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!
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!
This past memorial day, I had the immense pleasure of spending a slow, wandering kind of weekend at a summer camp in Wisconsin owned by some new friends of ours. They invited us up for a “friends and family” weekend with little more structure than some loosely scoped meals and a band on Saturday. The rest was up to us — which meant plenty of walking around, swimming, yard sale and antique shop scouring — and plenty of lakeside drinking. This is Camp Wandawega, and it’s a vision of perfection.
On Saturday, sitting on the pier, I cracked open a growler of Solemn Oath Klöros, which I nabbed at the recent launch at Standard Market, an impressive farm-sized market in Westmont. With a bar and outdoor patio, the market caters to a growing craft beer audience in the area, and on this occasion, the boys from Solemn Oath were making tons of new friends in just there second week of brewing. I was there as a co-host, sharing prints, postcards and Mash Tun journals with our suburban brethren.
Then I headed north toward Elkhorn, WI where Wandawega waited. Every time I cross into Wisconsin, I mutter to myself “this is New Glarus country.” In 2002, New Glarus pulled back distribution in Illinois, so now it shines from Wisconsin’s greener pastures, inviting an old fashioned run to the border. There, you can pick up Spotted Cow, a cask-conditioned farmhouse that drinks like a blonde (in fact, they sweeten it with a little local corn) and Fat Squirrel, a nut brown ale, at almost every grocery and liquor store.
But if you start poking around, you quickly realize that there’s no shortage to the styles and flavors of New Glarus. On this trip, I packed the car with the Thumbprint Series IIPA, an imperial, and Black Top, a black IPA, both of which served us well in the 97 degree heat on Sunday. Alongside a bloddy mary, I was in heaven. Turns out, Wandawega is the kind of place where you can start drinking at 10am, play fetch with a dog, swing out into the lake, shoot a few arrows, and start a bonfire. And then do it all again after lunch.
On the way home, back down Fox River Road just north of Fox Lake, I scouted out a small liquor store / log cabin advertising wines and micros. Fox River Spirits seemed like a last possible stop for New Glarus before crossing back into Illinois. Inside, we found a hunters’ lodge atmosphere and some locals buzzing around the coolers.
Blair, a retired fire chief and owner of the place was popping bottles and pouring tasters of everything from Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, a thinner-than-expected, vanilla-sweet ale from Lexington, to some regional brews like Oso’s Night Train porter full of crystal and chocolate malts. This was clearly a local gathering place for newly minted beer geeks. As one regular put it: “a few years ago, we used to have to drive 30 minutes just to get basic imports. Now we walk down the street and have our choice of 300 different micro bottles, and a ton of local stuff. Hell, you’ don’t ever have to drink anything from outside Wisconsin now!”
Only a few years old as a craft beer geek himself, Blair’s got some stories about starting a liquor store. He recalls the first time he got some beers in from Belgium and thought they were spoiled. “Tasted real odd, real tart.” he said. He gave them to the neighbor to get rid of them. A couple weeks later, someone came in looking for Belgian sours. “What’s that?” Blair thought, “you mean beer that’s supposed to taste sour? Well, shit.”
Blair has plans for a much larger tasting room. He’s already knocked out the back wall to expand, and has a small bar tucked into the back corner where he currently sets up to share. It’s as much for his own education and for his customers. “I had a hard time selling the more obscure stuff until I started letting people taste it” he said, “but once they had a taste of something, they found out they loved all kinds of beer.”
I ran into Teresa at last weeks Mash Tun festival at the Bridgeport Art Center — an event that brought together craft beer lovers from near and far on Chicago’s south side in celebration of the city’s new craft beer journal. And just as we were in the middle of discussing some of our favorites from the day, including Firestone Walker’s Wookey Jack Black Rye IPA, Teresa caught wind that the boys from Pipeworks had arrived. And just like that, she was gone again.
What’s your favorite beer style and beer?
I prefer Pilsner-style beers but also gravitate towards Belgian style and stout. I usually enjoy Lagunitas Pils or Trumer Pils, but my favorite Pilsner is made by a regional brewery in the Black Forest called Tannenzäpfle.
What was the first beer that clued you in?
Leffe Brune is the first beer that made me stop and take notice and that was over a decade ago. I rarely get the chance to drink it but when I do it feels like a first kiss from an old lover.
What’s your most memorable beer moment?
A recent memorable beer experience happened in Sacramento back in March. A good friend of mine took me to Pangaea Two Brews Cafe. The beer selection was unexpected, and the owner was so friendly, knowledgeable, and had great energy. He took the time to talk with us about the history of Belgian saison beers. We learned a lot and exchanged some great ideas. I really enjoyed that moment because I realized that beer is usually secondary for me. What matters most is the people I’m surrounded by and the conversations that we have. If I’m inspired by both the beer and the person, that moment will stick in my head for awhile.
Bartender or brewer?
I live in Logan Square and am lucky to live near many excellent bars and have an affinity for all of them and their fine bartenders. However, I’d say my favorite bartender is my neighbor across the hall. He makes an outstanding Manhattan, is an active listener, and dispenses sage advice. He helps me keep my head on straight. When I’m not having a situational crisis, we trade recipe ideas for Bloody Marys and bacon-infused vodka cocktails.
What was your greatest beer hunt?
Haven’t had that epic hunt yet, but I did go to Mash Tun Craft Beer festival in Bridgeport on Saturday and was blown away by some stuff I tried: Half Acre Meatwave, St Feuillien Speciale, Firestone Walker Wookey Jack, Virtue Cider Redstreak, and Pipeworks Saison.
What’s a beer on your wishlist?
Pipeworks Saison! It was so delicious and ran out so fast at Mash Tun. Can’t wait to get my hands on some more.
Ed Marszewski of Maria’s Packaged Goods and Community Bar in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood is quickly shifting the gravity of Chicago’s craft beer scene a little south.
As if the eclectic mix of rare and exceptional craft handles weren’t enough, Ed decided to use his considerable talent at producing magazines and festivals to establish a new craft beer journal in Chicago — Mash Tun. With art and culture magazines like Lumpen and Proximity already making an impact nationally, Mash Tun aims to bring the same level of artfulness, discussion and nerdery to the world of craft beer.
These journals first showed up at a modest table in the south garden of the Beer Under Glass event last week, but their official release was anything but shy. Held at the Bridgeport Art Center in an open-air loading bay spilling onto a sculpture garden, Ed lined up a coupe dozen taps featuring local standouts like Pipeworks and Half Acre, as well as some rare finds from our far away friends at Firestone Walker, Dogfish Head and Stone.
Just as the crowd settled in to their long afternoon buzz, when most festivals experience that hazy lull in excitement before grops get their second wind, Ed did something special — he started a pep rally with local “marching” band Environmental Encroachment. After sneaking in and setting up quietly on the side loading bay, the place exploded with trumpets, tubas and drums in a circus-like atmosphere.
Only a few blocks away, Maria’s Packaged Goods and Community Bar became the haven for after-partiers. Food trucks lined the parking lot with meatball sandwiches and meat pies, and the festivities continued just inside the fence on Maria’s outdoor patio.
This issue of Mash Tun features tons of photos, interviews and writing, including a history of Chicago’s Lager Riot, some insights from beer hunting in Asia, how to start a brewery from Gabriel Magliaro of Half Acre, local beers you need to find now, a hand-illustrated guide to imperial stouts, and plenty of photography from my own beer hunting adventures.
If you didn’t pick up your copy of Mash Tun at an event this week, don’t fret! They’re available in the Good Beer Hunting Shop for a limited time. Once they’re gone, they’re gone!