30 September 2008

Czech, mate

I am agog at the news coming out of the Czech republic from the beer blogosphere's correspondents there -- Evan, Velky Al and Pivní Filosof. It seems that the overweeningly lagered Czech market is starting to expand in fascinating new directions, and the results from the micros are impressive. My only first hand experience of this deliciously velvety revolution is the Kocour rauchbier I sampled in Copenhagen, and I liked what I had. A lot.

I can only pray, then, that Dublin's ex-pat hang-out, the Czech Inn, gets in on some of the new ale action. Though granted that's as likely as an Oirish pub in Barcelona or Bangkok stocking O'Hara's Stout.

Still, I'm encouraged to see that the pub appears to be taking steps to court more local business, with the rebadging (sort of) of two of the house beers. I don't remember which jaunty moniker they've given to Pepinova Destika, mentioned back here, but its stablemate Francinova Dvanáctka now goes by "Frankies". I'd been surprised recently by the sweetness of Pilsner Urquell and I found this one to be only very marginally less malty -- another full-bodied tasty pale lager selling for next-to-nothing.

A further indication of the local attraction of the Czech Inn came while I was ordering. An Irish chap came to the bar, perused the taps (an activity almost unknown in this country), and then asked where the dark beers were. "Upstairs", he was told, so that's where I got the next round in. "Dark" is a serious misnomer, as the darkest they were doing was Staropramen Master, an amber lager. It's not earth-shattering stuff, bittersweet with some good liquorice notes, but in a pub with such an array of pale malty lagers something vaguely different is always welcome.

While I was upstairs getting the Masters in for Thom and Mrs Beer Nut, I spotted Zlatý Bažant on the bar. I knew full well it was a mediocre Slovakian lager, but I figured it would be worth a tick. That's about all I can say for it: lighter of body and milder of taste than any of the Czech beers. There's not a thing wrong with it, it's just nondescript and very easy drinking, which I'm guessing is all that most of the clientele, both local and foreign, are after.

So this is about the best I can do for Czech beer in these parts. However, it seems there's never been a better time to visit the homeland.

27 September 2008

Encore: the quare stuff

I couldn't leave the European Beer Festival without some words on the strange beers, the ones made with methods and ingredients that stick-in-the-mud style purists and fans of the Reinheitsgebot turn up their noses at.

Mrs Beer Nut, a De Molen fan to the bone, steered me towards Menno's Cuvée No. 1 on arrival. This is a blend of several strong stouts, aged in a barrel which was never more than arm's length from the brewer all weekend. It's quite an experience: an explosion of busy flavours, from high octane dark malts, through dark fruits and smoke, then into tangy bitterness. On balance I think it's a bit too intense for me, with a little of the solventy flavour I mentioned before. I enjoyed the component stouts individually much more. And before I go any further, an apology to Menno that the only picture I have of him, Diogenes-like with his barrel, has him scratching his nose.

Baggaardsbryggeriet refuse to have any truck with this barrel-aging nonsense, preferring instead to just bung the liquor straight into the beer. So from them we have Drunken Sailor, laced with Islay whisky, but still only 6.5%. I think this may be because they didn't put a whole lot in there, so what you get is a slightly sour pale ale which doesn't do very much. At least it isn't a waste of much good whisky.

While there are all manner of adjuncts that can be thrown into the brewing copper, not many brewers are doing anything extreme with their water. Except, that is, for the lunatics at the Grønland Ice Cap brewery. The company itself is based in Copenhagen but imports ice directly from the tail end of a Greenland glacier, ice which fell as snow about 180,000 years ago, they say. Not only that, but your bottle has a unique reference number which can be looked up on the Interweb so you can find out exactly where on the glacier the ice you're drinking came from.


Anyway, I had a go of the Ice Cap Amber Lager and it wasn't very good -- sugary sweet and really quite tough to drink. All gimmick and no flavour, I'm afraid.

It has long been my opinion that place of hops in beer is overstated. We can pretty much do without hops, I reckon, and still have wonderful beery experiences. I cite the Helene Heather I had from Nørrebro as the perfect example. The other side of that equation, however, is Carlsberg Jacobsen's Hopless, a desperately dull, worty, grainy affair without even any redeeming malt features. The whole idea of getting rid of hops, Mr Carlsberg, is to replace them with other more interesting things.

Like bog myrtle, for instance. Porse Guld Ekstra was a decent unremarkable lager, but spiced with the aforementioned shrub to give it a tasty bitter kick. And as a bonus, according to the festival programme, the brewery picks all its bog myrtle during four company picnics each year. Awww. For the Finns it's juniper all the way, and Lammin Sahti is a traditional concoction made from barley, rye and juniper, fermented with baker's yeast. The result is sweet and deliciously spicy with fresh banana and lemon flavours.

Honey is another adjunct with a lot of involvement in beer. My experience of such brews is mixed, but I quite liked Ørbæk's Honningøl, with its wonderfully meady nose and full-on fun honey flavour, though perhaps shading into artificial sweetness at the very end. Monkeying about with grains is another option, and Indslev's Spelt Bock is one example. It's an opaque brown colour and starts with quite a scary dry chalkiness which takes a bit of getting used to. When the flavour settles down there's a nuttiness which I rather enjoyed. Not caramelly like a Dutch bock, or heavily sweet like a German one; it's its own thing, and tasty with it.

I've had a couple of liquorice beers from a home brewer of my acquaintance (hi Fergal), and my feedback tends to be "needs more liquorice". I hereby pass on the same message to whoever was exhibiting Liquorice Pils (I can't find the brewery's name): it's sweet, light and really not very interesting or liquoricey. Fergal also makes a damn fine chilli stout, with specially imported California chipotle. It has become my benchmark chilli stout, and I thought Brøckhouse's Chili Chokolade Stout compared quite favourably with it: a good dry roasted heat to warm the back of the throat. Not so much by way of chocolate, however.

Even more warming was Stevn's barleywine, the one they call Experiment D041-A. This has had most of the things you can do to beer done to it. There's both wheat and barley in there; a Belgian ale yeast to start with then a second fermentation with [sticks pin in yeast catalogue] cider yeast; some dry hopping with Amarillo; and rounded off with some aging on whiskey cask chips. And yet it's not a mess: it's delicious. There's a definite Christmas pudding character with raisins and spice and booziness from the 11% ABV. Many more flavours come and go, but it's not any way busy or unpleasant and none of that nasty solvent character. An experiment worth repeating, in my opinion.

Things get even warmer though. Not content with brewing a dark dark beer at 20% ABV, MyBeer were serving Ultraprés heated, topped with whipped cream. And it was really quite delicious, very reminscent of a French coffee to me -- quite sweet and exceptionally smooth. I don't know why you'd want to substitute a beer for a liqueur coffee, but at least now you can.

Which brings me to the very last beer of the festival and, for me, probably the best of the lot. It came from Roskilde's Herslev brewery and rejoiced in the name Aspargesøl. As the handle suggests, it's brewed with asparagus. As far as I can determine, a lot of asparagus. The nose promises fresh green crunchy veg and that's exactly what the taste delivers, including with it a spicy peppery tang. Sitting on a soft, full, wheat base you end up with an extremely drinkable beer with an utterly fascinating flavour. Well done to Herslev for raising the weirdness bar. Now, who wants to make me a smoked asparagus beer?

And that's your lot from Copenhagen, a festival I cannot stress the brilliantness of -- excelling in atmosphere, facilities and quality of product. Thanks to all the Internet beer folk I met who provided valuable directions and information: Chris, Joris, Kim, Knut, Niels and Ron. Being able to socialise internationally is one of the best non-beer things about these sorts of events.

Finally big big thank you to the Irish delegation, whose lax approach to personal beer security allowed me to taste far more than I actually bought. Cheers Declan, Declan, George, Sarah, Séan, Thom and of course Mrs Beer Nut.

Last week Thom said "If you love beer you must attend this event. No excuses. " I couldn't put it better myself.

26 September 2008

Darkness falls

And so to the far end of the colour chart at the European Beer Festival: those lovely black beers. Of course, I've already written about a fair few of the good ones in with my posts about Mikkeller and the US breweries, but there's always room for more.

I'm quite a fan of Heineken's Krušovice brand, so was delighted to see Krušovice Dark, which I haven't had in many years, available in bottles on one of the stands. I liked it: very dry and quite sharp in that mouth-watering schwarzbier sort of way. Holbæk Bryghus claimed that their Munkholmer was a stout/schwarzbier hybrid, but it definitely tasted much more like the latter, though with a nice touch of fruit amongst the dryness that would have me calling it a plain porter more than anything else. Nothing wrong with that. Lund Teknik also had a Dry Stout on display, promising lots of roasted barley on the nose but having quite an understated roast flavour, with a hint of caramel to lift the dryness. Well balanced and very drinkable.

Sadly, Wintercoat Oatmeal Stout was a much less pleasant experience, with some nasty phenolic marker-pen notes in it, but not much else: the complete opposite of Engbo by DaCAPO, a marvellously full-bodied and roasty simple, no-nonsense, high-quality session stout.

There was lots of woodiness apparent among the dark beers. Like Black Oak, a porter from Braunstein. Here the wood is fresh and fragrant, with the rich roasted flavours only arriving afterwards. Similarly with the very sweet Roskilde Imperial Stout by Det Lille-- freshly hewn timber dripping with sap is what I got here. A more mature woody character comes with Struise's Black Albert, a dry, sour, and oaky imperial stout. Det Lille's Roskilde Oak Aged Porter, was perhaps the most complex of them all, possessed of that strange sweet-dry character which aged malty beers take on, plus smoke, nuts and a touch of phenolic booziness.

I spent the early part of the Saturday afternoon camped out on the soft furniture of Carlsberg subsidiary Kongens Bryghus. When the dirty looks of the staff became too much I opted to try the brewery's "Caribbean Porter" Vestindisk. I'm glad I did too: it's a wonderfully smooth and smoky beer. Not especially challenging; easy-going but tasty. Another simple but suppable black one came from Stensbogaarde: their English Dark Stout is very heavy and sweet -- sticky but not too sticky. One of several beers I'd have liked a pint of.

Some good sweet milk chocolate notes in Stormakst porter by Närke of Sweden, sitting on a huge thick treacly body. Svaneke's Choko Stout is, obviously, chocolatier still, with much more besides. Cocoa, fudge and sweet tobacco say my notes. I must have liked it. The award for chocolate beer with no actual chocolate in, however, goes to BrewPub's cask porter Cole. This is light-bodied yet very creamy and loaded with chocolate and molasses. BrewPub has come a long way from what they were serving back in 2005.

And that's the dark beers put away. But I'm not quite done with Copenhagen just yet...

25 September 2008

Gold and brown

Yes, we're coming to the end of my pieces from the European Beer Festival, and I think it's time for some colour-themed posts. We'll start up at the lighter end of the scale with the golden and brown ales.

There was a fair bit of buzz surrounding the guys who had come from Kosovo to exhibit their lager, Peja. Knut dismissed it as "one for the tickers" so I was immediately off in search of it. It's actually not half bad: a decent low-strength pils, unremarkable except for its place of origin. From rather closer to the festival grounds was Langfartsøl by Carlsberg subsidiary Kongens Bryghus. This is a cooling, refreshing blonde ale, and likely to be an excellent summer refresher. Bitches BrewThe name means "Longboat beer", in case you're wondering. Finally for the golden ales, DaCAPO's tripel, Trio, failed to impress, having too much by way of sharp yeasty flavours and not enough warmth from its 9% ABV. Some nice fruity appley notes to it, though. Wintercoat's Bitches Brew (named after a Miles Davis record, apparently) was rather better: easy drinking yet intensely fruity and bitter, like a super-smooth tripel.

Back to lager, and Herslev Oktober Bock was the sort of autumnal bock I can get behind: sweet in a caramelly way with hints of dark fruit and smoke. Similarly seasonal was Mørk Festival (no. 71 in Fuglebjerggaard's Kølster series, if that means anything to you). It's a cloudy brown ale with a tasty sharp gunpowder spice to it. A much rounder sweeter autumn experience came from Ølfabrikken Harvest Ale, a beer brimming in warming toffee and caramel notes, quite a contrast to the surprisingly bitter Randers Brown Ale.

Getting browner still, we have Juletrolden 2008, a preview of this year's Christmas brew from Troldhede. It's quite light and very drinkable, despite some major chocolate notes in the flavour. Yet even they pale when put next to Svaneke's Sweet Mary, a dobbelbock loaded with cherry-liqueur-like boozy sweetness.

Time to dim the lights next. Have you noticed just how many Danish microbreweries there are, by the way? By my count it's loads and loads and loads.

24 September 2008

Pale ale parade

I mentioned yesterday how Danish craft brewing seems to have followed, to begin with, an American model. The number of Danish pale ales and IPAs at the European Beer Festival reflects this to a considerable extent. And yet it's not like they were all grapefruit-laden hops bombs. Take Gl. Skagen, for instance -- despite claiming American ancestry, this is full of floral peachy flavours on top of a tannic body and puts me in mind of the finer kind of English bitter. The peach blossom continued in Lund Teknik's APA which was so packed with soft fruit flavours as to be almost juicy. And again in the very floral notes of Randers Pale Ale, which is only let down by a slightly off-putting dry carbonic character. Only when we come to Amager Festival IPA do those peach flavours build to the point of tipping over into grapefruit. This is despite Amager's claim that there are no American hops in here and that the main grain is basmati rice. Are they having a laugh? Still superb beer though.

The bitterness levels start to go up here, starting with India Gold by Wintercoat. All their beers were served from casks, which left a wonderful smoothness to the IPA, still with English blossomy notes, but with a sharp orange zing to it as well. Their Double Hop offered the same only more so: the warming alcohol and zesty hops making me think of spiced Fanta. In a good way. Hantverks IPA (the only Swede in this lot) adds bitter raspberry notes to its citrus kick making for one of the more refreshing IPAs on offer.

Stensbogaarde IPA was among the more complex IPAs I tried, starting with toffee malt and running the full gamut of fruit flavours. Every sip produced a different bitter sensation. Conversely, Hornbeer Imperial IPA concentrates on strong orange flavours and holds back on the bitter spice to make a no-nonsense drinkable strong beer. I wasn't so thrilled with the simplicity of Midtyfyns Double IPA, which started off with promising grapefruit aromas but the flavour was dominated by an unfortunate earthy character that buried any complexity there may have been.

And the best of the pale ales? Believe it or not, it's one from Carlsberg (well not really, see comments). Slejpner is 10.5% ABV and begins with an innocent orangey aroma. On tasting, however, it builds this into a huge bitter fruit flavour that simply will not stop. Leaving aside your super-strong barrel-aged ales, I don't think I've ever encountered a beer with this much legs. No wonder they named it after a horse with double the usual number.

23 September 2008

Nordic Americans

The influence of American craft brewing on the Danish micros was very apparent at the European Beer Festival. It's not surprising, then, that the American industry was quite well represented among the various stalls.

I had missed Dogfish Head's 90 Minute IPA at the Great British Beer Festival this year so made damn sure to try it this time round. My interest was largely morbid curiosity and I didn't expect to enjoy it at all. But it's delicious: full of those orange sherbet flavours I associate most with Goose Island's marvellous IPA. Not at all the monster I was expecting. Mind you, I was drinking it straight after a glass of 120 Minute IPA, and that's a beer that will tone down the flavour in most things. Nevertheless, I found the 120 surprisingly drinkable. It has some big solventy alcoholic notes all right, but there's enough of a balance in there to make it work: bitter without being harsh; malty without being tramp juice. I'm no hophead, but this was an eye-opener.

Two more strong and hoppy ales, this time from Avery in Colorado: Maharaja is their Imperial IPA and is another orangey one with a particularly mouth-watering aroma. The 9.7% ABV gives it warmth without making it sticky. Also available was a Collaboration they did with Russian River in a Belgian style. This is an immensely complex concoction full of peaches and nuts and spices and cloves, yet remains light and drinkable at 8.2% ABV.

Avery had come recommended to us from the Bull & Castle's Declan who attended the Great American Beer Festival last year. Mephistopheles Imperial stout was his first recommendation. It's incredibly thick and loaded with sweet molasses and bitter black coffee flavours. It was the last beer I had on the Friday and awoke on Saturday to find the dregs had congealed into a tar-like lump in the bottom of my sample glass. The other big black American was Great Divide's oak-aged version of Yeti, a stout I thoroughly enjoyed in Amsterdam last month. It's pretty much what I expected: the usual big chicory maltiness, with a fresh acidic hop character, but smoothed out with that woody vanilla flavour that comes from barrel aging. A more refined Yeti than the plain one. My last big American stout was an east-coaster: Brooklyn's Black Chocolate Stout. It's hops in the aroma once again, with sugary molasses and more than a hint of delicious smokiness. I'd had a fair few beers that were beyond the 15% ABV mark at this point and this mere 10.1%-er was well able to hold its own in the flavour stakes.

And just to show that American beer isn't just about high alcohol, I was extremely impressed by Flying Dog's Doggie Style pale ale. Only 4.7% ABV, this is possessed of an intense citric bitter fruity character, yet is still light enough to be very easy drinking.

Yes, the Danes definitely have the right idea when it comes to picking a country to emulate with in their brewing culture. That the industry in both countries is feeding off both the experience and marketplace of the other can only be good from a drinker's perspective.

22 September 2008

Smoke 'em 'cos you got 'em

On reflection I probably didn't get nearly enough smoked beers into me over the three days of the European Beer Festival, despite running for every one I saw. Of course, Schlenkerla featured, at the stall of one of the importers -- the lager, which I tried here, and the Weizen, which was new to me. Unsurprisingly the big hammy Schlenkerla flavours dominate, quite yummily I might add, but it's also possible to detect the wheat beer softness under them -- just. My preference is for the bigger body of the märzen and this isn't different enough to provide a real alternative so I doubt I'll be going for it again.

Another new style getting the smoke treatment for me was an IPA called Sgt Pepper being served by Lund Teknik, a microbrewery equipment supplier who had quite a few examples of finished products available at their stand. I had to double-check with the festival guide that it wasn't simply barrel-aged, because my notes go on extensively about the peaty scotch notes present in this one. It's on the paler side of the IPA colour scale and much sweeter than anything else labelled with the style. Still tasty, though, but since the flavour leans more to whisky than bacon, I can't say it's my kind of smoked ale.

I'm going further afield for the last two rauchbiers. The stall which specialised in Czech microbrews had Kocour Rauch Lager on sale. It has the big full rich maltiness expected of Czech lager, but -- perhaps out of national pride -- it doesn't let the smoke flavour dominate this. You end up with something well-balanced and drinkable. My baconish needs were much better served by another smoked lager, this time from Finland. Sauhusanttu is a lot lighter of body but has a much bigger bacon flavour which builds gradually on drinking, instead of hitting the palate with a Schlenkerla-style hamslap. This is one I could quaff cheerfully forever without feeling full or overpowered by smoke.

Odd, isn't it? Ultimately there's not a whole lot of difference in the taste of rauchbiers: smoked ham is smoked ham, yet I get such a kick out of sampling new ones. "Ooo, that tastes like bacon too." Yum. More please.

21 September 2008

Deepest regrets

What I'd like, right, is a massive beer festival where all the beers are really good. Unfortunately the European Beer Festival wasn't one of these, so now that I've done a couple of posts raving about the beers and breweries I liked, it's time for one just for the stinkers.

We'll start at the end, shall we? Events on Sunday concluded with the Irish delegation trooping off to Christiania for sundowners. Three mediocre pilsners were available, all from the Thy organic brewery. Their specially-branded Pilsner Christiania is one of the better ones: dry, but otherwise uninteresting. Humle is the same only in sweet. Worst of the lot was their badly misnomered Økologisk Classic: unpleasantly bitter and waterier than water. My previous visit to the commune was much better, beerwise.

Early on the Friday, Thom, MrsBeerNut and I set up camp next to the Klosterbryggeriet stand. Given my fondness for silly Scandinavian beer names, their Årsøl just had to be tried. Apparently there's blueberries in this, but I couldn't detect them: just a heavily alcoholic sugariness. The same sort of over-malted sweetness was to be found in the brewery's Hamburgøl as well.

That Germanic bock-like sweetness was something of a recurring theme in my blacklist. Blå Chimpansee, for instance, is a nice shade of dark brown but loaded with nasty cloying sugars. The same goes for the paler "open source" Free Beer Version 4, though with added mustiness as well. I guess Willemoes 200 År, an actual bock, should be forgiven its sugariness, but it just didn't cut it for me, offering very little else alongside it. GourmetBryggeriet also had a ropy bland bock, called GB Bock2. Drinkable, but incredibly boring.

Other blandities included a dodgy English bitter knock-off called Old Nutty, where soap was the only detectable flavour. I was also hugely disappointed by Flying Dog's Kerberos tripel, finding the flavours far too understated here.

And that brings us to the must again. Aarhus Julebryg was the biggest offender here. The supposed sweet malty notes are just about detectable under a thick layer of yucky mustiness. Troldhede's Railroad Rye also laced its signature flavour -- grassiness -- with a stale dry character which ruined it for me.

OK, that's enough bitching for one post. I promise something really tasty for tomorrow.

20 September 2008

The British invasion

It goes without saying that the section of the European Beer Festival serving UK cask ales was called a "pavilion". They were serving cheese at one side of it, but no cucumber sandwiches. As with most of the stands, it was staffed by volunteers from the exhibiting breweries. Outside on Sunday afternoon I got chatting to a very nice chap from one of the southern English breweries who was telling me that CAMRA actually stands for "Come And Meet Real Arseholes" and that he used to gleefully burn his cardboard membership card on the way out of the Great British Beer Festival each year until the bastards switched to plastic. Someone, at least, was glad to be free of real ale tyranny for a weekend.

One particular beer drove me straight to the British Pavilion. For quite a while now I've been intrigued by the press that Thornbridge's Jaipur IPA has been getting. I was really looking forward to it and was hugely disappointed with the reality. It's a very thin, very pale (despite appearances, left) affair and is utterly one-dimensional: hopjuice of the worst kind. Should I be putting on my flameproof suit now?

Thom was insistent I try the Brakspear Triple, and I wasn't going to resist, having enjoyed their EPA very recently. This was from the bottle and is an interesting concoction. I was immediately struck by how little it resembles a Belgian tripel, but it's not typically English either. What you get is a sweet honeyish flavour with just a touch of spice, on a light ale body. Interesting, and worth further investigation.

Other light beers included Belhaven's Twisted Thistle -- a fairly hefty 5.3% ABV, but gently hopped to be dry and easy drinking. Wold Top's Falling Stone was tougher going: crisp but possessed of an off-putting sulphurous tang. I was much more impressed by Otley OG, another easy drinker, almost to the point of blandness, but with a saving lemon zest flavour. The award for quaffability, however goes to Archer's IPA. There's just enough body here to keep things interesting, but everything else is toned-down to make it eminently sinkable.

The chap from Wickwar talked a very good game, and only by agreeing that Station Porter was indeed excellent but I'd already tried it, was I able to smooth-talk him into giving me something else. He wouldn't let me go without recommending Mr Perrett's from the bottled selection so that was one of my first ports of call on Saturday. I have to say I prefer my stouts to have a bit more body than this, especially when they're sailing towards 6% ABV. However, there was a nice touch of liquorice to it, making for a pleasant experience, but still only a shadow of the full-on joy of Station Porter.

In all probability the difference in my perception of the two Wickwars is down to presence or lack of smokiness. I was therefore immediately drawn to Manx brewery Okell's and their Aile smoked porter. It's very dry and incredibly roasty with lovely back-of-the-throat flavours. Not so much smoke, however, but the quality here can't be argued with. I had great hopes for Harvey's Porter, speaking as a huge fan of their best bitter. I was disappointed though: it's an unchallenging beer with a nice touch of raisins in it, but not a whole lot going on generally. Smoke. That's what it needs...

Another one of those legendary English beers that I only get to read about on blogs is Hook Norton's Old Hooky. I liked this: very sweet, almost leaning towards marzipan notes, and a tasty elderflower character as well. Their Black Country Mild is also pretty damn good: a relatively pale shade of ruby with a superb balance of charcoal dryness and dark fruit.

Finally it was back to the bottles for some Yorkshire Stingo by Samuel Smith's. This bottle conditioned 8% ABV strong ale is wonderfully warming with big big malt notes, yet manages to avoid being any way cloying. Stonch is currently offering a chance to win some. If you happen to be in the right neck of the woods, this stuff would make it well worth trying your hand.

19 September 2008

The black stuff

To an alarming extent, all trade shows, exhibitions and the like end up looking the same: a maze of aluminium-framed white laminate counters. The European Beer Festival was no different: by way of illustration, here's the lovely Sarah getting some mead action at the Plan-B stall.

Anyway, a couple of stallholders bucked the trend for blandness by decking themselves out all in black with just a monochrome logo for identification. Well, and some taps too. One such was the Grimstad minimalists, Nøgne Ø. They had a fairly rapid turnover of beers through the weekend, so I made a few trips down to their wonderful dark little corner. Plus, they were staying in my hotel -- nothing like establishing your brand over the toaster to ensure customer loyalty.

When I arrived down there on Friday, they were busily sawing up a bit of a non-specific animal. Knut tells me this was fenalår, a rural Norwegian delicacy made from salted lamb's leg. I didn't get a chance to try any, though. I was there, again on Knut's advice, to sample a Nøgne Ø beer which (*gasp*) went wrong. Apparently it started out as a lingonberry lambic, but something didn't go as planned and the result was undrinkable. So they did what any self-respecting craft brewer would do: blended in a load of their Christmas ale, spiced it with some spruce, bunged it into a keg and sent it off to the geeks in Copenhagen. Lingonberry Juløl, for want of an actual name [but see comments], is quite light and refreshing, with a pronounced fruity tartness. In general, the blend has left the flavours understated and dry, but still a ballsy attempt and well worth drinking.

On Saturday afternoon, their Dobbel IPA made an appearance. This was brewed with the aid of Yoho's brewmaster Toshi Ishii and is far from being a hoppy monster, having great balance between the fruity hops and the warm alcoholic malt. They sit together under a wonderful peachy fragrance and add up to a beer that whispers of effortless quality. Typical Nøgne Ø, in fact.

I've noted before the sober approach to beer names generally employed by the brewery. I was therefore surprised to see them serving something with a way-out name like Tangerine Dream. An IPA laced with mandarin, this is as zesty and fruity as you'd expect. The hops and orange combine to create a marvellous spicy flavour, which is given legs by a full IPA body. Very special indeed.

At 7 on the dot on Friday evening, I was at the stall for the opening of Dark Horizon Second Edition. There were no signs advertising it and it was being served from an unlabelled bottle strictly behind the counter. A fascinating experience it is too: on the first sip it's intensely vinous, more like a po