Story: Culture & Beer at Stavanger Archaeological Museum, Wednesday 6th of February 2013 

(Kultur & Øl på Arkeologisk museum) 

Old punks and rockers as we are we should have shown up late, but instead we hurried back from work and went to the location as soon as we managed, that means on time. Not many others had showed up by then except out German friends from Tandembryggerit Andreas Habel & Tania Hildebrand-Habel that had already set up what undoubtedly was the most professional stand on the event. German efficiency is still impeccable! Next to show up was long time brewer Olav Bråtveit of who already had made the kind of beers we were serving that night professionally, he brewed it at Lervig for a local festival south in our county, deep down in the Bible belt of Norway. If you're a ratebeer geek search: "Medgangs Villskot".

The presentation.

Just before the event were to start a bunch of people came through the doors and set up on their stands, also a lot of people came, I guess around 150 all together. We had to wait through some presentations before being able to serve our brews, it think it was 14 brews participating in the competition. First out some lady employed by the venue dressed up like a Norwegian Milk Maid spoke. She spoke about the herbs traditionally used in Norwegian brewing. I'm sad to say but I felt a bit trapped, cause it was boring me in a way I haven't been bored since high school. And the fact that the museum has bought a directional instrument microphone instead of a standard vocal microphone made matters worse. (I know this kind of stuff; I've played in a band for a long time!) I don't think there's anything to gain from being negative but this have to be stated, please buy a new microphone NOW! (A normal Shure Sm58 will do, it's cheap!) Next on was Sigmund Melberg who held a much more interesting presentation on the subject. Among the things he mentioned was the gruit beer brewing competition he won at Haandbryggeriet, and the price was that they would brew the winning beer. Those of us who visit Cardinal from time to time know the winning brew as Sigmunds Herbarium, a refreshing Pale Ale brewed with 7 different herbs. Anyways as he said, they never got their finger out to brew it so he arranged it to be brewed at Lervig himself.

Kjetil discusses beer with a happy man!

So when we were allowed to serve the thirsty masses we went into repeat mode: "This one is brewed with juniper berries & pine needles, and don't forget to vote for number 3!" -Something like that only with variations. Since we were two we also managed to go around and taste some ourselves, to spy on the competitors so to say, he he. A couple of the competitors had some really good brews; I specially liked one with elderberries. Food was also served, cured meats; not exactly a disadvantage for us as it matched the smokiness in our brew perfectly.

Haffy with a satisfied beer drinker!

As Kjetil and I stood there serving our beer we got so many compliments. We always get some compliment when we share them with friends, but most of these people were complete strangers. And I have to say that was such an inspiration and a great confidence booster. Anyways, after 1,5 hour of tasting it was time for the paying audience to vote. 5 minutes before the competition was over we ran out of beer after emptying every single drop from every single bottle we brought, including the yeast at the bottom. The two last people we served was ourselves, then we had to say no to those who still wanted to try or just wanted some more!

This was the "Top 3" brewers:
3. Even Hægstad
2. Andreas Habel & Tania Hildebrand-Habel
1. Helge Hafstad & Kjetil Berntsen

So we're pretty happy about that as you probably can guess, the event was really well organized, we're happy about the beer we brewed. Being the first time we brewed with some of the ingredients we used and all. Also winning the second brewing competition we participate in is really cool. Hanging out with other home brewers is always great. We hope the museum will do this again next year. Thanks to Sigmund Melberg for the initiative. I recommend you to show up if it arranged again we sure will, it's good fun, it's tasty fun!

Happy winners even got to hold a thanks you speech! We thanked god...

- Haffy

P.S. Thanks to Vidar Monsen Thune for the pictures.

Posing with prices & runes!

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Lervig's Homebrewers Competition + Mikkeller news

"So Lervig's having a homebrew competition" that is what I heard, well before being able to do anything about it I heard it was over booked. So what to do? Rogaland got a really active home brewer scene so I guess I had to go and watch the show without being able to bring any brews of my own. Other breweries have had the same kinds of arrangements, with great success so it's really cool to see Lervig starting up to, I hope it's gonna be an annual tradition. Anyway it was the 1st of February 2013...

Kjetil & Haffy at Lervig

When I came to the brewery, to my surprise they where serving the new Lervig batch of Beer Geek Breakfast. And you don't have to ask me twice not to dig in on such an event; you actually have to ask me twice not to, minimum twice... Kjetil was late so, I and my good friend Erik (Photographer for this post) got into the mingling and extensive beer testing of the Beer Geek Breakfast...

Haffy & Kjetil at Lervig

Kjetil got some words on this:

I'm driving home from work. Speedometer says 60 mph in a 35 mph zone. I don't care, got to get moving. Harder. Faster. I can't afford to be late. I finally get home, but I'm not where I need to be yet. I grab a Konrad's Stout out of the fridge, break the bottleneck on the kitchen sink and pour it down, almost giving myself a forehead lobotomy. No time too loose. I call the cab and get moving. "Where you wanna go sir", the taxi driver asks. I pull out my 44' Magnum Colt Anaconda and stick it in his face. "Take me to Lervig Aktiebryggeri and make it snappy punk! I got a date with the new Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast so put a cork in it and drive dirt face!"

Atle proud of a new product! This photo by Haffy

It's not fresh news, but if you haven't heard the word on the street yet, Lervig Aktiebryggeri, located in Stavanger Norway, is now the official producer of that bastard of an oatmeal coffee stout known as Beer Geek Breakfast by Danish gypsy brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergsø aka Mikkeller. Not your average "whatshisname" Stout you have tasted a hundred different times, but THE oatmeal coffee stout in the world in my opinion. Rated as the best stout in the world according to Ratebeer, and still going strong as ever after all these years. Yet now it has made full circle, as the first brewer who made it commercially many years ago now brews it again. Mike Murphy used to make this back when he was brewing in Denmark, and now he's doing it again as head brewer and master of alchemy at Lervig Aktiebryggeri. With all respect to Nøgne Ø, who previously made it, and still is one of the best breweries in the world, period. They have certainly played a huge role in the success story that this beer is and has proved themselves over and over again to be among the best there is. But it seems like the time was right and Mikkeller and Mike have known each other for a long time, and the brew flew over the mountains and landed here in Stavanger, where it now belongs.

My friend Vidar happy with the Beer Geek Breakfast!

The beer has made some remarkable changes, and the first thing you notice is that it now comes in a 0,33 l. bottle compared to the 0,5 l. that Nøgne Ø is famous for. The label also has a new artistic look and the design looks pretty frikkin awesome. Given a new design and a new package it only comes naturally that the beers gets an upgrade too. First notice is how the coffee flavor is so much more present now that in the previous version. Though it is almost straight from the storage tank at the brewery and very likely will mellow out and become smoother with time, I still think this behemoth kicks you in the teeth just like grandma likes it. The espresso aroma and flavor is magnificent. Too me it takes an already awesome beer and gives it the luxury feeling to it. It is smooth, and the mouth feel is silky and creamy. The coffee is very much present, but does not give you that old/cold coffee taste that some stout's tend to give you. It's fresh and you kinda expect the beer to be warm when you smell it. Chocolate, toast, roast and an awesome mouth feel profile contributes to the sensation of drinking this brew. This beer has definitely grown. It is better, without saying that the old one was any worse at all. It is just different, in a very good way. It has a new touch, a new twist too it. It is the effect of a new brewer with a different brewery using other ingredients, or just using them in another way. It is perfect, well almost. It gets pretty close to perfect.

We prefer Beer for Breakfast!

I had several that evening and probably too many. It was from the first batch and all of it is being shipped out of the country. I bet people in San Diego, Copenhagen, New York and London are going to be zipping this one from their sniffers way before we get it here on the marked in Norway. We'll probably have to wait for batch 2 or 3, if we're lucky. This is one of the best sellers from Mikkeller and I bet the demand is gonna sky rocket when it hits the marked. Get one, get drunk and die in the snow. It's THAT good.

Thanks Kjetil for making all the readers thirsty and jealous, but I'll get back to the home brewer days...

More than just that one, there were more surprises, a tasting of the new Barley Wine, a 13% monster, recently just released from serving a year on Maker's Marks bourbon barrels. And god damn has the rehabilitation worked, it's so much smoother than Lervig's 10% Barley Wine released back in 2011. This time they brewed 1800 liters and they are hoping to get some into Vinmonopolet. I really recommend this brew and hope you will be able to get some. All of you who likes to taste something, this dark gem is for you! Expect bourbon, wood, dark fruit, roasted flavors and general dark deliciousness.

These casks were used for deliciousness...

But possibly the biggest highlight was Mikkeller's George brewed at Lervig. A 12,12% ABV gourmet dessert. So sweet and roasted, with vanilla and chocolate flavors, it's candy time and I'm the candy man in candy land! And now the Maker's Mark barrels that used to hold the Barley Wine is holding a barrel aged version of George! I'm not sure this beer can better from it, but I'm excited about finding out. There might even show up more versions I've heard, head brewer Mike is considering finding space for more barrels. And with the quality of the two first Mikkeller brews he's made and Mikkel's barrel age craze I think it's going to be sooner rather than later. And of course it's the rest of the Beer Geek series too, with the success of the mentioned one and the smoked malt in the storages shelves that holds witness to my theory that Beer Geek Bacon is next. Sausage and coffee in one anyone?

Some of the people!

The home brew competition that were the reason 60-70 people gathered at Lervig this day was won by Kim Odland with his home brewery "Black Cat". Known from the first Norwegian Gypsy brewers ABC Brewing, the B & C stands for... ...yes you guessed it! (Check out the interview we just had with ABC brewing here.) Reading this article and the latter will unleash a little Easter egg of an conspiracy theory in your brain, that I nether can spell out in words or actually think is true, but it's still funny! Anyways Kim brewed a American Rye Pale Ale and the judges was impressed with how technically well the beer was brewed. Kim just won the Norwegian brewer of the year award at with his fellow ABC man Gahr Smith-Gahrsen. The winner of the first price will brew 1.000 liters of the beer at Lervig and hopefully that will hit some of the craft beer pubs of Norway. The second price was sponsored by Norway's very best brew store, so if you wanna start to brew that's a good place to begin. 

Mike, Magne & the winner Kim Odland.

Mike Murphy and up 'n' coming brewer Charles Magne Melhus both held speeches, Mike came straight from the airport to attend, that's dedication, jet-lagged and all! A lot of what he was talking about (his story) is what he said in the interview we did with him last year, you should check that out here, and while your at it check out the interview I did with Mikkeller last year if you haven't seen it! (Here) So now that you have enough to catch up with it's time to wrap it up!

Mike in action!

Magne with his hat on...

Lervig this was a great arrangement and I hope you do it again, thanks for a great night and cheers!

- Haffy & Kjetil (Lervig supporters)