As the summer carries on with +90 degree heat across the US, my mind keeps drifting back to my adventures in Sweden where it was sunny, breezy, and a cool 70 degrees by the water all day long. It made for impeccable day drinking.
And there was no finer outing than the afternoon Hillary and I spent with the boys from 99 Bottles, one of Sweden’s most prominent beer review blogs. Tobias, the blog’s founder and local Swede, along with Joao, designer and Portuguese expatriate, met up with me at a local park, Ivar Los park, behind a large wooden gate in NE Sodermalm, known for it’s laid back atmosphere and fantastic views of the city. And we all came heavy with some stand-out beers.
I sherpa’d a bottle of Deschutes 2011 Abyss across the pond, along with a recent acquisition of Founder’s Kentucky Breakfast Stout and a copy of Mash Tun. While these bottles hadn’t aged to perfection quite yet, they were certainly a great introduction to some of America’s best brews. As we passed them around, sip by sip, it was clear how special this beer was.
Like the States, Sweden is focused primarily on IPAs, pale ales and pale lagers. But the US also has a strong undercurrent of heavy stouts, porters and barrel aged beers that inspire long lines, online trading and general hoarding in the beer cellar. Sweden has their representative examples, some of which are more than just comparable to an Abyss. such as Närke Stormaktsporter. But in general, these are much more rare than in the US and command insane prices. My 10oz bottle of Närke was $40.
Tobias and Joao had the local advantage and decided to share a great variety of Swedish microbrews. We started with the Oppogårds Summer Pale Ale, a bright, bitter, American-style pale with subtle caramel malt finish. The Evil Twin (Denmark) / Omnipollo (Swedish) collaboration called Russian Roulette is a unique IPA concept. An IPA brewed in two styles, black and golden, it’s a mystery which you’ll get until you pop it open. We got the golden IPA with a big citrus aroma, slightly astringent, but dry, grassy and smooth on the finish. We worked through a few more, but we saved two, the Nils Oscar Jubileum 15 and the D. Carnegie Porter. Those guys found their way into some luggage.
As our afternoon in the park came to a close, we decided to stop off at the local Bishop Arms for one last drink. The Arms is a chain of English-style pubs in Sweden, and some are more ambitious than others. I’m happy to recommend the one on Bellmansgatan. Roland, the barkeep, was incredibly knowledgable, friendly, and happy to help us navigate the local line-up of microbrews. And he pours a perfect pint.
I finished a stellar afternoon with the Nynäshamns Sotholmen Extra Stout, rich with coffee, anise and intensely bitter flavors bordering on sour. It was complex and heady — a great send-off.
So where are they now? Tobias is here! He’s exploring the American South, from Texas to Florida in search of incredible brews. If you have some advice for him, head over to the 99 Bottles blog now and help him on the trail!
Landing in Stockholm, Akkurat was already on my radar thanks to the incredible beer geeks over at the Beer Sweden Forum. They gave me a hell of a punchlist for my visit, and Akkurat was always at the top. But it took me two visits to complete the experience. Because as you’ll see, the bar itself is just the tip of the iceberg.
My first visit was more of a fly-by. It was a beautiful afternoon, getting chilly, and we had time for a couple beers before meeting up with some friends elsewhere. Located at the northern tip of the Södermalm neighborhood (its own island) Akkurat is an incredibly convenient place to get to from anywhere in central Stockholm. You can train to the Slussen stop, stroll through Gamla Stan (Old Town) or take a ferry from one of the other islands.
Akkurat makes an instant impression with it’s vast array of taps and menu boards featuring obscure Belgians and Danish imports, English ales and American crafts. But the real excitement here is the Swedish micros. Perhaps the best in the city. I was just digging in to the many Swedish micro breweries, and Akkurat provided a broad selection for some quick exposure. Everything from Oppigårds to Nynäshamns to Nils Oscar — all of which would prove to be excellent examples of the Swedish micro/craft movement.
Without much to go on, I opted for the Nynäshamns Indian Viken Pale Ale. What the hell, it sonded like “Viking” and I was stabbing in the dark here. Besides, a pale ale is a great way to gauge a brewery’s ability to balance bitterness and aromatics. But having been around for over 15 years already, there was no way Nynäshamns was going to disappoint. It had a complex gold and amber color depending on the slant of light, with an expected bright hop aroma, but with an underlying spice profile that was tough to place. Initial pale flavor profiles are quite sharp with some subtler peach and citrus notes, but the finish is sweeter with a caramel or toffee aftertaste and some big sugar crystal mouthfeel. Nynäshamns was instantly a marker for me. In my subsequent visits to the System Bologet, I would grab multiple bottles of their other brews and each impressed.
Next I opted for a draft of Bedarö Bitter, Nynäshamns first and perhaps most common beer. While easy to mistake for a traditional English style bitter, Bedarö more subtle fruit notes emerge into a nicely complex brew with a good malt backbone and a little spice kick. The herbal, almost medicinal bitterness builds with every sip. This beer was an instant favorite.
On my second visit, I came better informed. Akkurat is a sister bar to Oliver Twist (post coming soon), which is a more focused, American craft import bar also in Södermalm. Both bars collaborate with Nynäshamns and get special access to some of their rarest brews. As I pointed out in my last post about Pang Pang brewery, there’s no distributor between producers and the premises the beer’s sold at. It’s one hell of a privilege. On this visit, I came looking for the beer cellar menu.
Another brewery that Akkurat has a special relationship with is Närke Kulturbryggeri far west of Stockholm in Örebro. There, Närke makes the storied Stormaktsporter, one of the greatest beers in the world. Only a few hundred barrels are made each year, making it one of the hardest beers to find. Of course, Akkurat is your best shot in Sweden. In 2010, Akkurat celebrated their 15th anniversary by brewing a special collaboration version of Närke Stormaktsporter called the Konjaks! aged in oak for 10 months, 5 of the months in Cognac barrels.
At $40 for a 10oz bottle, Konjaks! was on the level of a Three Floyds Dark Lord or Deschutes Abyss, even a Goose Island Bourbon County Stout in terms of quality and general intent, but the rarity pushes the price very high. The Konjaks! combines an astoundingly smooth roastiness with the licorice and liqueur finish with a tiny bit of smoke. It warmed like a port wine, and drank almost as thick. Like the bottle, the beer is jet black with no light penetration. There’s no rubiness, no tans, just endless black.
After seeing a bottle menu with the likes of Westvleteren 12 (at least 6 year’s worth) and many rare American beers from the likes of Hair of the Dog and Stone Brewing, I cajoled my way into a beer cellar visit. After some muttering between the bartenders and a few looks to size me up, me and my bartender guide headed 5 stories down to sea level with my Konjaks! and camera in hand.
What you’re about to see is my ham-handed attempt at capturing the immensity and density of the most amazing beer cellar I’ve ever laid eyes on. There were two rooms, a smaller one full of Belgians primarily, including trays of Westvleteren, Chimays and Magnums of Duvels. At this point I was already in awe. While many of Sweden’s younger craft beer crowd seems to be much more interested in American-style innovation, clearly much of Sweden’s long-time beer aficionados still have a heart for Belgians. This makes for a diverse beer geek crowd.
The second, larger room featured temperature regulated cabinets that lines the entire wall on both sides, as well as a smaller cave-like room where some of the oldest and rarest were stored. For about 30 minutes, I was dizzy with beer bottles, astonished at every stock I saw. Some of these beers were 10+ years old, or in the case of many of the American brews, as old as the breweries themselves.
Now, I leave you to browse the shelves as best I can re-create in photographs. But nothing can quite compare to standing in front of these shelves and digging through the bottles. Each label I turned around to view was like seeing a ghost of great beers past. Enjoy!
The week before Chicago Craft Beer Week officially kicked off, a few new friends and I jumped the gun with a beer gathering at one of Chicago’s newest and still undiscovered BYOs — BadHappy Poutine Shop.
As I watched this crew pile in — Paul Schneider from Chitwonontap.com, Joe Barley from recently launched Solemn Oath brewery, Jay from StockyardPalate.com and prolific gustatory Tweeters @TedwardBouillon and @MikeMcKenzieCHI — it was clear that these guys don’t come around unless they come heavy. Bottle lined up quickly and we all took a deep breath. We had some work to do, and we hadn’t even ordered the poutine yet. Which poutines did we order? All of them. All of the poutine.
If you’ve never heard of poutine, it’s essentially a bed of thick-cut fries, cheese curds and gravy and hails from our northern brethren in Quebec. BadHappy riffs on this righteous foundation in a variety of ways. These are those ways.
Da’ Local — featuring house sausage, sharp cheddar curd, hot giardiniera, pepper and onion gravy, was an early favorite. The giardiniera lights up your palate and the sausage smooths it over with plenty of fat. Cut the fat with a bright IPA or a summery bitter brew and you’re off to a great start. We cooled down with Khloros from Solemn Oath, full of lemon and orange rind with a nice sharp finish.
Thelonious — a veg/vegan basket with shredded BBQ mushrooms, cheese curd or soy, southern cabbage carried a moody, earthy flavor that paired really well with some of our heavier beers, like Goose Island Bramble Rye Bourbon County Stout, Stone Imperial Russian Stout, and the Dock Street Saison (a sour).
The Pilsen — piled high with beef picadillo, taco curd, cilantro and onion, roasted chilies, tomatillo salsa, la lengua gravy — and the One Hot Asian with viet-pork patties, headcheese, jalapeno curd, dikon and carrot, and kimchi sauce demanded the fiery finished of Hop Henge an experimental imperial IPA I acquired on my recent Deschutes visit in Portland, Oregon and the official 2012 Symposium IPA from the San Diego craft beer conference held just a few weeks ago, and retrieved via Joe Barley.
HappyFace — braised veal cheek, garlic curd, chicken fried sweetbreads, braised kale, foie gras gravy — and RedNeck, covered in BBQ pork, mac-n-cheese, fried okra, Carolina cole claw, and PBR gravy put us all over the edge. At this point, we each went our separate ways in terms of brews. Boulevard’s Rye on Rye came out as well as a Dogfish Head’s Burton Baton imperial IPA. For the rest of the night, we covered the spread in terms of beer styles and variations on a poutine theme. But nothing, even the impromptu beer floats, could prepare us for our final meal.
The gals of BadHappy, a bit sauced themselves by this point, put together a dessert poutine that shall go nameless for now. A healthy pile of fries was covered in ice cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream and sprinkles and then set loose into the world. Such is the way of BadHappy, with it’s vices and virtues in skewed proportion. I’m pretty sure that after you witness an evil of this order, your next step is human trafficking.
After my quick drive West from Portland to the coast, and a return pilgrimage to Pelican Brewery in Pacific City (chronicled here), turning back East through the Tilamook State Forest seemed, well, too soon. So with two chilly growlers under my arm and a gleam in my eye, we headed south on 101, into the heart of Rogue Nation for the small coastal fishing town of Newport.
After Hillary was finished waving at sea lions, we left the tiny town of Depot Bay and coasted into Newport a couple hours before dusk and descend toward the warf, the weather oscillating between a 45° downpour and a fine, floating mist. This is Oregon in the Spring. Along the inner shore, on the Yaquina Bay, a series of markets and small shops nestle in next to fisheries and restaurants. Toward the end of SW Bay Boulevard, Rogue rises rather modestly under the view of the Coastal Highway Bridge.
This end of the street is covered in murals dedicated to the stories of the sea, and the men who take to it every day to make their living, much the way Herman Melville might have imagined the Spouter Inn in New Bedford, Massachusetts, but…cheerier, with a touch of Sea World.
Past the understated exterior of the Public House, the holiest of holies in the Rogue Nation is anything but subtle. Every inch is covered in pale, worn wood, bumper stickers promoting beery politics, even the walls of the “family area” were covered in some of the craft beer world’s greatest graphic artwork.
This being St. Patrick’s Day weekend, I was greeted with a glass of the Kell’s Irish Lager to wet my whistle as the bar started to slowly fill in with the after-work crowd on a Thursday. No longer carrying its namesake, the Rogue Irish Style Lager is a straight-forward Euro-style pilsner bearing little of Rogue’s famous ambition — but alongside some of the freshest fish and chips you’ll ever get from the Pacific, it plays its role well.
Once sated, it was time to dive into the deep end of Rogue’s more representational beers, starting with a goblet of Old Crustacean barleywine. Like any good barleywine, this brew had a really complex aroma full of dark fruits, but also a little pepper. It’s billed as a sipping beer, which isn’t surprising, but you’ll have trouble being patient. The effervescence enlivens the sweetness and hint of smoke, and inspires a gluttonous mood.
Off to the side, a small group of guys gathered like an impromptu Elks Lodge around the largest block of cheese I’ve ever seen (at least the largest I’ve ever seen show up impromptu at a pub). Assuming this was local cheese (we’re in Tilamook country out here) I was eager to get a taste. “Tilamook?!” they responded with surprise, “No way. This is a 12-year cheddar from Wisconsin. Guy over there gets crazy on the internet sometimes.”
Surrounded by what could legitimately be described as a private cheese festival, I boldly ordered the Side Dish Sweet Potato Ale — a guest tap from Buckman Village Brewery out of Portland. Buckman is a neighborhood brewery lead by Danny Connors that serves its beers, often experimental and “botanical,” at The Green Dragon brewpub nearby. Side Dish is exactly as advertised — a food plate in liquid form — made with sweet potatoes and marshmallow root but falling on the drier side of sweet. Now this is what I’d call a sipping beer.
Looking to free my palate up a bit and get some insight into the home-grown nature of Rogue Nation, I sat down at Kyle’s spot (I don’t know him) and made Chatoe Rogue Dirtoir Black Lager my final answer. The Chatoe series features ingredients from Rogues own front yard, so to speak. Using their own hops and barley, mixed with traditional sourced ingredients, Dirtoir gives up a subtle roasted chocolate flavor and crisp hops melded together in a viscous lager mouthfeel almost like a french-pressed coffee with plenty of oils.
After some sobering pool, It was time to pull anchor and head back inland. But before doing so, I gathered some extra treasure for home, including The St. Rogue Dry Hopped Red Ale, Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale (polarizing flavors I’ve heard) as well as a couple of pale ales from Rogue’s Eugene City brewery, which I’ll highlight later.
For now, it was back into the forests and hills toward Salem, and then north into Portland for a full weekend of breweries. Soon I’ll be sharing some stories from Amnesia, Hair of the Dog and Deschutes — all part of an epic tour of one of America’s best beer states.
Beer geeks talk. And beer geeks share. Every once in awhile, you realize that you and a few close friends end up with a serious score all at the same time — and a home tasting is almost mandatory.
This month, my friend Kunal got ahold of a couple bottles of Founder’s Kentucky Bourbon Stout. No, he didn’t sleep in a tent overnight in Grand Rapids to get it — he’s a patient hunter. He just kept checking the traps at his local six-packs in River North, Chicago until one of them was full.
And Doug, the master of the beer cellar I visit from time to time, and who pulled together the lion’s share of the Abyss 5-year vertical we put on last December, got ahold of a Goose Island King Henry he was dying to open.
Speaking of Abyss — I contributed a 2011 from my recent visit to Deschutes Brewpub in Portland, OR. And to break it up, we sourced a Three Floyds Zombie Dust (now in wide circulation) and a Hair of the Dog Blue Dot also from my Portland hunt.
Kentucky Breakfast Stout — A strong stout with vanilla and coffee flavors that mellow out beautifully as it warms, making it perfect for a small pour. Solid bourbon notes come through, but don’t make it boozy. Flavors are clear and bright — this beer has an incredible constitution.
Abyss — This stout is always amazing. When it’s relatively ”fresh” the cocoa nib, fruit and vanilla come through. This beer is aged in both oak and bourbon barrels, then mixed before bottling. The result is a particularly nuanced barrel profile with bourbon and charred oak flavors. The older it gets, the boozier it gets and the dark fruit flavors become more pronounced. For now, it’s more honest, less mysterious.
King Henry — The newest of these big beers, King Henry is a barleywine aged in barrels previously used to age Bourbon County Rare Stout (23-year-old Pappy Van Winkel barrels). Some great raisin, vanilla and almost coconut flavors in this one, but with that signature barleywine brightness and some light brown sugar. It was more subtle and surprising than any barleywine I’ve had to date.
Blue Dot — Hair of the Dog’s Imperial IPA. An incredible hop profile — all big and bitter, but mellow with organic pilsner and rye malts that provide a great balance. This does a great job of stripping your palate and opening you up to every note that passes. Beautiful lemon meringue color.
Zombie Dust — Go get some. The Chicago area is covered with this new Pale Ale from Three Floyds right now. Dark gold color, sharp bitterness and a sweet, refreshing finish. Dare I say sessionable?