Stockholm is an amazing city. But no trip to Sweden is complete without an adventurous trek into the wilderness that occupies the vast majority of the geography there. So part way through our stay, we struck out for the Kolarbyn forests where for hundreds of years the locals slept away from town and lived in forest huts, built enormous charcoal pyres and spent their days chopping wood, canoeing and sitting by remote campfires.
Our lodge, known as the Kolarbyn (translates to “charcoal”) Eco-Lodge was comprised of a dozen or so earthen huts, about 6 feet tall at their peak, and outfitted with two narrow wooden slat beds covered in sheepskins and a small stone fireplace. Situated on a lake, Skärsjön, the site is surrounded by seemingly never-ending forest, ferns and various bodies of water. Moose, wild boar and wolves populate the area far more than people. There is no electricity or running water, save for a nearby creek.
We arrived slightly pre-season, so we were the only guests, making for an incredibly quiet and slow three day stay. The isolation was invigorating.
In the morning, we split our own wood, started a fire and brewed coffee in a tin kettle. We made eggs and ate cheese and slowly let the aches in our legs and backs dissipate. By late morning, it was time for a hike.
These are ancient forests, largely untouched. Fern fields hover three feet off the ground like the surface of Endor. And from time to time, we’d happen upon a miniature outpost of a forest gnome that someone had carefully pieced together to look both lived in, and recently vacated. Most of them, combined with the surreal quality of the forests, were entirely convincing. Also scattered along the way were remote outposts of some industrial sort or another reminiscent of abandoned Eastern Block military structures.
It was three hours to the nearest town of Skinnskatteberg, which made for an epic walk/beer run. There is apparently no town in Sweden without a System Bologet, the government-owned liquor store system. And even this far out, they carry a decent selection of beer. We picked up some pseudo-craft labels from Brutal Brewing, a newer Swedish label under the macrobrewer and beverage conglomerate, Spendrups. Mostly variations on pale lagers and ales, these made for perfectly adequate fireside brews.
Beer in Sweden is bought warm off the shelf. So for a camping contingent, we needed ice. But everywhere we went, we were looked at like crazy people. Grocery stores, pharmacies, even the gas stations had no idea why we would want ice in a bag. Back at camp, we settled for submerging our stock in the creek, which was still relatively cold in late spring. It did the job well.
Both of these pale lagers were perfectly adequate camping beers. They come in cans, get you buzzed and provide enough of a hop kick that your palate gets tickled. Pistonhead Kustom Lager is an organic lager dryhopped with a blend of cascade and amarillo hops to get the kick. Beervana has stronger citrus and grapefuit hop aroma, and finishes a bit more astringent. Both went pretty well with the moose meat sandwiches made from a local hunter’s recent kill. Bellies full, we retired to our hut, started a fire to fight the chill and fell asleep to the howling of a nearby wolf pack.
The next day, we set out onto the lake on an old rowboat. The glassiness of the water reflecting against the open sky was astounding. It felt like the water was somehow deeper than the sky’s infiniteness, as we were floating through it with barely a ripple, and only the creaks and moans of our wooden paddles against the fiberglass and metal joints to break the silence. Against such grand isolation, every noise seemed potentially disastrous, as though the boat could snap in two at any moment. Even the reeds hiding just below the surface tapped menacingly against the ridged bottom of the vessel as we floated further away from shore.
That night were were joined around the campfire by two French guys, both sports and recreation students at university, spending a three week stretch at Kolarbyn to help prepare them for the main camping season. They spent their days fixing roofs, chopping wood and building new seating and fire pits for the compound. Tired and hungry, they joined us for grilled wild boar and shared our wine (more convenient than beer without needing to be chilled).
Taking shelter from the rain, we congregated in a large yurt-like structure with a central fireplace and surrounding tables covered in sheepskins. Rémi made a batch of mulled wine from a recipe he knew, complete with citrus fruits and spices that came together in a beautiful, heady brew that warmed us all against the chilly storm.
Around eleven o’clock, with a small amount of light still filtering through the trees this far north, Hillary and I collected as many sheepskins as we could carry and made our way back to our hut for one last night’s sleep. Then we piled back into our Volvo S60 diesel in the early morning and turned towards Stockholm again for another four days of Swedish urban loft living.
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!
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!
Hej Hej! I’m just back from my beery journeys in Sweden and I have so much fun stuff to share about the place, its incredible beer scene, and most of all, its great people and culture. There were incredible bars and beer festivals, bottle swaps and secret cellars. But to get things started, I wanted to share my Instagrams from the trip. You can view them all in an album I made here:
In the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing my trip to Pang Pang brewery (Sweden’s smallest), a sizable festival in Eskilstuna, a bottle swap with the guys from www.99bottles.se (one of Sweden’s best beer blogs) and so much more. Hej då for now.