For being Sweden’s smallest brewery, Pang Pang proved to be a pretty big deal. Fredrik, the lone founder and brewer, and most of the time, lone employee, is an incredible example of Sweden’s ambitions in craft beer. It was clear in the first few moments of our chat that Pang Pang was aiming high, despite it’s humble beginnings.
Currently located in a basement room beneath a residential building in Hökarängen, a quiet neighborhood in the far south of Stockholm, Fredrick, a former homebrewer, brews on equipment he’s either scraped together or built himself, and it’s all strikingly efficient. In many ways, his situation reminded me of the boys at Chicago’s Spiteful Brewing in Ravenswood.
Fredrik already has two labels under his belt: The Puttin’ in Hours Pale Ale and the No, It’s Not from India, It’s from Hökarängen IPA. Bottles and kegs from his first productions were hand-delivered to some of Stockholm’s best bars and restaurants, including Pubologi in Gamla Stan and Nytorget Urban Deli in Södermalm, generating a buzz around the city that still persists.
Distribution in Sweden is a much more direct process than in the States. Breweries are allowed to make direct sales to bars and restaurants, enabling them to develop strong relationships with their customers. In turn, premise accounts have much more say in the beers they serve.
This changes when it comes to retail sales, however. Sweden controls the sale of alcohol through a state-run liquor store monopoly called System Bologet. The System stores carry a variety of beers, both macro and micro, but selection varies greatly from store to store. Legally, a brewer has the right to sell their beer in the nearest three stores by default. But to get wider distribution is challenging. As a brewer with dozens of System stores between his brewery and downtown Stockholm, Fredrik is busy jumping through many regulatory hoops to reach his target audience.
He felt the first major sting of the System in his label review. Pang Pang’s bottle labels are created in the style of noir comics, both elegant and violent. The original label for Puttin’ in Hours Pale Ale was rejected due to it’s suggestive content. In the revision, the artist removed the blood from the character’s collar and erased the chalk outline of the missing axe in the background. Label approved.
Fredrik’s brewing is on hiatus at the moment, but he still had a Pale Ale handy that he was reluctantly willing to share. It was from a batch that he’d determined was slightly “off” and he decided not to distribute it. The hops were a bit too astringent in his opinion. As someone who sees many American brewers running loose with their recipes, even swapping out one hop profile for another due to price fluctuations, I was encouraged by Fredrik.s desire for precision. He was right about the beer’s quality, but only by a few degrees. It was a solid pale.
Fredrik was only brewing in this space for a short time before an opportunity for a larger, more visible space became available nearby. Hence the hiatus. We took a brief walk through Hökarängen to a corner with a small row of storefronts under construction. The city is interested in Hökarängen becoming a draw for artists and craftsmen, and they see Pang Pang as a potential draw.
The new space has a kitchen (taprooms in Sweden are required to serve food), multiple walk-in coolers and a storefront large enough for a killer taproom. Fredrik was noticeably excited by the possibilities. His goal is to save as much of the vintage cottage feel of the space, the painted cupboards and lockers, light fixtures and flooring, all harkening back to 1960s Sweden. He even knows where he wants the taps, styled like vintage weapons — think sawed-offs and Tommy Guns.
Before parting ways, we swapped some beers and recommendations for beer hunting in Stockholm and some postcards and literature from our respective hunting grounds. Fredrik was recently featured in a folio-style mag from Hugo, a high-end menswear store in Stockholm, which provided one hell of a platform to talk about craft beer and Pang Pang. In return, I dropped off a copy of Mash Tun and some postcards of my trips to Goose Island and Solemn Oath, which stoked his desire to make the trip to Chicago.
My visit to Pang Pang set the tone for the rest of my excursion. Where last year’s trip to Portugal was a wasteland for beer hunting, Sweden had already proven to be exciting, fertile grounds for innovative approaches to beer. And there’s so much more to come!
Just a reminder to my Chicagoland readers, tonight is the big night. Solemn Oath will be pouring at Standard Market in Westmont, Ill (map) as part of their launch series in their first week as a brewery. Myself and Paul Schneider of Chitownontap.com are co-hosting. If you follow either of us on Facebook, Twitter or here on the blog, just mention us and get a discount — $3 pours!
I’ll also be selling large prints of my photos of Solemn Oath, and a few of my faves from Greenbush and Goose Island for the first time (you can see the entire collection in my shop). I’ll also have postcard prints and copies of Chicago’s new craft beer journal, Mash Tun, for sale. Come out and say hello!
Perhaps the most beautiful beer event of the year, every year, Beer Under Glass gives Chicagoans the chance to sample dozens of local brews, a few microbrews from around the country and some of the city’s best food under the translucent glory of Garfield Park Conservatory.
Only a matter of months since a hailstorm devastated this massive greenhouse on the far west side of Chicago, the conservatory has been largely restored. Various climate-controlled rooms, including conditions like an arid dessert and a tropical jungle make it possible to sip a 4oz pour from Chicago’s Metropolitan brewery, take the long way around the world, and wind up at 5 Rabbit brewery only a hundred yards away.
Beer Under Glass is a craft beer geek’s summer solstice in Chicago. It typically marks the end of a chilly spring. But this year, summer was even more evident as the sun beat down on the patio and cascaded through the glass ceilings, a fine tropical mist in the air all around. Beer Under Glass also ushers in another seasonal miracle — Chicago Craft Beer Week. With more craft beer events being held than ever before, it only seems fitting that we make our pilgrimage out to Garfield Park, like the sparrows returning to Capistrano, before we spread out over the city in search of new and rare Chicago brews.
I was especially happy to see Andres Araya and Randy Mosher from 5 Rabbity Brewery pouring 5 Lizard beer after a wintery hiatus. This Latin-inspired witbier with passionfruit and spices is refreshing, dry and slightly tart — a perfect summer beer. But the big news for 5 Rabbit was the announcement that they signed a lease. With the flurry of best-intentions from up-start brewers in Chicago, it’s encouraging to see an honest-to-god lease get signed. They’ve staked claim to a 25,000 sq ft facility in Bedford Park in an old industrial area near Midway Airport. Soon, we’re going to need a brew bus that tours the outer ring of the city.
Solemn Oath (their site just launched) was pouring their first batch of Khlöros, a light Belgian white with some zing from orange and lemon peel, coriander, and some summer stone fruit. Like 5 Lizard, it had that perfect amount of spice and dryness to keep you thirsty for more. Also on tap for the first time was Oubliette, a sharp Belgian pale ale and Ultrahighfrequency, a bold, well-hopped American Red with a solid caramel malt backbone. These guys are coming out strong, having just opened their taproom, hosted a launch at Bavarian Lodge and getting revved up for their event at Standard market in Westmont, IL.
As I made the rounds, other beers of note included Goose Island’s Scarlet, a just-tart-enough saison with some bright, sparkling texture, and Bourbon Country Stout, which is proof these guys are going to produce more and more of this epic beer. Janna (@JannaMestan) from Haymarket was pouring her own bourbon barrel aged concoction, a stout full of vanilla and roasted coffee notes that would stand up against some of the best in the city. And Greg Browne from Mickey Finn’s was pouring his Gudenteit Hefe Weizen, which more than 8 years ago was my first example of that unmistakable banana and clove aroma — it brings back memories.
This was also the first sighting for Chicago’s new craft beer journal, Mash Tun, produced by Ed Marszewski of Lumpen Magazine and Proximity lore. Ed and family also own Maria’s Packaged Goods and Community Bar in Bridgeport, which became an instant destination for rare and special beers. Hundreds of copies of Mash Tun were scattered around the event, and Ed sat behind stacks of them like a proud librarian in the south garden greeting excited passersby who were more than impressed with the publication’s first issue. More on Mash Tun later this week.
Finally, the crowd slowly filled in to the west garden toward sunset, which opens into a piazza-style patio and a lawn that seemingly goes on forever, rolling westward the way Lake Michigan evokes an ocean heading east. As the sky dimmed into orange and red, we took our last few sips, reunited with our friends and soaked up those fading summer rays before busting out the front doors into the happy open arms of the food trucks.
I’ve been following Steph’s blog thegirlandherbeer.com for some time now. She produces great content, works hard at her homebrew and even shares beer cooking recipes. Daisy Cutter Risotto anyone? I finally got to meet Steph in person at Goose Island’s En Passant release party in April — which gave us a chance to nerd out over beer photography — and she even snuck in a shot of yours truly as though I were a nocturnal animal tripping the wire on a camera snare in the jungle. The nerve.
What’s your favorite beer and style?
My favorite style is definitely the APA. A lot of APAs offer the same hoppyness that an IPA might have, but they also don’t overpower, leaving more balance between hop and malt. I think you get the best of both worlds without the sometimes ridiculously high ABV. I also really enjoy saisons and farmhouse ales; I’m a sucker for anything that pairs well with a summer day and a hot grill. As for a particular beer, I keep it pretty basic. My anytime go-to beverage would probably have to be Half Acre Daisy Cutter — an APA, of course.
What’s in your fridge right now?
Not much, to be honest. I have a real issue trying to keep beer in there because I buy and consume pretty much immediately. I could never keep a beer cellar or any type of collection because I am not able to exercise restraint. I did just buy a couple of four packs from Sixpoint - Resin and Sweet Action. I’m sure they’ll be regulars in the fridge now that Sixpoint distributes in Chicago. Other than that, I’m positive there’s someone who would be impressed with the variety of pickles I have at any given time.
What was the first beer that clued you in?
New Glarus IPA in 2006. My best friend was moving to Arizona, so of course, we sent her off with a going away party which included the typical kegged collegiate beers. At some point in the evening, my friend’s dad showed me his own personal cooler of New Glarus he was drinking from and insisted I try the IPA. Not wanting to refuse a generous offer (read: I’ll drink pretty much anything put in front of me) I took a sip and I was a goner. Before that, I had only really ventured outside of the macro world by drinking New Castle, Guinness, and Stella — you know, the gateway beers. Ever since, I’ve been trying whatever I can get my hands on, some good, some great, some awful.
What’s your most memorable beer moment?
Brewing my first batch of home brew. So many nerves and paranoia went into brewing the for the first time, so to not only have it turn out well, but to have people really enjoy it was amazing.
Bartender or brewer?
You know, I really feel as though each deserve the same amount of respect. When done right, brewing beer is an absolute art form, comparable to an Iron Chef’s cooking. To make something with the sole purpose of enjoyment and enriching people’s lives is beyond admirable; especially when it’s done with the right goal in mind; making good beer. At the same time, a bartender is responsible for helping people understand what good beer is. A good bartender will find the right style to convert a beer hater into a beer lover. I find myself dazzled by both. I’m not sure if that’s saying much, though; I’m thoroughly impressed by airplanes.
What was your greatest beer hunt?
Oddly enough, it was chasing down Sixpoint Bengali Tiger late last year. After reading nothing but good things about these guys, I had pretty much built up an obsession with trying their beers. Last fall, news got out that they would start distributing in Washington DC, which happened to be where I was scheduled to be in November for a wedding. The hunt was on! I got into DC late on Friday night knowing it might be my only chance to patronize a local beer joint. I went to Churchkey, and it was so packed I had to wait outside for a while because it was at capacity. Once I got upstairs, I had to push my way to the bar and asked for a Bengali Tiger. They had just sold the last draft — F#*@. I ended up finding some early on Saturday morning at a Whole Foods. I put it on ice in my hotel room sink and drank it out of a tiny paper cup. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was a successful hunt, and a tasty one at that!
What’s a beer on your wishlist?
I’ve yet to try Goose Island Bourbon County Stout. Anyone willing to donate to my cause, feel free; I have no aversion to handouts. I also didn’t get a chance to sample Half Acre’s Galactic Double Daisy Cutter last summer. Does this make me less of a person?
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?
This one completes the story from my two other posts: a full-out documentation of the main Goose Island brewery and another visit to the barrel room with John Laffler where En Passant, the latest in the Fulton + Wood Innovation Series beer was released.
En Passant is an English Mild Ale made with rye, blood orange concentrate and rind meant to mimic the flavors of an old Fashioned whiskey cocktail. In fact, it’s meant to be paired with a whiskey on the side. For this event, Goose Island invited the folks from Templeton to join them, pairing their rye whiskey for the each pour of En Passant. Thankfully, En Passant was also attenuated with the pairing in mind, coming in at just 4.3% so there’s no worry in over-doing it.
Each innovation beer release is the result of a small team’s concept making the cut. Last month, John Laffler another brewer produced Old Town Yard, a Helles lager with simplicity in mind. This month’s team consisted of Joel Becker, Keith Gabbett and Claudia Jendron. French for “in passing,” their chosen name: En Passant might refer to it’s intended pairing, it’s sessionable quality, but deliberately refers to the name of a chess move intended to keep players from behaving in a protectionist manner and putting the competition on notice. Clever.
I’m far from being first out of the gate with this one. Nkosi (a former HUNTER/Gatherer) from Chicagobeergeeks.com and Steph from thegirlandherbeer.com (black + white photo above) both made great posts last week from the event.
A couple weekends ago, I had the chance to spend some time with Goose Island’s brewer, John Laffler. What’s special about John is that he’s specifically in charge of overseeing Goose’s incredible barrel aging program. And with Anheuser Bush’s recent investments in the company, this barrel room might be what puts Goose Island out in front — for good.
The new space across the street from the main brewery on Fulton and Wood in Chicago’s west side is a raw, cavernous series of rooms with a stunning barrel-vaulted ceiling and crumbling brick walls. It’s a space out of Chicago’s undocumented past — the forgettable blue door reads: King Auto, Body Repair & Body Shop Inc. And this is where John nurtures each barrel into the beautiful, mysterious beer it was seemingly meant to be. John uses a mix of bourbon, oak and wine barrels to get what he wants out of each one.
In these stacks, each barrel of Juliet, Bourbon Country Stout, Madame Rose and fruity variations of them all, flex and bulge as they grapple with the bizarre manifestations inside. On this visit, a barrel of Lolita overflowed with rasberries, coughed up with the CO2 being produced by the secondary fermentation.
Off in another, darker room, sits a separate reserve of the Bourbon County stock. Whether for the barrel itself, or alternative ingredients like rye, this is a special watch. And as you heard from Paul Schneider yesterday, Bourbon County Stout is going into year-round production.
Afterwards, we had a few drinks up on the mezzanine inside the main brewery. Old Town Yard and the new En Passant were on tap. But also a 1/6th keg from a barrel of Pere Jacque that went long forgotten. Stuffed with pear by who-knows-who and lost in the stacks like a signed copy of The Old Man and the Sea, this brew was boozy as hell, and almost like a crazy-tart cyser. Whatever happened in that barrel along time ago, we all agreed that it could have used a watchful eye like John’s.
A couple Thursdays ago, I had the unique opportunity to visit Goose Island during working hours for some photo documentation. I’ve been here a few times for hosted events, but never to document the brewery itself. I was psyched to get some extended access. Paul from Chitownontap.com put together a reflective article about Goose Island, post-AB buyout, for the Chicagoist and this was a perfect chance (thanks to Paul) to get a real good look at what it means to brew craft beer for one of the big guys. In short, it still looks a lot like brewing for the little guys, but with serious momentum.
I met Joel Becker on second shift outside the Fulton Market location a bit west of Chicago’s downtown Loop. One round of Goose Island staff was exiting to their cars as the sun set, but for people like Joel, things were just getting started.
After a quick tour of the sprawling facility, including the packaging line, loading bays, mill and barrel rooms, even the lab, Joel gave me a swig of Old Town Yard and couple safety instructions, then set me loose to document every nook and cranny I desired. Like anyone who works 40+ hours a week, Joel finds it understandable, but amusing, that people like me nerd out over valves and tools. He sees the blogs, and he sees shots like these below often. It makes him smile.
I set out immediately, met some of the staff, and started shooting. What follows is the most comprehensive look I’ve ever had at a production brewery. I grew up working summer jobs in factories and restaurants, so a big part of me still loves the efficiency and optimization between man and machine. Combining that love with the mastery and passion for craft beer and, well, you get a post like this. With over two hours at my disposal, it felt amazing to just be able to take my time and look for the shots.
Later, as you’ll see below, Joel and Zach shared a new “innovation recipe” with me, called En Passant, straight from the fermenter. In an upcoming post, I’ll give you a good look at John Laffler’s barrel room across the street, as well as the En Passant release party held there the following week. For now, I’ll keep the En Passant chatter a bit sparse. Enjoy.
The mezzanine level provides a look inside the various mashes. From here, brewers get hands on adding ingredients and managing flows from one tank to the next on the “human-machine interface.” On this visit, they were brewing up an imperial IPA with a mesmerizing mash texture that beckoned me like an hallucination from the movie Altered States.
We took a quick trip outside where three main silos hover over the alley like monuments. Just inside, a huge fermenter laying on its side and smaller units built right into the walls, which provide easy access to the three outside tanks.
In a nearby barrel aging room, the sour smell of Brettanomyces hung in the air, a spore-forming yeast strain used to make tart beers like Juliet and Lolita. This room is kept sealed from any other process in the brewery to prevent infections from spreading. The delicate nature of working with Brettanomyces has ruined plenty of batches at less stringent craft brewers. Entering this room, we had to dip our shoes in sterilizer.
At 6pm, the main floor was a bit sleepy. Some cleaning and monitoring from the first shift gets underway, while the guys get to work loading the grain mill up on the mezzanine level.
Goose’s big beers were busy getting shuffled from one stack to another in the cooling room. Each one of those stacks contains some of the country’s best, and most sought-after barrel-aged brews — Sofie, Pepe Nero, Pere Jacques, Juliet, Big John — you name it, it’s in here.
The packaging line is a mix of hands-on and automated work. A small team of employees fill the cases by hand, and then send it zipping down the line to get sealed and rotated into stock.
The most obvious sign of change is in the kegs. Almost every one I saw, even those with Sophie-branded caps, was from Anheuser-Busch. Poignant to some, perhaps. For others, a cautiously optimistic sign of the opportunity ahead for Goose Island in terms of distribution and optimization. There really isn’t much holding them back at this point.
In the lab, there’s plenty of activity between Goose Island and other AB production breweries as they share the task of perfecting Goose’s original recipes on new equipment. The guys smell and taste a recent Matilda sample, and contemplate their next move with the batch.
The Siebel Institute (located on Clybourn Ave. near Goose’s brew-pub) has a cluttered, but substantial system permanently set up in one of the smaller brewing rooms here. Members of the institute experiment with recipes, learn about some of the finer points of the brewing process, and otherwise combine the realms of academia and real-world experience to keep everyone fresh.
Joel and Zach, a recent internal hire and former chemist at AB, tap into En Passant, even as we watch the meter dip as it rushes into kegs on the other side. The brainchild of a small team including Joel and fellow brewers Keith Gabbet and Claudia Jendron, En Passant is brewed after a recipe for an Old Fashioned cocktail. This sweet, cool brew has a slight rye kick that pairs perfectly with whiskey. Not a bad way to end a shoot — but there’s much more to the story. In an upcoming post, I’ll take us over to the barrel room — one of the largest, if not the largest, in the country. And after that, the En Passant release party.